USA Today

Employers are ratcheting up their efforts to monitor employees, in more cases adding staff whose job it is to read workers’ outgoing e-mail. About 55 per cent of companies retain and review e-mail, according to a 2005 survey by the American Management Association and Columbus, Ohio-based training and consulting firm The ePolicy Institute, up from 47 per cent in 2001. A quarter have fired workers for e-mail abuse. More than 60 per cent of companies with 1,000 or more employees either hire, or plan to hire, staff to read or otherwise analyse outbound e-mail, according to a 2005 study by Proofpoint, which specializes in e-mail security and content issues. A main concern: leakage of trade secrets. Some critics say personally reading outgoing e-mail is too time-consuming to be effective, as well as a violation of workers’ privacy rights.

“We actually think it’s invasive,” says Gary Steele, CEO of Proofpoint in Cupertino, Calif.

“Employers are taking a much more aggressive stance. ... The findings are a little astonishing,

and, for employees, quite scary.” Employers are also investigating specific employees they have concerns about, says Manny Avramidis, vice president of global human resources for the AMA. In an investigation, a supervisor will check phone records, e-mail and Web activity, and check how often an employee has used a key pass to enter and exit a building. “The obvious concern,” Avramidis says, “is lost productivity.” The concern goes beyond e-mail. More companies are blocking instant messaging and employee access to personal e-mail accounts, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and CareerJournal.com. Another reason for concern: E-mail can come back to haunt employers if lawsuits are filed. Messages must often be divulged as part of the discovery process. One in five employers has had e-mail subpoenaed by courts and regulators, according to a report.