Flower Power’s New Network

Flower Power’s New Network

 

By Wendy Gelman, J.D., L.L.M.

 

You are the CEO of Flower Power, Inc., a fast growing chain of 100 florist shops based in the Southeastern United States.  The company opened for business 5 years ago with just 20 employees and now has over 1500 employees.

 

The company is now in the process of installing a new computer network, which will, for the first time, link all of the company’s offices and locations.  The company’s Chief Information Officer has approached you with a proposal to include a number of electronic surveillance features in the new network.

 

The proposed features include:

 

  • The ability of all MIS staff to view any employee emails at any time
  • The ability of all MIS staff to monitor what internet sites employees are viewing at any time
  • The ability of all MIS staff to “shadow” PCs of any employees, at any time, without the consent of those employees (“shadowing” allows a person, such as the MIS staff person, to monitor all a user’s activity on your PC from a remote location without the user’s knowledge)
  • If a PC or laptop is issued for an employee’s use away from the office for work use, all email and activities on that PC or laptop can be monitored as well
  • Cameras will be installed on PCs of every employee, allowing all MIS staff to monitor activities of every employee in their workspaces at any time

 

Your approval is needed to install this network and these features.

 

Instructions

 

 

1)         Identify the ethical dilemmas

2)         Evaluate how stakeholders would be affected by various solutions to your dilemma(s).

3)         Discuss the pros and cons of alternative courses of action.

4)         Recommend a decision.

5)         Make sure to provide the rationale for your decision.

 

 

Answer

 

 

Flower Power’s New network

 

Name

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Flower Power’s New network

Many employers have realized that monitoring employees remotely would significantly help to increase productivity. Monitoring employees also helps to identify illegal activities and problems that would interfere with business operations. Workers will have to be disciplined to avoid getting caught. However, the remote electronic monitoring of employees raises ethical concerns about the right to privacy and comfort of employees among other issues. The laws regarding employee remote electronic monitoring continue to be tested as ethical dilemmas persist.

Ethical Dilemmas

The first and more obvious ethical dilemma is the breach of privacy. Kaiser (2018) reports that monitoring employees remotely is considered unethical. In other cases, monitoring employees remotely is even considered illegal in some areas. Monitoring employees remotely may infringe on their privacy. Unscrupulous IT officials might obtain personal details of the employees and other stakeholders, such as customers. Monitoring the using the cameras on PCs and desktops without their knowledge is highly unprofessional as it also infringes on the right of surveillance. In most instances, employees will use the free internet at work to access their personal social media sites on the company’s desktops. This means that the IT officials can easily infringe on an employee’s personal details that are not related to work. Unethical officials may even become prejudicial and discriminatory towards others based on the personal information they access about their employees. Others may even begin stalking their employees on their social media sites. Electronic monitoring without any consent breaches the right to privacy of the employees.

The second ethical dilemma is that specific communication that involves sensitive information may be breached and confidentiality compromised. If all IT officials are given access to monitor the computer activities of the employees, sensitive information exchanged through emails will be exposed and possibly placing customers and other stakeholder’s details at risk of being breached (Yost et al., 2019). For instance, an IT official who has access to process payrolls of employees will know how much people earn and the date of payment. They may easily collude with robbers to steal or defraud an organization. Therefore, the monitoring will increase their breach of confidentiality.

The third dilemma is that micromanagement of employees would make them less comfortable when working and limits their creativity. They will be unable to do work properly as they will feel they are being watched. This might lower their motivation and increase fatigue (Noguchi, 2017). The idea of being watched would make them rigid and have little freedom to relax or unwind from a hectic day. Instead, they will feel pressured to remain committed to the work. The pressure might create work burnout that lowers productivity in the end. The ethical dilemma is that a firm that is supposed to provide good working conditions for its employees is instead creating problems through micromanagement.

How Stakeholders would be Affected by the Solutions to the Dilemmas

In the first dilemma, the privacy rights of employees have been violated. Even though the law allows business owners to monitor the work activities of their employees, it may create ethical dilemmas due to the personal information that the IT officials may hear or see. For instance, seeing an email that is from an employee asking for credit due to an impending foreclosure exposes his or her financial problems to the IT officials, who have no rights to access any such information. The private life of an individual would be exposed, and the person may likely face discrimination or indifferent treatment from others. Employees could file for injunctive relief to stop employers from violating their privacy rights. If an employee’s confidentiality has been breached and he or she has incurred damages, they have every right to claim for damages when suing the firm. This means that the organization will be affected negatively by settling substantial amounts of damages and paying for legal fees. Criminal charges may also apply if there is a loss of information, such as stealing intellectual property. Exposing work activities to the IT officials with no limitations increases the risk of having data being stolen and confidentiality being breached.

