Four ways your boss can access your private data

employee snoop

Privacy is a currency these days. With social media, target advertising, and constant connectivity, it’s harder than ever to keep elements of your private life truly private. This crisis of privacy becomes especially concerning in the context of the workplace.

In the old days, it was easy to keep your work life and your personal life entirely separate. Today, those boundaries are blurrier than they used to be, and that fact has led to a big question for many employees: how much of my private data can my boss access?

In this article, we will look at four tools that a current boss, prospective boss, or hiring manager could be using to learn more about you -- often without your knowledge or consent.

  • Wearable devices

So far, wearable devices and fitness trackers from the likes of Fitbit, Apple, and Garmin have had a largely positive impact. They’ve made many people more cognizant of how much exercise they are getting (or not getting) each day.

In the workplace, you could point to these devices as part of the reason for the growth in trends such as standing desks and wellness programs. But there’s also evidence to suggest that data from wearable devices can be used to track work performance through factors such as productivity and stress. Researchers at Dartmouth are currently working on concepts that would put wearables and the data that they track at the center of a new type of performance evaluation.

While such a shift could help employers to recognize and fix issues regarding employee health (mental and physical), it also means a significant risk of breaking down one of the last barriers for privacy in the workplace. When a boss can see your stress levels, how well you slept, and how much you’ve been exercising, among other personal data points, wearable tech crosses into a new frontier.

  • Pregnancy apps

Ovia and other pregnancy-tracking apps are on the rise. These applications allow new mothers or mothers-to-be to track key data about everything from bodily functions to mood fluctuations to baby health. Women trying to get pregnant can even use Ovia to track and understand their fertility to improve their chances of conceiving.

The twist is that these apps are often encouraged and paid for by employers that offer them as a benefit to female employees. These employers can then see (anonymized) data about their employees’ pregnancies.

The argument in favor of such practices is that they can help employers to offer greater support to female employees and understand ideal wellness and health insurance policies. The argument against these practices is that they give employers access to a great deal of intimate, personal information at potentially challenging or vulnerable moments in employees’ lives.

  • Email and other communications

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft tracks its employee emails, chats, and calendar appointments each week, trying to get a better sense of how they spend their workday. Some of that data is tracked for the benefit of employees, who get a private dashboard that shows them a breakdown of how they are allocating their time. Those views are private, but Microsoft managers get to view general data and use it to draw conclusions about everything from employee productivity to work-life balance.

The tracking isn’t highly advanced—it plays out through Office 365 -- and Microsoft sells the analytic tools that it uses to other businesses, but communication carried out through company systems often isn’t as private as employees think it is.

  • Background information

Background checks are a standard part of the pre-employment screening process at most companies. Unlike fitness information, pregnancy data, and emails, there isn’t the expectation of privacy when you apply for a job and consent to a background check. If you have a criminal record, for instance, that information is part of the public record. Still, many job seekers aren’t 100 percent clear about what shows up on a background check.

Can a hiring manager see if you got a DUI? Can they see arrests that didn’t lead to conviction? What about criminal records that you’ve had expunged or sealed?

A DUI is a confusing charge for many people as they prepare for employment because they aren’t sure whether it becomes part of a criminal record or a driving record. Typically, a DUI will actually show up on both records since it is both a traffic offense and a misdemeanor or felony crime.

Arrest records usually won’t be a part of a background check report, as there are laws in many states that prohibit or limit employers from considering this information for hiring decisions. Expunged and sealed records should not show up on a background check and cannot be used against you in an employment setting.

While some background check privacy guidelines are straightforward, remember that criminal background checks aren’t the only types of background checks available to prospective employers. Employers often use a mix of other screening types -- including employment and education verifications, credit history checks, driving record checks -- to learn more about their candidates.

Conclusion 

As technology continues to evolve and our employee data becomes tracked, recorded, and cataloged at every turn, it’s important to understand the privacy implications. Between social media and the power of an employer’s reach, bosses and hiring managers can know a lot more about their candidates today than they ever could have learned 10 or 20 years ago.

Not all these shifts are worrying -- employers could feasibly use fitness and pregnancy data to offer superior benefits and more compassionate management to their employees. However, as you strive to strike a balance between work life and personal life, it is crucial to understand where those barriers might be broken down for you by your employer. 

Photo Credit: O Driscoll Imaging/Shutterstock

Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.

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