The Covid-19 pandemic changed a lot about the world very quickly. From medical advances to virtual school, there was an almost universal shift in the way the world worked, including the way many people did their jobs. With remote work on the rise, there also came the rise of remote ways to monitor employees. A survey in October of 2021 polled 2,400 employees and found that 32% of them were being monitored by their employers. As the monitoring technology continues to advance as remote works seems to be largely here to stay, the regulations around that monitoring technology have not evolved at all.
Employers give many reasons as to why they are tracking their employees. Some want to make sure employees are staying on task and being productive, others may be doing it to protect sensitive information, and others claim to track their employees to ensure that they don’t overwork themselves and get burned out.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) introduced legislation that protected “wire, oral, and electronic communications while those communications are being made, are in transit, and when they are stored on computers. The Act applies to email, telephone conversations, and data stored electronically.” However, this pertains to private conversations and data. If you are using a company provided device for work, your employer can monitor that because it’s not a privately owned device. It is the property of the employer.
Monitoring employees in some roles is very common. Amazon warehouse workers, for example, are constantly monitored by cameras and their productivity and speed are tracked through handheld scanners and computer software. All semi-trucks are outfitted with Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) that connect to the engine of the truck and pulls data regarding “speed, location, and hours driven at any given time to ensure fewer violations on the road” and make sure drivers do not go over the time on the road that is federally allowed.
In the home office, however, the line between professional and private is blurred. While the monitoring can run the gamut from keystroke trackers to actually using the webcam to see what an employee is doing, there are few official safeguards in place to protect the privacy of employees. A survey by Vanson Bourne for enterprise software vendor VMware showed that 36% of the employees polled knew there were monitoring tools installed or planned to be installed on their devices, but 69% of HR decision makers polled said that their employees were being monitored. This data indicates that some employers do not tell their employees that they are being monitored. Connecticut and Delaware are the only states where it is required by law to notify employees that they are being monitored.
Because of potential threats to people’s privacy and other concerns, the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the United States plans to introduce an “AI Bill of Rights” that will lay out laws and regulations to protect people from potential harm at work and, more broadly, across our AI-powered society. In addition to monitoring, “training machines based on earlier examples can embed past prejudice and enable present-day discrimination,” such as eliminating female candidates for a job or preventing someone from getting a mortgage because of their zip code. Though technology’s aim is to make our life easier, there are times when AI oversteps, and an AI Bill of Rights would take care of such issues.