Is it ok for companies to monitor their remote employees?

Diana Nădejde

11 minutes read

The digital revolution that has been happening in the last year together with the hard stop imposed on the classical, real life interaction between a company and its potential clients or existing business partners has shown just that: “online communication is no piece of cake”. To stay relevant even in times of crisis it takes more than just tossing out the once-a-month post to social media. The necessities created by the new context have led to the current boom in available jobs especially in the creative and the IT industries.

And because most of these jobs can be done remotely often times the employer states, even from the job posting phase that the new employees will be monitored by means of dedicated software such as TeamViewer. This leads to a situation where it is unclear what a company can and cannot do in terms of employee tracking and monitoring.

What is a remote employee monitoring software?

Despite the fact that at the end of the day it should be the results that matter most and not how an employee gets to those results, many companies find managing remote teams very difficult because it means that they cannot directly see what the employees are doing and where exactly they are as it is the case with the classic office space. A remote employee monitoring software comes to do just that.

In principle this type of software records and monitors the employee activity, allowing a company to access in real time, from the company’s office or from anywhere else, information such as: keyboard activity, screenshots of an employee’s screen at random intervals, list of applications accessed and closed, list of websites visited. The solution, software only, can be installed in a couple of minutes and does not require separate hardware. At the same time it represents a very accessible option because its installation and configuration does not require any special knowledge or training. Here is list of some of the most popular employee monitoring software applications: ActivTrak, Time Doctor, TeamViewer, Top Tracker, Workpuls, EmpMonitor, Teramind, etc.

When is monitoring legal?

When we talk about monitoring we also talk about a fine balance between an employee’s right to privacy and the legitimate interest of a manager of protecting their business against any malicious action. On the other hand, regardless of the technology that they use, employers must take into account three fundamental aspects:

  1. Purpose: – monitoring must have a specific and legitimate purpose, one that justifies use and processing of employee personal data during the monitoring activities. For example, an employer notices that their employees’ productivity has fallen dramatically and they want to find out the cause of that fall.
  2. Transparency – employees should be informed in clear fashion that they are being monitored by the employer, they should be notified about the purpose of the monitoring and also, about the possible consequences should a breach of internal regulation be found.
  3. Proportionality – employee monitoring should be adequate, relevant, and not excessive in relation to the desired purpose. Companies can track and later retain only data that is strictly necessary to attaining the legitimate purpose according to the nature of the company’s line of business.

In other words, the manager has the obligation to inform their employees that monitoring software has been installed on the office desktop computer or on the notebook they are given to from work. Furthermore, when an employee is given a notebook for use for business purposes she/he should be informed that they are not allowed to use that notebook for personal activities.

For example: if you as an employee working remotely receive a notebook or a mobile phone that you will use to perform your work, the company has the right to monitor your activity on these devices but you have to be informed about it before you starting using them and you should also be notified that you cannot use them for personal activities. Employers do not have the right to snoop on your private life by going through your private communications.

Bărbulescu v. România lawsuit

Practice should follow the theory and this is exactly what happened in the case analyzed by the European Court of Human Rights. It is the case of a Romanian citizen who was hired by a private company and who was then asked by his employer to create a Yahoo Messenger account that he was to use in order to communicate with the company clients.

After a while, the employer notified the employee that he had been monitored and that it was discovered that he had used the internet connection for private purposes, a fact that went against the internal regulation of the company. The employee denied the accusations and sent the company a letter where he explained that had used the messaging application exclusively for business purposes.

Later, the employee decided to sue the company presenting his case in national courts and alleging that the decision to terminate his contract taken by his employer was against the law and that the employer had breached his right to private life and personal correspondence.

When the ECHR issued a verdict it clearly stated that an employer has the right to monitor their employees in order to find out whether the employees are using the internet connection and the company computer for personal purposes during the working hours. But it also stated that the employer has the obligation to notify the employees that they will be monitored and has to guarantee that employees will be protected against possible abuse.

Therefore, what employees have to remember is that the employer has the right to monitor them to a certain extent, and this is especially true when we talk about big companies. But regardless of whether we talk about a simple time tracking software or full email and phone calls monitoring what is essential is that the employee is notified about them and that the employee privacy is respected.

What is your take on the employer’s right to monitor their remote team?

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Written by Diana Nădejde


Originally a legal consultant, but more of a communication person, passionate about writing, digitalization, social media, history and philosophy. At the same time, I don’t think there is a problem that can’t be solved with a good book or a series.

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