Bosses step up spying on workers — on and off the job

By Brian Williams
March 9, 2020

Bosses across the country are seeking greater control over workers’ lives, both on and off the job. This includes more sophisticated surveillance of employees at work and new rules to force workers to change their health and personal habits, and to boost the bosses’ profits.

“It’s not just emails that are being tallied and analyzed,” reported the Wall Street Journal in an article titled “The New Ways Your Boss Is Spying on You.” Companies are “increasingly sifting through texts, Slack chats and, in some cases, recorded and transcribed phone calls on mobile devices.”

“Companies have become far more coercive in their insistence that employees optimize their bodies and behavior on their own time,” Atlantic magazine said in January.

Starting Feb. 1, U-Haul, an Arizona-based moving company with about 30,000 employees, stopped hiring workers who smoke or use any “nicotine products.” This includes vaping, gum or patches of those trying to give up the habit. Company bosses claimed this is designed to promote “workplace wellness.”

Employers have been successful in making similar anti-working-class policies legal in 21 states so far, including Texas, Florida and Massachusetts. Seventeen of those states allow bosses to arbitrarily administer drug tests for nicotine. A growing list of companies ban the hiring of smokers, including Alaska Airlines, Cleveland Clinic, Baylor Health Care System, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Union Pacific Railroad, and most recently the city of Dayton, Ohio. In some cases, the laws also allow the bosses to fire workers they find use tobacco products.

“This delights anti-smoking activists,” said a Feb. 20 Financial Times article. “However, it has led civil liberties advocates to sound alarms about employers’ creeping control over workers’ lives even when they are off the clock.”

More than 80% of large employers now impose mandatory participation in wellness programs, where workers are nudged to engage in fitness activities. They wear step-counters or other tracking devices to prove how active they are in exchange for a discount on health insurance. Some plans include punishment for workers who don’t count calories or lose weight. Some go further, imposing fees on workers who don’t maintain a certain waist size.

Some employers track workers’ locations and activities on company-issued mobile phones.

The bosses claim they’re just out to make their workforce more healthy and happy, but profit-driven motives are at work. Bosses are forced to pay health insurance monopolies more as the number of their workers who smoke or gain weight goes higher.

Bosses are also spying on employees’ web browsing history and monitor what workers write and say on company equipment. Some “even turn on workers’ webcams and use facial recognition software to gauge their sentiment about their jobs,” said the Times.

Bosses have also victimized workers who use legal and doctor-prescribed medical marijuana. In New Jersey, Amazon fired a warehouse worker who tested positive after being given a random cheek swab drug test in July 2018, his first during his 10 months on the job. The worker, whose name isn’t given in court documents, is suing to overturn his dismissal.