The second dilemma is that key stakeholders may have their confidentiality breached by the IT officers. According to Yost et al. (2019), electronic monitoring of the work activities on employees’ computers may capture sensitive information about key stakeholders, such as clients and investors. The IT officers would capture the financial contributions of the investors. They will be able to access crucial information that should not be accessible to employees. The risks of confidentiality breaches would, in turn, create mistrust and worry from the clients and investors. There will be growing concerns about how information monitored and gathered by the IT team is used. Employee monitoring software is not only concerned with how data is being collected. It also involves the use of data. In the end, the ethical dilemma might reduce a company’s reputation and prevent potential investors from investing in the company. For instance, employees could sell trade secrets to a competitor and lose market share or revenue. Eventually, the firm will record poor profits and losses. In the end, the investors will have limited earnings per share, and employees will be unable to get monetary benefits. The ethical dilemma of a firm’s handling of information would turn away customers who would not want to share any of their details. Breaches in confidentiality would attract legal trouble for a company. Some of the laws include HIPAA that protects patients’ gathering and use of information within healthcare organizations. At the same time, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 is another federal law that allows employers to monitor their employees’ electronic activities as long as they give valid justifications. The law, however, enables business owners to request employees’ consent before they do their electronic monitoring. In other words, monitoring should be within reason (Burke, 2017). Therefore, constant monitoring of employees through cameras from the PCs is unconventional and infringes a person’s privacy.

The third ethical dilemma of micromanagement may affect the productivity of the employees. Micromanagement may create fear among employees and stifle creativity among employees. They will not feel comfortable being explorative and creative. According to Noguchi (2017), micromanagement is essential when monitoring activities to prevent fraud and illegal activities. However, micromanagement puts pressure on employees and prevents them from being creative. Employees will be afraid of trying out new things or exploring other ideas. They will also have low motivation to engage in meaningful conversations that would foster the exchange of ideas and information. Employees will also be dissatisfied with their jobs and seek to find better employment opportunities with excellent working environments. Micromanagement hinders democratic leadership, where employees are allowed to be creative and interact freely with others to share ideas and insights.

 

Pros and Cons of Alternative Courses of Action

Informing Employees

One way of eliminating ethical dilemmas when handling patients’ information is by creating awareness to the employees about the remote monitoring software. Employees should be informed about what the monitoring software entails for the employer to get their consent. This will limit legal lawsuits from employees about the constant surveillance. Despite this, employers will be unable to capture any illegal activities or violations of rules since workers will be aware. Employees will look for other ways of defrauding a company while taking precautions not to be caught. After all, the electronic remote monitoring of employee activities is meant to monitor their activities and capture any illegal activities. This means that electronic monitoring would not be effective as it should be.

Strict Policing

The second way of eliminating ethical dilemmas of breaching personal data is by setting strict work cultures and training employees about how to separate personal activities from professional ones. Employees should be warned about using work facilities for their personal actions. Personal activities may be captured during the surveillance and create legal trouble. The employees may also be exposing themselves and their private lives, thereby invite trouble. Putting strict rules on the use of computer facilities might demotivate their commitment to work. The employees would need some bit of freedom to allow them to relax. Additionally, employee training would be time-consuming since it should be done frequently. Frequent training of employees about the use of work facilities is crucial since it would remind them to be compliant and prevent ethical dilemmas where their private lives are exposed.

Using Restrictive Software

The company should also find software that restricts taking screenshots of personal sites. The software monitoring systems should only be limited to work-related activities. This will prevent the IT officers from using or capturing the employees’ personal information that may be sensitive and not meant for exposure. The intrusive features may help prevent breaches to personal data during the remote monitoring process. The screenshots serve as proof of the monitoring process. However, they should not capture private activities, such as an employee using the work computer to access their bank account. Unfortunately, limiting the software scope will prevent the IT officials from monitoring illegal activities of the employees from their personal activities.

Transparency in the Handling of Information

The organization could also explain and make it clear how they are to use the information they gather from the monitoring exercise. As required by the constitution, they should be transparent to state how they would use any information they gather from their survey. The employees should be on board and made to understand the established goals before the surveillance is done. Key stakeholders, such as investors, suppliers, and customers, should be informed of how their data is being handled and the purpose. This will help to create transparency and reveal the nature of the operations. In turn, ethical dilemmas with regard to the use of data they gather from the surveillance. Nonetheless, revealing to everyone how the information would be used does not guarantee that the organization will be compliant. Compliance can only be achieved if an organization enforces strict policies that govern the conduct of all employees.

