Learn if remote work time tracking legal and how to tell if your employer is monitoring your PC

Is Remote Work Time Tracking Legal? 4 Signs You Are Monitored

Working remotely gives employees more freedom, but some employers still feel the need to track how employees spend their working hours. Erika Rykun of Booklyst delves into four telltale signs that your employer monitors you via remote work time tracking apps.

Remote working, or working from home, has already had its share of fame over the past decade. Still, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit that employers and employees alike explored the full potential and probability of fully remote jobs and contracting talent miles away.

With the steep rise of the workforce choosing to work from home, employers have turned to time and management apps. These tools aim to ensure that teams perform and hours are rendered as intended for maximum productivity and efficiency — whether through synchronous or asynchronous communication. However, some employers are taking a dark turn with these time-tracking apps — some heavily abusing the monitoring features of these applications and transforming employers into micromanagers. 

Many organizations heavily use productivity apps with time-tracking features or time-tracking apps alone to monitor the time employees work throughout the day. Flexible employers allow remote teams to track time at their own pace. However, some take advantage of the features of these applications to strictly monitor employee activity while the time tracker is running. 

Some of these features include:

  • Distraction alerts
  • Website and application usage
  • Website and chat monitoring
  • Real-time screenshots and recordings of employee activity

While employers usually inform teams about monitoring their activity (and they should!), some team managers fail (or purposely do so) to educate their teams, which raises the question: Is this even legal? How do I know I am monitored when my employer doesn’t tell me? 

From a judiciary perspective, workplace monitoring is legal, subject to the expectations that it is made known to employees that their work is being monitored. This monitoring should also fall within business interests and not for personal matters, in which jurisdictions could interpret its legality differently.

Amy De La Fuente, Director of Public Affairs at Bosco Legal Services

Signs Your Employer Is Monitoring You

Employers purposely not informing their employees about activity monitoring can significantly drop their performance morale. Employees of the modern age are highly averse to micromanaging. Even if employers intend to micromanage, they must properly communicate this to the team at the start of the engagement.

Logan Mallory, VP of Motivosity

Are you remotely working with no information on your activity being monitored? Here are some telltale signs your employer is watching your every move:

Unknown Programs Installed

First things first, is your work computer provided by your company? Then the chances of it being heavily monitored are highly likely.

Employers can pre-install employee monitoring or device mirroring programs to check your computer activity. To find out, check your installed programs through your computer’s settings and browse the list of programs you have. Uninstall any program you have not installed yourself or any suspicious and unknown programs that may compromise your privacy. 

This scheme is highly rampant in using remote desktop applications. Specifically, they can allow any PC with that app to access another person’s computer using the same app using a unique code, even without having to grant access or input a password. 

Slow computer Performance

There could be many reasons for slow computer performance. These include too many background apps running, too many browser tabs open, low storage and memory, and even computer viruses. If you have addressed all of these concerns, you might want to check back on the applications running when your computer is on.

To do this, open the Task Manager as follows:

  • Press and hold CTRL, Shift, and ESC keys using your Windows keyboard shortcuts, then release. 
  • You can also search for Task Manager in Windows Start
  • For Mac, open Spotlight by pressing CMD + Space, then type and search for Activity Monitor — the Mac equivalent of Task Manager.

Check all running applications on Task Manager/Activity Monitoring and close or end any running background apps unknown to you. Doing this will not only end suspicious tasks but significantly speed up your computer as well. 

Employees often take security and privacy for granted to retain a job and a constant stream of earnings. What they don’t realize, however, is how this rampant practice among employers and micromanagers is affecting employees’ attitudes toward work. We believe this should not be normalized, and employees should be given the security and privacy they deserve, especially at home.”

Janelle Owens, Human Resource Director of Test Prep Insight

Your Webcam Light Is On

When your webcam is in use, a light beside the camera will usually turn on to indicate that you are being recorded. When this turns on without you initiating the action during work, this is a common sign of surveillance. According to NL Times, a Dutch ruling on the case of Chetu, a Florida-based company, ruled in favor of the complainant in that monitoring employees through a webcam is a violation of human rights and is an unreasonable intrusion of privacy.

Examine Your Productivity Applications

Employers often require you to install productivity and time-tracking applications to ease communication, centralize work processes, and delegate duties. Some remote employee tracking apps, however, are not merely productivity apps or time monitoring programs. They also monitor all computer activity. 

These applications can allow your employer to:

  • Screenshot computer screen
  • Screen record computer activity
  • Gather data from your keyboard and mouse activity to determine if you are ‘slacking.’
  • View all applications, programs, and tabs open
  • Monitor chat activity

If you are not aware of such features being used by your employer, you can carefully research the applications, together will all features. These are usually readily available on the website.

If your employer requires you to install certain applications for productivity’s sake, researching these apps will help you be aware of how your employer can monitor your activity, which will help you act during work hours accordingly. 

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 is one of employees’ common-law protection against invasive workplace monitoring. While employees are granted exceptions in the form of ‘business purpose,’ they should be required to disclose such activity to their employees under the ‘consent’ exception to avoid violating the ECPA.

Mark Pierce, CEO of Colorado LLC Attorney

Where Do We Draw the Line Between Employee Monitoring, Micromanaging, and Illegal Tracking?

The difference between simple employee activity monitoring, micromanaging, and borderline illegal tracking is a thin thread. The same case goes for identifying whether the ‘monitoring’ is a productivity measure or an invasion of an employee’s privacy.

While it is difficult to differentiate, employee monitoring is generally legal, subject to the terms and conditions set forth by the law under the ECPA or its equivalent in other countries. As an employee, you can be vigilant and stay alert on signs that could tell if your employer monitors your activities with or without your consent. When the privacy line is crossed, elevate your concerns to management, or consult proper authorities.

Erika Rykun

Author Bio

Erika Rykun is a career and productivity copywriter for Booklyst who believes in the power of networking. In her free time, she enjoys reading books and playing with her cat, Cola.

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