06/29/2012 11:48 am ET Updated Aug 29, 2012

How Your Boss Can Monitor You at Work

So you've finally landed the internship or job of your dreams. It's your first day, and you're probably already feeling on cloud nine, but then your supervisor sets you up with your own official email address. Right about now you're feeling like a big shot and just can't resist sending your best friend an email from your new account to let her know how your day is going.

Your friend emails you back right away and tells you to get on g-chat to give her a play-by-play of your first day. You peek over your shoulder, see that your supervisor's busy in her office, and sign into Gmail. This will be quick, you tell yourself. And you can chat while you're working, no big deal. After all, what's the harm in a little g-chat?

But what started out as a quick chat turns into a drawn out conversation and before you know it, you've wasted a half hour. Sure, you feel a bit guilty, but what's the big deal? Well, what you deem innocent social networking -- an activity that you could easily get away with in a lecture hall of 70 students -- may just jeopardize your internship or job.

Whether they tell you or not, employers are monitoring -- or are increasingly capable of monitoring -- their employees' behavior on the job by weeding through emails, checking phone logs, and even perusing Facebook pages. And now that you -- a smart, talented young professional -- are making your way into the workforce via internships or first-time jobs, you want to make sure you don't jeopardize your future at that dream job, right?

To help you transition your behavior from the classroom to the conference room, Her Campus spoke with a few employers to get the scoop on what they can and can't monitor.

But I'm only an intern! Does my behavior really count?

You may think that since you don't benefit from the perks of employment -- paycheck, anyone? -- and that since you're the one grabbing coffee or filing all day long, you're immune to certain workplace rules. But your status as an intern doesn't necessarily equal automatic freedom from workplace monitoring.

An employee who handles interns at the Boston branch of the Drug Enforcement Administration and preferred to remain anonymous says that DEA interns aren't treated any differently than employees, and that means they're subject to the same background and reference checks before they even start at work. "It's not that they get any extra scrutiny; it's just the environment that they're in," he says.

He says there's a disclaimer on DEA computers informing interns, just like all employees, that their behavior on the machines can be monitored. And anyhow, he says, interns know they're about to become a part of a government company when they start work. "I think when they apply for an internship here, they're aware they may be under a little bit more scrutiny," he says.

Boston Globe High School Sports Editor Bob Holmes, on the other hand, says the Globe doesn't really monitor interns or employees: "If the Globe or The New York Times are monitoring [their employees], they do a really good job at not letting us know."

During the many years he's worked at the Globe, and the time he spent at the Boston Herald before that, Holmes says he's never been told that his behavior was being monitored. But then again, his desk is out in the open, and when you work in a newsroom, your boss can sneak up behind you at any moment. So if you're reading your personal email or shopping online, there's a good chance you're going to get caught.

Even though the Globe doesn't make it a practice to monitor employees, Holmes suggests his interns practice common sense when it comes to engaging in personal activity on the job. And when it's busy in the office, he says, interns should be focusing on the assignment at hand, rather than getting distracted by g-chat, emails, or the like.

"If one of [the interns] is not paying attention because they're messing around with the computer, it doesn't work for the other [interns]; it makes it a lot more difficult for them," Holmes says. "To that extent, that's really the only monitoring we do."

Think before you... email and call?

While your mother told you to think before you speak, many employers would rather you think before you use company time to surf the Internet or chat on the phone. But at a time when there are just so many ways to communicate, which ones are off-limits in the workplace?


You may have been warned to watch what you say about your boss or your job on your Facebook or Twitter pages -- i.e., do not post your Facebook status as "I hate my boss!" -- but you definitely shouldn't bash them on the email account they're providing you! Like your mother told you, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse employers can -- and often do -- monitor your email accounts: "If an electronic mail (e-mail) system is used at a company, the employer owns it and is allowed to review its contents." Typically this only concerns emails sent from a work email account and not your personal email accounts.

Dennis Devlin, Assistant VP of Information Security and Compliance Services at Brandeis University, doesn't monitor his employees' behavior, including emails, but says that as a general rule, email and work produced on the job are the property of a company and not the employee: "Email is an institutional resource, and it's expected that it's not abused and used exclusively for personal purposes."

This means that Brandeis University, like any other business, can look at employees' emails or documents from their computer in rare circumstances, especially after receiving a request from law enforcement or a request from the legal department.

However, Devlin says employers can only access what is public -- such as information posted publicly on Facebook -- or what they have administrative access to (typically work email servers). This means that employers don't have access to employees' personal email accounts such as Gmail.

Like with most businesses, Devlin says this is because computer and the email system are "really resources of the institution, not resources of the individual."

For the rest of the article, including what other methods of communication are off-limits in the workplace and which industries are most likely to monitor employees, check out!