Spies at work in your office

Spies at work in your office

Once upon a time, you left your computer on and your jacket on your chair if you wanted the boss to think you were working late.

Blue-collar workers would get mates to "bundy on" and "bundy off" the clock for them. These days, the boss can simply ask the IT department to print out a record of what time your security pass shows you arrived and left work - or when you used the toilet, ate lunch or logged onto Facebook.

But as entrepreneurial security companies offer bosses measures to keep tabs on staff, lawyers and management experts warn there are dangers.

The area development manager for smartcard access provider Salto Systems, James Robinson, said management "can virtually track every movement that someone has made through the day".

Management at one listed company that was deciding which employees to make redundant had asked the IT department for details of staff arrival and departure times, said a sales manager who has asked to remain anonymous.

The executives also asked how much time the staff were spending on social networking sites.

Australian Business Lawyers managing partner Tim Capelin said such approaches might be legitimate, as long as employees had been informed of computer monitoring and employment arrangements did not require other methods of selection.

"If the criteria [for redundancy] are not determined by an award or enterprise agreement, then the employer can determine its criteria," said Mr Capelin. "It can then use the evidence that is at its disposal to determine how people measure against that criteria."

Mr Capelin had a client many years ago whose foreman was so certain people were bundying on and off incorrectly "that this guy actually set himself up in the roof above the bundy clock. And he was there at different points in the night shift for weeks on end until he eventually caught these guys".

It's much easier now.

Mr Robinson said the systems he installed catered "for every door in the facility - not just door access but cabinets and things like that as well . . . In some facilities, we've even got them installed on the bathroom doors".

While few employers were interested in inspecting the records of how their employees had spent their days, several controlled employees' movements so, for example, "you only have access to the lunchroom from

12 to 1 o'clock".

Deloitte partner Frank O'Toole, who is head of the firm's financial crime group, said managers should not get carried away with such micro-management.

"I've seen some organisations in the past that do get a rush of blood around this stuff and they end up trying to boil the ocean and it's absolutely counter-productive," said Mr O'Toole.

Bosses should strike a balance between trust and scrutiny.

"A workplace that encourages empowerment and trust is a very powerful and productive workplace - so that needs to be the goal," he said.

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