cameras, listen to your phone conversations, and
- and it's legal. But there are steps you can take.
If you're reading this at work, your boss may be reading right along with
you. That's right, check up in that corner. Is that a camera? Are you
sure? And don't forget about the computer network that allows your boss to
read any file on your hard drive at any time and count
keystrokes per hour. He
or she may even be tracking the websites you visit. People have been
know, for looking at the wrong websites while at work. Should you decide
to discuss this article with your friends or co-workers over the phone
system or through e-mail, be careful what you say. The boss is there too.
You may be
wondering, how can my boss
get away with
this? Don't I have rights? The short answer is, no, not really. While the
Constitution dictates that police and other government agents almost
always need a warrant to search a home or listen in on a phone
conversation, the workplace is different. It's the
bosses and managers. They literally
office, the phone, the computer, and, in a sense, you the employee. And
they can do just about anything they want as long as it's not done in a
discriminatory manner. Working in today's offices is a little like living
during the Red Scare of the '50s, when slogans like "Don't tell your
neighbor anything you wouldn't tell Stalin" were popular. Except that in
your office, the paranoia is justified.
to point to any one thing that has led us to this era of spying, but it's
partly due to a changed relationship between worker and boss. All through
the '50s, '60s, and '70s, employers needed us. And they were willing to
pay -- wages were
on the rise,
reaching an all-time high in real dollars in 1973. Most families could
live on one 40-hour-a-week income.
picture has changed. Thanks mainly to automation and capital flight, there
are fewer decent-paying jobs to go around and real wages have slipped
dramatically since 1973, with the exception of a small
upturn in the last year
and a half. Employers have taken advantage of the upper-hand, hiring more
people on a contract basis to avoid insurance and other costs, breaking
and/or discouraging unions, and invading our privacy in any way they can.
owners argue that they're so
nosy because they face extreme circumstances --rising insurance
costs, the need to protect trade secrets. "Employers are under
unprecedented pressure to be productive, but instead of responding by
empowering their workers to be more creative, they've cracked down with
It's just like the 1920s, except by electronic means", explains Lewis
Maltby, director of the ACLU's Workplace Rights Office.
Or, as Doug
Henwood, publisher of the excellent newsletter Left Business Observer,
puts it, "They know they're
screwing their workers and they know their workers would like
to screw them. So, they try to monitor and control them as much as
of workplace paranoia hasn't existed since Henry Ford sent committees
around to workers' homes to see what newspapers they read. To insure that
they don't hire a
managers subject potential employees to background checks and batteries of
invasive tests, from drug urinalysis to lengthy personality tests (the lie
detector, once a pre-employment tool in about 1 million cases a year, was
outlawed for that purpose in 1988 because of its notorious
Psychological tests -- used by up to 40 percent of American companies,
according to a recent
the American Management Association International -- are designed to throw
up red flags indicating
a propensity to steal, and even sympathy to unions.
Unfortunately, very few countries have any laws restricting employer
spying. A 1986 US amendment prohibits employers from deliberately
employees' personal telephone calls (they're supposed
to hang up
when the call turns personal), it offers no real protection from, say,
hidden cameras. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resources
Management found that 11 percent of companies asked regularly use video
cameras to monitor their workers.
something even more frightening on the horizon -- genetic testing. While
employees or job applicants for predisposition to costly diseases isn't
yet widespread (probably because the testing is so
pricey) there is
already evidence of this kind of thinking.
to be spied on.
And the invasiveness of these practices hasn't been missed by the American
by Time magazine a few years ago found that 95 percent of Americans
believe employers should not be allowed to listen in on phone
conversations; 67 percent thought employers should not have the power to
check the credit history of job applicants; 56 percent did not think
employers should be able to scan work areas with video cameras.
The trouble is, it's risky to do battle when the penalty could be your
job. If someone has to choose between
ripping out a camera
and feeding their kids, what choice to do they have? They keep putting
food on the table and live with the camera.
things you can do to protect yourself. For instance, to keep your e-mail
and phone conversations private, the best thing you can do is wait until
get out of
the office to discuss personal matters. If you need to talk about an issue
while you're at work, take a break and go outside the office.