Time tracking allows you to monitor employees – is it completely legal?

Imagine telling your employee’s that from now on, all of their computer performance will be monitored and reported. Do you see this as general dissatisfaction? People by nature don’t like to be controlled. On the other hand – it’s important to understand what’s going on in your firm. If you actually struggle with legal and ethical doubts about employees monitoring, have a look what is acceptable and what is forbidden.

time tracking software

Does time tracking invade employee privacy?

Time tracking tools monitor how much time employees spend on particular tasks and activities, and how much they spend on unproductive websites and programs, as well as how long each employee is away from the computer.

Employees complaining about a time tracker violating their privacy should keep in mind that this does not contravene any privacy laws:

Professor Corey A. Ciocchetti’ in her dissertation The Eavesdropping Employer: A Twenty – First Century Framework for Employee Monitoring mentions four types of monitoring practices:

time tracking software

Ciocchetti recognizes Time and Attendance Monitoring as one of the Best Practices, i.e.:

“Monitoring that offers high enterprise protection and minimally invades employee privacy; these practices are appropriate for Business Purposes, Liability-Avoidance Purposes and Investigatory Purposes.”

Risky, poor and borderline practices are considered as highly privacy-invasive and are continuously the subject of dispute in court systems all over the world.

Why do employers track their workers’ time?

Although some employees can be staunchly against tracking their time for various reasons, for many employers, it’s just a must-have tool (according to American Management Association Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey, 45% of employers monitor time spent at a computers in  their firms).

In the USA, 64% of employees (Forbes) visit not-work related websites daily and more than half of this amount does so for more than one hour.

time tracking software

On average, a single company loses $700 annually for one employee’s absenteeism or not-work related performance.

A boss has the right to monitor employees’ time and attendance.

Facing those numbers, companies have a right to protect their business from unproductive actions and computer misuse.

time tracker

What does the law say about it?


There are 3 main regulations concerning employee monitoring

  1. Fourth Amendment
  2. Privacy Act of 1974

They both refer only to governmental agencies and they have no power in the private employment arena.

  1. Electronic Communications Privacy Act

It prohibits the intentional capture or disclosure of any electronic communication where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, it basically means: when the employee doesn’t know they are being monitored.

In Canada:

  1. Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)

Employers are limited in the way they can monitor workers. What’s more, employees have a right to access monitoring data and introduce amendments if they deem it appropriate.

In Europe:

  1. European Convention on Human Rights
  2. Data Protection Directive

They allow employers to monitor employees emails, phone calls and computer use, but only when the employer informs them about those facts in detail.


Information is the key

How to track employees time while ensuring cohesion with the law and amongst team members?

Just tell them everything they should know.

If you want to collect time data in your firm and have no legal or ethical problem with this, you should accurately determine who will be monitored, what type of monitoring will be used, and what areas it will cover in detail.

The best way to do it is by setting understandable and widely available Acceptable Use Policies that every employee should refer to and sign given consent to the terms.

time tracking software

Controversial time tracker features

Even though time monitoring is legal, some of time, tracking software offers features that may be considered as crossing the border of privacy and can be a cause of disagreement between employer and workers.

  • Monitoring of headers of websites and emails

To monitor performance accurately, time trackers often saves headers of websites and electronic correspondence. It means that the boss can see not only that you were answering an email, but also the first few words of its topic.

time management tools

… but don’t worry!

To avoid misunderstandings just tell or better still, show your employees how deeply software monitors content. Explain that not all content will be monitored and discuss the matter with your staff about if it satisfies them. In case of any opposition, include this feature in Acceptable Use Policies and make sure it is in their contract.

  • Screenshots

This is more serious, as screenshots can document all the content that an employee is watching.

It’s dangerously close to Desktop Monitoring, which Ciocchetti writes about:

“Monitoring an employee’s electronic footprint in this manner is extremely invasive and can paint an incomplete picture. (…)  When employees become aware that their employer is monitoring their computer, either before or after the fact, the negative repercussions on morale and dignity (…).”


  • Not all time tracking software offers that feature.
  • Some software that provides screenshot monitoring has this feature as additional, and you are able to turn it off
  • If you really care about screenshots, you can always set it in Acceptable Use Policies

How to implement employee time tracking?

Before implementing a time tracker, talk to your employees. Tell them the pros and cons of such a solution and make sure you did so understandably and transparently. Listen carefully to what your team is thinking, analyze it and then try to choose software that suits all involved.

Do you track or are you planning to track time in your company? What do your employees say about it?

Alternatively, maybe you are an employee and have mixed feelings about monitoring your performance? Please, tell me what you are thinking!


time tracking infographics

Time tracking allows you to monitor employees – is it completely legal?

5 thoughts on “Time tracking allows you to monitor employees – is it completely legal?

  1. I honestly feel okay about being monitored, however- if the person doing the monitoring has the ability to manipulate your data, it then becomes a serious problem. That’s when the capability should not exist.

    1. I totally agree with you! Luckily we didn’t experience this kind of situation from any of our customers.

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