Monitoring in the home office: what is the boss allowed to do?

Deceptive privacy
Can my employer spy on me in the home office?

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We feel unobserved in the home office. But are we also? It depends!

Deceptive privacy

Working in your own living room or bedroom can sometimes feel deceptively private. Take a quick look at the new series, check out the matches on Tinder or quickly order the birthday present for grandpa – will my boss notice? And if so, can that cost me the job? Depends on!

Of course, the same principle applies in the home office as in the office: Our contractually agreed working hours belong to the company that pays us for them. But apparently some superiors find it difficult to trust us in the home office – this is proven by the figures that significantly more monitoring software was purchased in 2020 than in the years before Corona.

But how far can the employer's control go? "Stiftung Warentest" reveals in its February issue what is and what is not allowed in the home office. Here are the most important things in brief:

Are my emails secret?

Whether or not monitoring of the work email account is permitted depends on how the use is specified in the employment contract. If there is no regulation there, private use is considered permitted if the employer has tolerated it over a longer period of time. A control is then not permitted. Supervisors, however, have the right to look into business mail.

Are superiors allowed to surf the net?

Employers are allowed to check and evaluate the browser history of their employees – but ONLY if there is a concrete suspicion that he or she is violating a corresponding prohibition or overdoing private surfing. If in doubt, leave it entirely!

Mouse and keyboard: tracking down the clicks

Krass: There are employers who use so-called keyloggers to record every mouse click and keyboard input by their employees. The good news: the data collected cannot be used to terminate someone. That was decided by the Federal Labor Court.

Monitoring via webcam

Some companies monitor their employees with the camera on their work computer. This allows you to check unnoticed whether an employee is really sitting at the workplace or not. This spying is only permitted if there is a reasonable suspicion that an employee is committing working time fraud – AND if surveillance via webcam is the only possible means of proving the fraud.

Working time control? It is even compulsory

All employees should be aware that employers can use the log-in data to understand when they have logged in and out of the company network via the work computer. According to the Working Hours Act, companies are even obliged to document the overtime of their employees for two years – for their own protection.

Beware of self-exploitation!

Conclusion: General monitoring of employees without a reason is not permitted in the home office either. However, if an employer has a well-founded suspicion of working time fraud, things look different.

But for fear of getting a reputation for being lazy at home, many work in the home office even more than in the office, as studies have shown. That is why we should not only be careful not to give the employer an opportunity to spy on, but also to ensure that we do not exploit ourselves even more at home than in the company.