Your Boss May Be Watching You (In Frighteningly Insidious Ways)

For a good shudder, check out this commentary on the AFL-CIO’s website about workplace privacy—or what’s left of it these days. Which apparently isn’t much.

Even more serious are the problems created by company-issued laptops. Employers usually tell workers it’s o.k. to use them for personal purposes as well as business. It’s presented as a perk—now you don’t need to buy your own computer.

What employers don’t tell you is that the company’s computer technicians look at your private documents when the computer comes in for upgrading or repair. Not only are your personal e-mail, photographs, and financial records revealed, but the techs tell your boss about anything they don’t like. If you say something negative about the company, tell risqué jokes, or make controversial comments about politics or religion, it can cost you your job.

If you think your boss wouldn’t fire you for something like this, think again. Heidi Arace was fired by PNC bank for telling an off-color joke by e-mail. Nate Fulmer lost his job because he criticized organized religion on his personal website.

Lewis Maltby catalogues some other tactics bosses can use—spying on you via the webcam on your company-issued laptop, for example. (That sound is my skin crawling.) And some judges have upheld the use of cameras in workplace bathrooms.

“Congress has been asleep at the switch when it comes to protecting privacy for the past 20 years,” writes Maltby. “The last federal privacy law was enacted in 1986 and doesn’t even mention electronic communications other than telephone calls.”

Food for thought—and a reminder to be mindful of that idle Web browsing.