Is your employer looking over your shoulder?

Six in 10 employees use computers at work for personal business, according to a survey conducted by a manufacturer of computer monitoring software. (Robin Nelson / Bloomberg / March 12, 2013)

Workers spend more than half an hour each day shopping for new clothing, exchanging instant messages with friends and taking care of other personal matters on their work computers.  

That was one of the findings of a survey of 300 full-time workers by SpectorSoft Corp., which sells computer monitoring software to employers. About 60% of workers surveyed said they used their computers at work for non-work activities. A Salary.com survey last year found a similar percentage of workers use their work computers to browse the Web for personal reasons.

Privacy advocates have tried unsuccessfully during the last decade to gain more protections for employees as the use of monitoring software in work-site computers has grown. SpectorSoft’s survey showed few employees are happy about it, but 9 in 10 said they expected to have their employer watching over their shoulder at work.

MORE: What privacy rights do I have in the workplace?

Courts have generally allowed companies to monitor employee activity when it happens on a company-owned device if there's a reasonable business case for doing so. In recent years, companies have used cameras to monitor their  workers, even away from computers, to track their productivity.

SpectorSoft estimated based on the survey results that a 100-employee firm loses about seven employees worth of production annually because of the time spent on personal tasks.

Another maker of monitoring software, RescueTime, recently said that workers spend less time on personal activities after the monitoring results are shared with them.

Employers also have argued that the monitoring helps ensure that workers are not engaging in risky behavior that could lead to a virus being downloaded or to some other security breach.

ALSO:

How the relationship between employers and workers changed

Monitoring upends balance of power at workplace, some say

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paresh.dave@latimes.com