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Brett Greene Headshot

Big Brother May Be Your Employer, Not Just Your Government

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Government surveillance of citizens has been going on for decades. In fact, the most current example is John McCain's cybersecurity SECURE IT Act. The ACLU's Michelle Richardson has said of the bill, "This is a privacy nightmare that will eventually result in the military substantially monitoring the domestic, civilian Internet."

What is new is employers creating their own form of surveillance by forcing employees to give them broad access to personal information, some of which is irrelevant to how well an individual can perform her job.

Demanding Facebook usernames and passwords from employees is only the tip of the iceberg of how some employers are invading the privacy of their employees. This begs the question, when did employees become guilty until proven innocent?

This suspect way of treating people has become pervasive in our society. If you want to use iTunes, social media sites, downloadable apps, search engines or be employed by certain employers, you now need to give away your personal privacy rights. When this aggregated information is shared with marketers to serve you personalized advertising there are some concerns, but when your information is given to the government, credit bureaus, banks and other institutions without even notifying you, the issue grows exponentially.

The fact that most employers treat employees like children that are up to no good is something I've never understood. When you treat adults like responsible adults they are more likely to behave that way. When people in management and executive positions instinctively treat adults like preschoolers that should be suspect of bad behavior they are developing a culture of unnecessary fear and resentment. Is it a mystery that no adult appreciates being treated badly by anyone, much less by an employer?

Someone I know recently applied for a commission retail sales position. Once she was chosen for the job the first action she was asked to take was a drug test. The next action was to agree to a background investigation. Not just a criminal background check, but also checks for consumer reporting which:

May or may not include information about your character, general reputation, personal characteristics, and/or mode of living, and which can involve personal interviews with sources such as your neighbors, friends, or associates, including motor vehicle record (or "driving record") checks, workers compensation records, credit bureau files, employment references, personal references, drug screening, any educational and licensing institution or military branch and to receive any criminal record information pertaining to me which may be in the files of any Federal, State or Local criminal justice agency in any state.

It gets better. This is not a one time allowance. Anyone who signs this document gives consent for the reports to "be obtained at any time after receipt of your authorization and, if you are hired, throughout your employment."

Does that sound reasonable for a commission sales position at a furniture store? I'm sure that this is not an isolated case, and that is the problem. At some point in recent history while individuals were focused on losing their privacy online, corporations began taking away our privacy offline.

As a counterpoint, the workplace I experience every day is built on a culture of respect and appreciation with employees. The founders of the company chose to have no time off policy or vacation policy and recognize that in the 21st century our work and personal lives overlap and interweave. When you are sick you stay home, when you need to leave early to make it to your kids basketball game you leave early, when you have a vacation you post it on the vacation calendar and make sure clients and coworkers who need to know that you'll be out are informed, and when you need to work late or put in overtime you simply do it. Great ideas are honored whether they come from an executive or an intern. Everyone is excited to come to work to be a part of contributing to a fast growing company where people are treated the way you would treat a friend.

What will it take for the formerly mentioned draconian big brother policies to give way to the later progressive, innovative ways of regarding employees? How much ongoing access to your personal information, including your online login information, do you want your employer to have?

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