Workers Beware—Big Brother IS Watching You

George Orwell may not have known social media or credit checks would be the means, but he sure got the idea right. Big Brother—or at least The Boss—is watching.

Young people entering the workforce may be unaware that from the moment they apply for a position, their privacy can be considered a thing of the past. Whether by drug testing or background screenings, more and more firms are using a variety of methods to investigate potential hires. According the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 69 percent of all firms conduct background checks on new workers.

The types of investigations vary. Some assess a candidate’s integrity using various psychological tests. Others may look into financial or commercial records. Many scrutinize an applicant’s criminal background to reduce the organization’s legal liability for negligent hiring, ensure a safe workplace, or comply with local laws.

Whatever a potential employer is looking for, young people should be aware that their pasts will affect their employability. The SHRM survey found that even if a candidate had been convicted of a nonviolent misdemeanor, 26 percent of employers would not offer that person a job.

Once hired, employees continue to be under surveillance. Blue collar workers have long been closely watched, but the prevalence of mobile devices and cheap monitoring software now allows employers to check on everything from phone calls to whether a truck driver is wearing a seat beat.

Workers who routinely conduct their jobs outside of an office using company-issued cell phones are also being watched. Employers can place apps on the phones that allow them to view the employee’s photos, text messages, e-mail, Web surfing habits, and location. And if employees don’t want their employers to know what they do after hours, they should turn the phones off at night or even take out the battery—employers can opt to check the devices during the wee hours, too.

Many workers feel such monitoring invades their privacy, but employers say the surveillance is not only legal—it makes workers more productive and honest.

Orwell’s fictional tale may not match today’s reality, but as today’s students enter the workplace, they should be aware. Big Brother may not be watching—but big business sure is.

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