Oversee the Conduct of the IT Department

The IT officials could also be trained on how to safeguard the privacy of people and any sensitive information about the organization and other key stakeholders. There should be an oversight committee that monitors the conduct of the IT officials doing the surveillance to ensure that they do not overstep their mandate with regard to privacy. They should be strict and punish IT officials who violate the laws to serve as an example to others. Monitoring the conduct and actions of the IT officials would be costly and time-consuming as well. The organization will have to hire experts in IT who would use their expertise to audit the surveillance closely.

Non-Monitoring Activities

The organization could consider other alternatives that do not involve remote electronic surveillance. For instance, the organization could set key performance indicators that are monitored on a daily basis. Internet restrictions could also be made and access to personal social media sites denied. This will prevent employees from conducting personal activities using the organization’s facilities. It will also reduce the burden of an organization having the entire IT team monitor the daily activities of its employees. In the end, the firm will be able to eliminate most of the ethical dilemmas with respect to privacy and confidentiality.

Recommended Decision

There is a thin line between personal and professional communication at the workplace. The lack of clarity on using work facilities results in numerous ethical conflicts about whether to monitor the activities of the employees remotely. Even though the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 allows employers to monitor their employees’ electronic activities, there should be valid justifications for doing so (Burke, 2017). Therefore, the recommended action is to use alternatives to electronic surveillance to prevent ethical dilemmas altogether. For instance, the firm could set key performance indicators that are monitored on a daily basis. One such example is to have accountants reporting their findings and the firm’s financial position every single day. The management should place strict internet restrictions to limit access to personal social media sites. Facebook and other sites should be inaccessible to the employees from their workstations. Finally, remote electronic surveillance of employees should only be used when there is a need to manage issues within an organization. For example, it could be done when there are concerns about how activities are being done.

Rationale

The restrictions will prevent employees from conducting personal activities using the organization’s facilities. They will not be able to spend internet resources on their personal needs. The IT team will also not have to monitor the daily activities of its employees during its surveillance. They will be devoted mote to monitoring the information systems and securing them against internal and external attacks. Eventually, the firm will be able to eliminate most of the ethical dilemmas with respect to privacy and confidentiality. Most importantly, the organization will be able to create a good working environment for its employees as they will feel comfortable and encouraged to be productive. Legal costs and lawsuits will be reduced significantly as there will be better management of scarce resources. Additionally, there will be more productivity as the employees will be more creative and able to express their ideas and insights freely.

Conclusion

Currently, employers are dealing with remote working. The shift of business operations requires strict monitoring of employees’ activities. Companies are finding it easier to monitor their employees remotely than deal with redundant ad unproductive workers. Despite the benefits of remote surveillance, the remote electronic monitoring of employees raises ethical concerns about the employees’ right to privacy and comfort. The private life of an individual would be exposed, and the person may likely face discrimination or indifferent treatment from others. The process may capture sensitive information about key stakeholders, such as clients and investors. The micromanagement may create fear among employees and stifle creativity among employees. They will not feel comfortable being explorative and creative. Firms should inform their employees, use strict policing, apply restrictive software, be transparent, evaluate the IT department, and consider non-monitoring activities. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 is another federal law that allows employers to monitor their employees’ electronic activities as long as they give valid justifications. Therefore, the company should limit its monitoring. Additionally, the company could establish key performance indicators that are monitored daily. Internet restrictions could also be made and access to personal social media sites denied.

 

References

Burke, A. (2017). When Silence Is Not Golden: The Stored Communications Act, Gag Orders, and the First Amendment. Baylor L. Rev.69, 596.

Kaiser, E. (2018). Monitoring Employees with Hidden Surveillance Cameras Breaches Their Right to Privacy. Eur. Data Prot. L. Rev.4, 396.

Noguchi, Y. (2017). Is your boss too controlling? Many employees clash with micromanagers. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/07/17/537750774/is-your-boss-too-controlling-many-employees-clash-with-micromanagers

Yost, A. B., Behrend, T. S., Howardson, G., Darrow, J. B., & Jensen, J. M. (2019). Reactance to electronic surveillance: a test of antecedents and outcomes. Journal of Business and Psychology34(1), 71-86.

 

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