John Phillips at The Word on Employment Law posted about the “Electronic Leash” and cites to a Wall Street Journal post by Sue Shellenbarger that conjures up visions of 1850 sweatshops with following description of employer’s exploitive electronic monitoring of home workers:
In a budding trend some employment experts say is invasive, companies are stepping up electronic monitoring and oversight of tens of thousands of home-based independent contractors. They’re taking photos of workers’ computer screens at random, counting keystrokes and mouse clicks and snapping photos of them at their computers. They’re plying sophisticated technology to instantaneously detect anger, raised voices or children crying in the background on workers’ home-office calls. Others are using Darwinian routing systems that keep calls coming so fast workers have no time to go to the bathroom.
The Home Shoring business proponents put a different spin on the work environment tauting flexibility for workers and accountability for businesses using their services. Although I have never worked in a call center, my interaction with employers that have them shows me that they are highly structured work environments where productivity is closely monitored. Many employees who do not work at home are subject to some of the same types of electronic monitoring that seems objectionable to home workers. Maybe this begs the question, but why should the home-work environment be any less supervised than the at-work environment?
Employer’s biggest concern for at home workers is the lack of supervision. Many advocates of working at home know it has limitations. Teleworking is not for everyone. As noted by Brittany Maling at HR World, it requires self-disciplined and efficient workers who are most successful if their home office mimicks the traits of the traditional work environment. Perhaps the future of telecommuting has reached its tipping point, but there are still many issues to be worked out including the proper balance between mistrust and obsessive monitoring.
From a legal perspective, the degree of electronic supervision directed toward an independent contractor will likely result in a recharacterization of the relationship to one of employee/employer. We have previously outlined the other legal issues in Legal issues in Telecommuting: Gas Prices make Businesses Reconsider Policies.