- Do employees have control over the issue of employers accessing information in their emails?
- What are the impacts of intruding into the employee private emails by the employer at work places?
- Should employers be allowed to freely gain access to employees’ private emails?
Exposing Personal Information: Risks
Personal or information as the words suggest should remain as it is. Exposing personal information to the public through willingness by an individual or through intrusion by a third party may pose various security risk to the owner of the information as some of these information may attract the attention of others who might decide to harm the owner of the information (Hai, 2012). An example is where one shares financial information with a financial institution online. This information can be dangerous for the individual especially when leaked out to the public (Mangold, 2009). He or she might become a target for burglars or robbers who will be privy of his or her financial status (Kaplan, 2010). Academicians, human rights activists and law societies have been held in controversies as they try to dissect the topic.
Employers have argued it is for the interest of the company that they should or should be allowed to be able to have a track of all employees’ email communications. These employers allege that some employees may share critical information about the company that may pose a security threat to the organization. When it is allowed for companies to monitor employees’ communications within the company premises, it is always restricted to information regarding the company and its employees (Huang, 2006). However, some employers take advantage of this provision to intrude into private information or emails of their employees. This intrusion in many cases has ended up being court cases involving the employees and employers (Bobbie, 2009). This has left begging questions as to where the boundary is when it comes to the extent to which the employer should go when accessing information from employees’ emails and whether work emails should be private or not. It is against this background that this research seeks to find out whether employee email privacy should be upheld
The advent of technology in the world of communication revolutionized many ways. Communication in the traditional system in the past decades at work places has recently been overtaken by faster and efficient methods thanks to technology (Leiner, 2009). However, this has been a blessing in disguise. Information technology has come with as much troubles alongside with benefits. In the past there were no cases of employees’ private information being accessed by other parties without his or her consent. Much was because it was not possible because there were no any system for storing any individual information (Boyd, 2007). Everything was paperwork. In as much as much the technology in information sharing has facilitated many activities in organization, it has led to rising concerns every other day between the employers and employees concerning privacy of personal information at work places especially in emails (Sanders, 2013). The advantages of use of technology are immense. It has been seen to reduce greatly the operating costs of organizations since many operations are automated. It has also led to increased levels of efficiency. According to Susan E. Gindin, Guide to Email and Internet in the Workplace, at https://www.info-law.com/guide.html, many more employees use internet and emails today compared to 15 years ago.
Should Employers Monitor Employee Emails?
Can and do employers have access to employee emails?
According to a research carried out by American Management Association about 20 years ago, 5 out of 10 US companies normally carry out surveillance on their employees electronically. The research also revealed that there has been an increase in technology since 1999 designed and geared towards helping the employers to conduct the surveillance on their employees. It indicates that there are some software programs that monitor computer systems. When installed in any PC, it is able to track every activity that that is done on that particular PC. This type of software is able to email reports to the manager from given time intervals. Another software known as “silent watch” is able to grant the employer access to every button that an employee presses. It also said that emails “travel”. Along the way before they reach their destinations (inbox), they are several ways in which they can be intercepted. This means that personal emails can still find their way into other peoples’ knowledge courtesy of technology (Sherriff, 2012). To add on even after an email has been deleted by the intended recipient, it can still be retrieved from through various ways such as backups and hard drives. It is for this reason that employers are able to gain access to employees’ emails at work. It is therefore upon the employers to exercise professionalism.
Why employers collect information about their employees
- Business reasons
Employers justify their access to employee emails at work by citing the need to monitor their performance. However, they say that there are more valid reasons. For example there are company’s business’ secrets are very critical and should not be on the knowledge of just any other party (Bennet, 2010). Employers always go the whole length to guard these secrets. Therefore this forces the employers to employ ways and methods to monitor employees’ communications to ensure companies secrets are kept. According to (Robert, 2008), the methods may include establishing ways of accessing employee emails at work.
