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.
This article will answer your questions about work surveillance and internet privacy — and on a more personal note, what your boss or manager can and can’t actually see in your browsing history.
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 change anything.
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.
Can My Employer See What Websites I View If I’m Not On Their WiFi?
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 WiFi.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.
As for whether your employer can read emails sent from a personal account connected to the company network, the answer is less clear. Laws are still murky on this topic, and not all employers have the necessary software. However, court rulings on this topic often depend on a variety of factors.
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 WiFi 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, 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?
If you are wondering what information you should avoid storing on your work computer, part of the answer is obvious. 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. Keep your work and personal web access separate and avoid storing personal passwords, job applications, bank logins, or private information on your work computer.
Why Do Employers Monitor Their Employees?
There are many reasons why employers monitor their employees’ computer activity. They use it to avoid theft and make sure that their employees’ online actions reflect well on the company. They may also track activity to make sure employees are using their time productively.
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. Conduct yourself professionally in all your workplace communication, and avoid saying anything that could potentially be embarrassing or problematic.