Since the pandemic and the rise in people working from home, employers' use of employee-monitoring programs has been growing rapidly.
Employers say they're tracking workers' activity mainly for two reasons: to promote security and to boost productivity.
What monitoring tools they use and how aggressively they use them vary widely. But the practice has alarmed unions and privacy advocates.
Makers of monitoring software report booming sales, and their products run the gamut in terms of surveillance capabilities. One common feature is that they allow employers to track and collect data on workers' devices without users' knowledge.
That may put employers on a slippery slope as far as privacy and trust issues are concerned. But in a sampling of employee-monitoring software programs, the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation found that nine out of the 10 products it reviewed could be made invisible to the people being monitored.
Because the monitoring software is installed on company computers, employees who object may have limited options beyond complaining or finding another job. Even if workers use their personal devices, their employer could still legally track their activity if they're using company email accounts, networks or servers.
Here are some ways companies are monitoring workers at home:
Tracking work time on the computer
Clocking you in and out may be the most basic function, logging your hours worked, times idle and other gaps in the workday. Employers say it can help identify overwork or burnout if employees are spending too much time at their desks.
Conversely, a time-tracking system may prompt you when your computer has been inactive for a period, and if you don't respond, it will automatically log you off, which could affect your pay at some companies.