Can My Boss See What Websites I Visit?

Patrick Ward Patrick Ward Follow Jan 01, 2022 · 5 mins read
Can My Boss See What Websites I Visit?

If you’ve ever closed a browser tab and wondered, “wait, can my boss see that?” you are not alone.

While there are standards for professional conduct regarding the internet, you also deserve to know your rights regarding workspace and privacy. Knowing these rights will ensure that you maintain your privacy and stay protected from repercussions.

Can My Boss or Manager See My Browsing History?

The short answer to this question is — yes. Your employer can indeed see your browsing history through remote employee monitoring software. You should assume that your employer checks your browsing history regularly.

Unfortunately, erasing your browsing history doesn’t necessarily change anything — particularly if they are using monitoring software on your work device, or monitoring the Wi-Fi network at an office location. Both are common.

If you’re wondering, “Does my employer monitor my browsing?” and asking about the legality of the issue1, that’s a bit of a bigger beast. The law does not let your employer monitor your personal browsing history — that is, websites you visit or information you store on your personal computer.

However, things get a bit more complicated when browsing on a public network, even if you are using a private computer. In this case, the answer to “Can my employer see what websites I visit?” — even if you are using a personal computer — is yes.

That being said, the majority of cases that have reached courts involve work devices being monitored inside an office setting. The move to remote work post-2020 has dramatically reduced the ability of employers to monitor employees at the level that is possible in an office environment — but keystroke has still been used to justify firings in some high-profile cases.

Can My Employer See What Websites I View If I’m Not On Their Wi-Fi?

Work from home employee.
The move to work-from-home has complicated the question of worker monitoring. Access now depends more on software and VPNs on your device, and device ownership, more than on physical location.

If you have a connection to the company network, your employer has the right to track your internet activity. They can also monitor you if you are using a work computer but are not connected to the local Wi-Fi.2 The laws get a bit more complex when tracking your activity on a personal device that is not connected to the network, though it is not necessarily illegal.

Can My Boss Read My Email?

If you are using a work computer or sending emails on the workplace network, your employer can indeed read your email. If you are sending emails through a work email address, these are not considered private and your employer may access them freely.

These days, it is not uncommon for employers to monitor their employees’ email as a matter of routine. Some companies install software that sends copies of any emails sent to or from employee accounts.

What is more, some employers use keylogger software that even lets them view deleted emails or drafts that have been saved.

Can My Boss Read My Text Messages?

If you have a cell phone that your company issued, your employer may have the right to monitor those text messages. However, in general, the law does not allow an employer to monitor text conversations on an employee’s personal cell phone.

Can My Boss Read My Slack Messages?

Your employer can read private IMs or Slack messages. Even if you are talking privately to someone at another company, your private Slack messages are not private from your employer.

Can My Boss, Manager, Or The IT Department See My Passwords?

If you store your passwords on a work device or a personal device connected to the company network, your employer and the company IT personnel likely have access to your passwords.

Can My Boss or Manager See What Websites I Visit On My Phone At Work?

If you use your mobile network to look up websites at work, your employer cannot track that activity. However, if you use the company network to connect to the internet on your cell phone, they can see all the activity on the network.

If you plan to use your personal cell phone at work, make sure you use your cell data, not the workplace Wi-Fi or internet connection, to access the Web.

Can My Employer Control My Computer Remotely?

With the increase in remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees have wondered if employers can access or even control their computers when working from home.

The answer is: yes and no. To access your computer remotely, your employer needs to have installed special software that gives them remote control. This is usually only possible if you are using a work device. If you are working from home on a personal computer, you can be sure that your employer can’t control your computer from afar.

Beyond physical control, you also need to consider IP control. Famously, using a work device to produce software, graphics, or any other output leaves you open to lawsuits that the IP belongs to the owner of the device used to produce the work.

Simple solution: don’t use work devices or Wi-Fi to work on your side business while employed.

Conclusion: assume less privacy, even when working from home

When on a computer at work, or using any device to complete work-related tasks, it is best to assume that your employer can see everything you are doing. This will ensure that you avoid any trouble, including losing your job or even facing a lawsuit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Information Should I Avoid Storing On My Work Computer?

Everyone knows you should never store inappropriate materials, like adult images or off-color humor. But a bigger rule of thumb is simply not to store any personal information. Avoid storing personal information such as passwords, job applications, bank logins, or private data on your work computer. Keeping your personal and work web browsing separate is the simplest way to avoid issues.

Why Do Employers Monitor Their Employees?

Employers typically monitor their employees’ computer activity to prevent theft, ensure proper representation of the company online, and confirm productive use of time.

How Can I Protect Myself From Repercussions Connected To Online Activities At Work?

The simplest and best way to protect yourself from repercussions (either legal or relating to your employment status) is to assume all your online activity is being monitored. Assume all your online activity at work is monitored, and err on the side of professionalism in all your online communications and activities.

Patrick Ward
Written by Patrick Ward Follow
Hi, I'm Patrick. I made this site to share my expertise on team augmentation, nearshore development, and remote work.
Research Inquiries

Researching this topic for an article or special project? Contact me to discuss how our insights or data can support your work.

Initial consultation is pro bono for journalists and academics.