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Is your boss monitoring your e-mail?

A quarter of employers have sacked workers for how they use their e-mail--and even for misuse of the office phone, a study shows.

If you're working for a U.S. company, there's a good chance you're being watched--and you may get fired for how you use your computer or office phone.

That's the gist of a study on electronic monitoring and surveillance released Wednesday by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute.

The report found that companies increasingly are "putting teeth in technology policies." About a quarter of employers have fired workers for misusing the Internet; another 25 percent have terminated employees for e-mail misuse; and 6 percent have fired employees for misusing office telephones, according to the report.


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"Concern over litigation and the role electronic evidence plays in lawsuits and regulatory investigations has spurred more employers to implement electronic technology policies," Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute, said in a statement.

Although liability and regulatory issues may be convincing companies to peek in on their employees, such surveillance raises privacy concerns. Employers can monitor workers to a greater degree these days, thanks to newer technologies such as keystroke-logging software and satellite global positioning systems that can track a cell phone user's whereabouts.

The survey, which involved 526 U.S. companies, found that 5 percent use GPS technology to monitor cell phones and 8 percent use GPS to track company vehicles. About 75 percent of companies monitor workers' Web site connections, and 65 percent use software to block connections to inappropriate Web sites.

Computer monitoring takes various forms, according to the study, with 36 percent of employers tracking "content, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard." Another 50 percent of companies store and review employees' computer files, according to the report. "Companies also keep an eye on e-mail, with 55 percent retaining and reviewing messages," the report said.

The number of employers who monitor the amount of time employees spend on the phone and track the numbers called has jumped to 51 percent, up from 9 percent in 2001, the report said.

Fifty-one percent of the companies surveyed use video monitoring to counter theft, violence and sabotage, up from 33 percent in 2001. "The number of companies that use video surveillance to track employees' on-the-job performance has also increased," the report said, "with 10 percent now videotaping selected job categories and 6 percent videotaping all employees."

Of those organizations that engage in monitoring and surveillance activities, 80 percent inform workers that the company is monitoring content, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard; 82 percent let employees know the company stores and reviews computer files; 86 percent alert employees to e-mail monitoring; and 89 percent notify employees that their Web usage is being tracked, according to the report. Among companies that videotape workers, 85 percent notify employees of the practice, the report said.