Even though employers are legally permitted to monitor workplace devices, should they?

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Even though employers are legally permitted to monitor workplace devices, should they?

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Should I monitor employee Tweets, LinkedIn/Facebook posts or Instagram pictures? Do I need to worry about the websites my employees visit while at work or while using company devices at home?

There are many examples of individuals who have been fired over the years for things that they’ve posted online, as well as activities on work devices (e.g.: surfing porn sites or clicking links that lead to malware.) ?


  • Two firemen fired for questionable tweets
  • A teacher fired for ‘child porn’ on his work laptop
  • A Delta flight attendant fired for her blog
  • A teacher fired for a Picture posted to Facebook of herself holding a beer,
  • A social media manager for a school district in Maryland fired for correcting & calling out a misspelling in a student’s tweet.

The potential damage to an organizations reputation, as well as financial consequences it’s no wonder that companies have a keen interest in what happens online. In the cases above, some individuals were reinstated to their positions. However, this is a cautionary reminder that organizations have an opportunity to equip employees with knowledge, guidance, expectations & consequences both on and offline.

Many  companies monitor only when there is a solid reason to suspect employee wrongdoing. Here are some things to consider:

Why are you going to monitor employees? What’s the goal? What will you gain? What is the value?

Monitoring will require resources, time and money, so it’s important that you understand your goals before making the decision to go ahead with it.

Top for reasons employers monitor employees online:

  • To protect the company, limit exposure, loss & liability
  • Protect confidential information from being leaked (purposely or accidentally)
  • Cyber loafing
  • Trust

We totally get it – it’s easy for employees to get online and potentially criticize customers, their boss, team members, or the company. As mentioned, posts online can have financial repercussions; they can cause tension in the workplace, or they can even lead to lawsuits and regulatory action depending on the industry. But will monitoring employees ease this?

Consider the following questions: 

  • Will monitoring employee activity help or hinder company productivity?
  • Who will be in charge of monitoring – managers? HR? Or another delegated department?
  • How do you constitute which online activity is worth pursuing?
  • How do you ensure that there are checks and balances in place to prevent a situation where an employee’s legally protected rights aren’t violated?


An employee sends a screenshot to a manager which is a picture of a colleague in a bathing suit (from her personal Facebook page.) The sender is ‘offended’ by the image and has ‘concerns’ it will look bad for the company. How do you respond? [Read more]


(2) How are you going to implement monitoring?

Do you know how you will communicate the level of monitoring? Will it be Passive or Aggressive?

Passive means that you aren’t actively monitoring but may act on information from external sources. e.g.: you receive a private message via your business Facebook page indicating that an employee (mentioned by name) was partaking in illegal activity online.

Aggressive monitoring refers to an investment in software to track company devises; you’ve made it clear to employees that it will capture everything on workplace equipment, including online activity.

In either situation, a court determined in 2012 that employees should expect a reasonable level of privacy EVEN on work devices.

EXAMPLE: Through regular maintenance on a workplace laptop belonging to a teacher, a technician found a folder containing what amounted to child pornography. The technician made copies of the content and gave the laptop and discs to the principal who then turned them over to local police. Without a warrant, the police reviewed the contents. The teacher (whose work laptop had been seized) maintained that this violated his Charter rights. The court agreed because he had reason to believe that there was a certain (though diminished) level of privacy when he created the folder named ‘Confidential.’ The school board could not give the police adequate permission to search & seize that piece of property.

(3) How will you enforce it?

Do you understand privacy law as it pertains to the collection of data? How about employment law? How can you be sure that when you monitor and find something you don’t like, that you actually have the law on your side to do something about it?

HR expert Leona Furrow explains further, “Tightly worded and explicit policies that are as unambiguous as possible are critical for some policies/guidelines, such as use of organizationally owned technology. From the employee and employer perspective no two scenarios will be handled the same way. As an organization, your best bet is to arm yourself with intelligent and well versed professionals in an advisory capacity to help you navigate these very challenges.”

EXAMPLE: Two firemen were fired for inappropriate tweets. However, one was reinstated while the others termination was upheld. The reasons given for termination were that the first tweet was racist, negatively affected the reputation of the organization and violated the organizations policies. While the other firemen was reinstated because his tweet wasn’t directed at anyone or the workplace and although the organization had a social media policy, it wasn’t publicized.

Conclusion [thanks for making it this far!]

Remember that not everyone operates at the same level when it comes to social media. It’s better to set your employees up for success; it’s much easier (and economical) to be proactive.  Consider developing a social media guideline, as well as offering social media training to all of your employees so they understand the consequences of their actions online and offline.  And I mean ALL employees – leadership down (because there have been leaders in hot water for social media posts too!)  Offering training to everyone (even when they push back) is much more desirable than finding yourself in the centre of a controversy; whether that controversy is one of your leadership team members making an inappropriate comment on Facebook (e.g.: CEO death threat to Trump) or a member of your staff throwing you under the bus.

But, think about it this way: just because you can [monitor] does it mean you should?

Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay is a Marketing Strategist, Writer + Speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to pretty much everything. Using data insights, she helps organizations market more effectively to get results that matter. She's also a high-scoring instructor at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Social Media Analytics and Google Analytics + Marketing Measurement. She holds certifications from Google, as well as Facebook and is currently working toward a specialization in Marketing Analytics and a certificate in Data Science from IBM. When she’s not busy juggling kids, volunteering + work, she’s busy planning her retirement to Cape Breton.