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Last Updated: Friday, 12 March, 2004, 09:35 GMT
How the boss can monitor you
We all do it: a bit of online banking, holiday planning and personal e-mailing. There is no harm in it if the boss isn't watching..... is there? Well, your boss just might be watching.

Just got off the phone to your best friend and about to start surfing the web? Your employer may just be taking more notice of your activities than you think.

Firms are increasingly using advanced technology to keep an eye on their workers, according to a recent report by the TUC. So what techniques can be used?


If you are at work right now, your boss might know you are reading this. Software can be installed in your computer that can measure how fast you are typing, which web pages you are visiting and what e-mails you are sending. A program called Investigator allows employers to monitor every single key stroke an employee makes. It also takes periodic screen shots of what's being displayed on the computer (including dodgy sites). And if your PC has a web cam, the program can also take secret photos of you.


Closed-circuit television, primarily set up for security reasons, can be an excellent snooping device for employers. One major hospital has been criticised for using hidden cameras in staff locker rooms, allegedly to investigate mail tampering. When 12 brewery workers were fired last year for drinking beer at work, the evidence to support the sackings came from surveillance cameras. Video surveillance can also be used to check up on compensation claims. If you hurt yourself at work and request compensation, your boss might have you followed by a private investigator to make sure you really are as incapacitated as you say you are.


Employers can keep a close eye on those who work outside an office too. GPS devices use satellites to track vehicles, from delivery trucks to snow ploughs, to make sure they are exactly where they are supposed to be. Lorry drivers are routinely monitored by a device on their dashboard called a tachograph. It measures how far they drive, and for how long, without a rest.


Eavesdropping on telephone calls is commonplace, particularly in call centres and telephone exchanges. That way speed, efficiency, technique - and private gossip - can be monitored. And if an employer suspects something untoward, a worker can easily be singled out for phone tapping.


Security staff often have to scan bar codes at various points on their rounds to show where they have been, and prove that they are completing the job.


Some employers have been known to carry out random drug and alcohol tests on their workers. These tests can reveal just how much fun an employee was having over the weekend. They are most commonly used on workers who really do need to be sober, such as train drivers and pilots.


You might be forgiven for thinking that the toilet is the last bastion of privacy. Not necessarily so. One US company has installed what's known as a hygiene guard, which uses sensors on soap dispensers to make sure workers adhere to proper hygiene. If employees fail to wash their hands, a black mark goes directly into their file on the main computer.

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