Employers Using Surveillance Tools For Remote Workers

An Australian insurance worker’s dismissal has highlighted the growing concern over employee surveillance techniques. After the insurance company used keystroke technology to track her activity, experts are raising warnings about the increasing use of such tools.

Suzie Cheikho, formerly a consultant with Insurance Australia Group (IAG), lost her job in February for falling short on deadlines, failing to attend meetings, being unresponsive, and not completing a task, leading to a regulatory fine against IAG.

In November 2022, Cheikho received an official warning regarding her performance and was placed on a performance improvement plan.

Her activities were meticulously examined, specifically her keystrokes over 49 workdays between October and December. The analysis revealed “deficient keystroke activity,” with an average of 54 keystrokes per hour during the monitoring period, indicating that she was not fulfilling her work obligations.

Cheikho contested the data, insisting to her employer that it was inaccurate, and took her case to the Fair Work Commission (FWC). This week, the tribunal supported IAG, ruling that her dismissal was due to “valid misconduct.”

According to a professor at the University of Sydney, Uri Gal, over half of organizations worldwide now employ some form of online workforce monitoring. He stated that the trend had become more prevalent over time, particularly during the Covid era, as remote work increased and managers became more anxious to ensure performance standards.

Professor Gal emphasized the vast industry developing these technologies, some of which were quite invasive, recording all user activities, even taking screenshots. He expressed concern about employees’ lack of awareness about such extensive monitoring and the ethical implications of companies not informing staff about surveillance.

Professor Gal also referred to the “digital panopticon” effect, where the mere assumption of being watched can exert robust control over employees.

With the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, Fiona Macdonald confirmed that employee monitoring is ” expanding rapidly and “quite widespread.” In addition to privacy concerns, she highlighted broader ethical and legal issues, especially with the use of AI in workforce decisions.

Macdonald lamented workers’ limited rights concerning workplace surveillance, stating, “When you’re working during your employer’s time, management rules.”

Her comments point to a complex situation involving technological advancements, employee rights, and the challenges of managing a remote workforce, which has become increasingly relevant in the contemporary work environment.