Human Resource Professional Ethical Perceptions of Organizational Online Monitoring

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2012


An analysis 216 SHRM professionals in Texas looked into views of organizational online monitoring. The questions that were provided sprung from a literature analysis that comprised the ethical perspectives of managerial monitoring behavior, the quality of online information, and the rights of organizational monitoring. HR metrics and a factor analysis determined the chief ethical justifications to analyze workers online were tied to legality and company rules. The perspective of employee actions not tied to the business was not described as ethical. The highest rating of trustworthiness of online information was indicated to be police records. In terms of ethics, the statement which most embodied that sentiment was “employer online monitoring will be done for business-related reasons only.” An analysis of perceptions of managerial ethics from the viewpoint of employees is tied directly to the fact that they feel their privacy is in question. In terms of what can be viewed as ethical, actions in an environment that lacks legal parameters, dictating the purpose of the business purpose is the chief limitation in monitoring. Sensitive information that is personal which is acquired from the web may not meet ethical standards and may in fact be illegal if used as a guidepost for decisions regarding employment.

Data Results

It is clear that the actions that were judged most ethical (in a survey of 216 professionals in the SHRM profession) were disciplinary actions toward employees who either breached company internet protocol, or engaged in illegal internet activity. In contrast, those actions judged as least ethical was discipline related to improper personal actions on the internet. It is worth noting that the most reputable internet source utilized by employers was police records.

Interestingly enough, the 1st amendment protects an individual's’ privacy rights from government intrusion, but not necessarily the actions of a private business. The idea, legally speaking, of employee surveillance is not only permissible but also legally reinforced via the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. This addresses the question of employees using company equipment at a company location and on company time, but what about employee behavior outside of those parameters? To go further, the internet is used not only by employees, but also by employers, and the question arises as to how concrete is the information found on the web by employers? And what are the perceptions of employees as that information is utilized by employers against employees? What seems to be clear is that companies must create a clear standard and protocol, clearly communicate that standard and protocol, and do so in a way which creates transparency while also being aware of and sensitive to employee perceptions.

Thanks to Steve Silva, Graduate Assistant, Boise State University for writing this original abstract/summary of the paper.

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