- To avoid liability
According to Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 141 L.Ed.2d 633 (U.S. 1998) and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (U.S. 1998), employers have been forced to pay hefty fines to plaintiffs in form of compensation for crimes that had been committed by their employees. In another instance, Chevron Corporation was ordered to pay four plaintiffs a total of $ 2.2 million when an email of sexual harassment by its employees was retrieved by plaintiff’s lawyers. This is a liability which the company could have avoided if it was monitoring employees’ emails. In yet another incident, in 1999 a court sitting on a case between McLaren and Microsoft Corporation dismissed the case even after it found out that the employer reviewed the information in the personal folder for the employee even after being restricted by more than one password. The court dismissed the case on the ground that the information was stored in an organization PC and that the network used to send and receive the emails was company’s network (Rosenborg, 2010) and (Oates, 2006). These are some of the many reasons why there has been a debate of whether the employers should be allowed to monitor employees’ communications up to their emails.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Technology in Communication
In a bid to be ethical in resolving email monitoring issues, some employers have resorted to filtering. This is a system where internet sites where the employees are allowed to access are filtered (https://www.cyberpatrol.com/).
In research surveys, there are two common research methods that are normally used (Dawson, 2010). These are qualitative methods and quantitative methods.
Qualitative research method is a research method that focuses on obtaining opinions, views and insights about a particular problem from the participants. This method is not focussed on getting numerical values or quantities (Nielsen, 2011). Its approach of analysis leans towards forming hypothesis for quantitative research by evaluating insights, opinions and observations of the respondents on a given research question. Just as there is a difference between quantitative and qualitative research, there is also a difference in the way information is collected in qualitative research and quantitative research. Methods of data collection in qualitative research are through focussed group discussion, interviews and observations. There are advantages that come with qualitative research method. Some of the aspects that cannot be captured by other methods of research such as the mood and the tone of the respondents so as to get the weight of the problem in question are able to be captured in qualitative research method (McNeill, 2010). To add on, the research is able to obtain valid data since the data collected through a one-on-one interaction with the respondent. Again, qualitative approach to research is able to reveal pieces of information that would otherwise be difficult to be identified if pre-determined survey questions would have been used. However, it also has its challenges. It is difficult to apply statistical methods and also assess relations. This is largely because the data collected is always not numerical in nature but opinions from the participants. However, this kind of data can still be analysed but with selected analysis software. One of this software is statistical package for social sciences, SPSS. This software allow qualitative data to be coded, entered in to the SPSS data variable view and be analysed.
Quantitative research method unlike qualitative research method deals with variables that can be quantified. The advantage of numerical data is that it can be used modelled into usable statistics to convey certain information about the population under study (Creswell, 2008). It is also easier to describe a population using quantitative approach. For example population characteristics such as measures of measures of dispersion, central tendencies and correlation can be established. Measures of central tendencies include mean, mode and median. Mean is normally the best measure of central tendency, however, it is always affected by extreme values. In such cases, the median is always picked as it is resistant to extreme values. The measures of dispersion include variance, standard deviation and range. Variance and standard deviation measures the extent to which a data set deviates from the mean. Some of the advantages of quantitative methods are that it allows gathering of information from a large size of participants. It also provides a way of rating information and generalization for the larger population. The disadvantages may include failure of recognition of untouched phenomena and inaccuracy when results are inferred without a control group.
Why Employers Collect Information about Their Employees
Interview is one of the approaches that are employed in qualitative research to collect information from sample population. This is a one-on-one conversation between the researcher or interviewer and the respondent where the researcher asks the respondents questions related to the subject under study. In is an appropriate method since the researcher is able to get clear insight of a given problem statement. The advantage of interviews is that the questions are not restricted and the interviewer can mould the question to fit the academic level of the respondents. The researcher is also able to create a rapport with the respondents thereby making the respondents feel free and at ease. This kind of environment enables the respondents to be able to give more in-depth insights including those that are sensitive. Interviews grant the researcher the opportunity to ask follow up questions so as to have a more rich understanding of the topic in question. To add on, the researcher only needs a small sample to extract the information required unlike in other methods of data collection. Interviews just like any other method of data collection have its demerits. It is always time consuming because the interviews need to be transcribed and organized into a full report. To add on, the process can be futile and unproductive if the interviewer is not experienced.
