Employers do spy on staff: SmartCompany poll

A third of employers are monitoring staff email and 40% of these employers’ staff are unaware, according to the latest SmartCompany Poll.

The findings, from a survey of 105 business owners, follows an outcry from civil rights groups to the Federal Government’s proposal that employers be given the right to monitor staff email without permission to protect national security.

But the fact is many employers are already monitoring staff email. The SmartCompany Poll suggests many employers are acting outside best practice and some could be breaking the law.

The only state to regulate employer access to staff email is NSW where employers must have a policy and must inform existing and new employees about it. If there is an email to an employee blocked, the employee must be notified.

Elsewhere lawyers recommend bosses notify employees. Kate Jenkins, a partner at Freehills lawyers, says that best practice is to notify employees that you are monitoring email, and monitor it in a reasonable manner – otherwise you could be open to an action for unfair dismissal.

So why are employers peeking into staff in and outboxes?

  • 40.6% say it is to ensure they are doing their job properly.
  • 47% say they are worried about too much personal use of email.
  • 40.6% say they only do it if they have a problem with a staff member (such as bullying or stealing).

Kosmas Smyrnios, leader of entrepreneurship and innovation at RMIT University, says the results reveal a level of distrust between employers and employees. “Employers are very concerned that IP, customers and other information might be stolen and either passed on to competitors or used to set up other businesses in competition.”

While these concerns are real, monitoring employees email without their knowledge shows a level of distrust.

He says research of the practices of successful high growth entrepreneurs shows there is a lot of trust between employers and employees.

He says it is always better to be upfront with employees. If emails are monitored, there must be a policy to inform employees of the fact. “Otherwise forget terrorism. The employee feels that there is business or individual terrorism occurring in their workplace.”

Amanda Gome, founder/publisher of SmartCompany.com.au says while some employers may be paranoid, their fears can be based on experiences with unscrupulous employees.

She says that employers can sometimes be unaware that the information they are taking belongs to the company, not them.

The SmartCompany Poll found that two thirds of employers have an email policy.

Some employers report they are using other devices to keep an eye on staff:

  • 28.4% use programs to monitor internet use.
  • 9.8% use video surveillance.
  • 8.7% use security passes with RFID tags.
  • 2.2% are using phone taps.
  • 2.2% use GPS in vehicles.

What do you think? Should employers be able to read/monitor employee emails?


Should they always have policies? Have your say. Email [email protected]

For tech ideas on spying see our story: The High Tech Spying Boss


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