The issue of personal privacy has become central to the expanding use of smartphones at workplaces. With the introduction of special apps that use global positioning systems (GPS), companies are able to monitor where their employees are and, increasingly, know what they are doing.
The ability of employers to monitor employees has taken a technological step toward greater control that is not a positive one for Japanese workplaces.
The issue has already reached the courts. A recent lawsuit filed by an employee of a construction company cited psychological damage because he was forced to carry the company’s mobile phone at all times. The Tokyo District Court ruled that it is legal for the company to require the employee to carry the phone during working hours, but not during off-duty time.
That decision seems reasonable as far as it goes, but it does not resolve the problem of how and when companies should monitor where their employees are and what they are doing.
Many smartphone apps with GPS were originally intended for parents to keep track of their children. While some parents may be overzealous in tracking their children’s whereabouts, the intention to ensure children are safe seems reasonable.
Employees, however, are not children and deserve greater trust and flexibility.
For adult workers, carrying GPS-based apps could reveal personal information about one’s family situation, health condition or other information. Taking time off to visit a hospital, for example, could be recorded and revealed to employers.
Even enjoying a coffee break could be recorded by such apps. Having employers know all the details of one’s workday has the potential to invade workers’ privacy.
The constant monitoring of employees has the potential to increase pressure in the workplace. Appearing to be constantly busy in the right place does not necessarily mean workers really are being efficient or productive. Success at any job depends on achieving specific work goals.
Rather than overmonitoring behavior with technology, companies should work to find ways of creating an atmosphere where workers feel comfortable and motivated.
The government should work together with employers who issue smartphones to establish reasonable policies on when and how employees are monitored, if at all.
Employers should make their policies known to the government, courts and labor unions, and recognize that employees have the right to privacy. Workers need flexibility, confidence and independence to do their work in the best way.
Companies that truly trust their workers will not resort to overmonitoring. They understand that workers do not have to give up the right to privacy when entering the workplace.