This is one of the methods of data collection in quantitative research. Research survey involves using a sample population to gather data through sending data collection tools such as questionnaires to large number of participants (Yi, 2009). The tools can be sent through mails or online and can also be filled online and sent back to the researcher. The method can always be used where the research wants to reach a great number of participants.
This involves the application of sight to collect information. The accuracy of the data collected depends on what the researcher sees at that particular time. Tis method has various advantages. It is the easiest and simplest data collection methods as it does not require much technical skills. It is also very easy for the researcher to assess the accuracy of the information observed. The disadvantage of observation as a method of data collection is that one is not able to know about the past regarding a given phenomenon. This method is prone to bias by the observer. A researcher will always make an observation and interpret it according to his or her opinion. Observation method is one of the most expensive methods as it involves travelling and purchasing of sophisticated equipment.
Research Surveys: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods
A questionnaire is a set of questions that are modelled according to the topic under study. The questions are supposed to be answered by respondents or participants to a given research. The questions are either open ended or closed ended. The respondent is only allowed to answer the questions as they have been asked in the questionnaire (Magnavitta, 2012). Some of the advantages of using questionnaire as a method of data collection include its cost efficiency. It is always cheap as compared to other methods since the questionnaires can be prepared and distributed online. There are no printing costs involved or payment due to a market research company. With this method, it is quick to collect results since they are filled and submitted online. This enables the research to conclude the research within a shorter period. It is also possible for the research to collect data from a relatively larger area and a larger respondent. This is because in the way information technology driven research, geography does not stand on the way. Respondents are held anonymous. This is because the surveys can be done through email or online. With the advantages also come the disadvantages. The disadvantage of this method is that it restricts the respondent in answering questions in a particular way. Apart from restriction, the method is vulnerable to dishonesty. Some respondents due to privacy normally end up giving dishonest responses thus affecting the accuracy of the research results. Unlike in face to face interview, it is difficult to capture emotions and feeling in the responses given by responses. This makes the research miss the weight of the matter in question. Another disadvantage is that the questions may be misinterpreted since the researcher is not there to guide the respondent. When it comes to analysis, open-ended questions in the questionnaire are normally difficult to analyse.
This is a method where by the researcher engage the respondents in a discussion about the topic of study. The participants have the freedom to discuss anything about the topic. The researcher is therefore able to collect and record information relevant to the topic of study during the discussion. One of the advantages of this method is that it the research is able to obtain a greater insight about the topic of study.
Data analysis will be done using excel and statistical software for social sciences, SPSS. SPSS is appropriate since it allows for coding of qualitative responses so that they can be numerically analysed (Berndsson, 2008).
The research study will employ the use of interviews. This method was deemed appropriate as it will allow the participants to be able to give out information without restrictions. More information regarding employee email privacy will be able to be collected since apart from the questions that will be asked by the interviewer, the respondent will be able to explain his or her experience and views regarding the same topic in a language and way he or she understands best. This will allow the research to be to collect sufficient and valid information.
This research study will also employ focussed group discussion in collecting information. This method was arrived at since it will allow an environment where the participants will feel free to share their thoughts about the topic of discussion (Conklin, 2010). The advantage of this method of collecting information is that it is not restricted and thus respondents are able to give all their opinions and views.
Employee email privacy is a topic that has generated so much discussion among the employers and employees. Employers feel that there are company’s secrets that should not be leaked outside therefore the need to always monitor communication of their employees through even visiting their private emails. On the other hand, employees feel that this is unethical and a breach of privacy laws about their life. This research proposal seeks to establish whether employees have control of their emails to prevent intrusion and whether employees should be allowed to gain access to employees’ personal emails.
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