Joshua Elzy
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HR, writer, & coach promoting equal opportunity

Advances in work technology made our jobs easier, but they also made it easier for employers to monitor us. Before you get in trouble at work, here are several things you should never do on your work technology. 

1. Never access personal social media at work.

Every year, employees are punished for accessing social media at work. Even if you use your personal data plan to post during the workday, the timestamp on the post can give away that you weren’t working. Protect yourself by setting your personal accounts to private and timing your posts after your workday.

2. Never plug your personal phone into your work computer.

Many phones both recharge when plugged into computers and back up their files. Have NSFW content on your phone? You could be fired if your phone stores it on your work computer. 

3. Never save personal login information on employer computers.

Password saving features on browsers are convenient, but entrust your login info to someone else. Your employer has access to any passwords saved on workplace browsers. So, if you save your Facebook password on your work computer, you’re giving your employer access to your Facebook account. 

4. Never believe employers who say they won’t monitor your emails.

Employees have been fired for the contents of emails even after employers promised not to read them. Unfortunately, these promises are not binding and courts found that employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy over employer systems. 

5. Never assume former employers deleted your data.

If you left personal login information on a former employer’s computer, they could still be using it to monitor you. In one case, an employer was allowed by courts to keep monitoring a former employee’s Facebook Messenger conversations using login data captured on their former work computer. 

6. Never correspond about changing jobs.

Employers are suspicious you’ll take customers with you if you leave, so don’t discuss thoughts of leaving over employer networks. Eavesdropping employers could sue you for intending to break non-compete or intellectual property agreements. 

7. Never type something you don’t want your employer to know.

Employers use software constantly searching for inappropriate words and tracking keystrokes. Even if you delete something you’ve typed or just type it into an internet page or Slack, your employer can recreate it. 

8. Never delete something and assume your employer can’t see it.

Most things you delete electronically are never really gone. Employers worried employees might store inappropriate files or steal valuable secrets can install software to monitor file and folder creation, deletion, access, copying and printing.  

9. Never give a file a name you wouldn’t want coworkers to see.

Networked printers sometimes keep and display a list of every document printed and who printed it. Think twice before printing something personal or confidential at work or naming something “Report for Dumb CEO”.

10. Never look at something you wouldn’t want your employer to see.

Some employers use monitoring software that takes screenshots of employees’ computers at random times to be saved and reviewed — or even record video of employees’ screens. Employers use productivity tracking software to block individual sites or trigger alarms when employees visit sites. Getting in trouble is not a matter of your boss physically seeing you looking at something on your computer that you shouldn’t. Your computer is recording what you’re doing even when your boss isn’t watching.

11. Never assume your emails only reach employees you To, CC, or BCC.

Managers you don’t send your emails to may still be reading them. I was reminded of this in HBO’s Theranos documentary when an employee sent an email and received a response from a manager who was not on the To, CC, or BCC. 

12. Never post something contrary to your employer’s values.

Employers have wide latitude to fire employees for publicly-visible posts or statements contrary to the employer’s values. This applies if you have a publicly-facing job (like PR) or if you identify your employer in your profiles on Facebook or LinkedIn. Find an employer whose values are consistent with yours and hold them accountable for living up to those values. 

13. Never be “uncivil” over your employer’s network.

Employers are increasingly punishing employees for being “uncivil” or “socially unacceptable." At work you don’t have the same personal rights of free speech or due process, and employees complaining individually about their managers are not protected  as engaging in “concerted activity” against work conditions. 

14. Never access your employee accounts while on FMLA.

Despite your best intentions, checking your employee email or messaging on FMLA undermines your doctor’s contention that you’re unable to work. Concentrate on yourself and your recovery, and while you’re at it, don’t post anything on social media that similarly makes you seem well enough to work. 

15. Never record conversations or meetings without checking laws and policies.

Some jurisdictions in the US require everyone involved in conversations consenting to their recording. Similarly, the National Labor Relations Board supports employers in prohibiting (and punishing) workplace recordings. Created in part to protect employee rights, the NLRB currently protects employers from harassment and bullying claims.

Things on employer networks become the employer’s property and no longer private. That includes personal devices you connect to employer networks or personal passwords you use on employer browsers. Keep your work and personal correspondence on separate devices and networks. And invest in your own data plan for your devices — your career’s worth it. 

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Josh’s professional passion is finding HR solutions that are mutually beneficial for employees and their employer. Starting as an HR Analyst and working his way up to being an HR Director, this SPHR has influenced the careers of thousands of employees and built expertise in a spectrum of HR systems and projects. Currently a Sr HRBP in Austin, Josh is driven to build sustainable, high-integrity employment relationships that enhance company performance by enabling the skills and career opportunities of its employees.