About 40 percent of the 732 employers surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria last year said they monitored e-mail and Internet use of their employees in response to workplace concerns. About 32 percent said they randomly monitored the electronic communications of their workers.
Barbara Berish Brown, a D.C. lawyer who defends businesses in disputes with workers, said that in the present climate, employers need not go far to justify their heightened security.
"I can see the reason for it," Brown said of the identification badges. "You don't want the person to give their badge to someone who doesn't have authorization to get in. . . . As long as people are told what the expectation of privacy is, private employers can do whatever they want."
It's a conclusion that Lynne Bernabei, a lawyer who has represented workers in the D.C. area for 20 years, accepts grudgingly. She said that if employees are able to show that requests for personal information in a job application or for an ID badge "are a cover for another kind of information" in protected categories such as age or ethnicity, they may be able to bring a valid discrimination claim. Otherwise, the workers have few options.
In the case of credit reports, Bernabei said, the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 requires employers that want to check a candidate's record to inform the applicant and disclose the scope of the investigation. Generally, though, the searches are viewed as important tools that can tell a business about a potential employee's trustworthiness and financial stability.
Back and Forth
Negotiating a salary or severance package may be one of the most vexing issues a worker can face. Peter Goodman, a career coach and author of a new book called "Win-Win Career Negotiations," said most candidates make the problem worse by taking too short a view of the dealmaking process.
"Most people think that negotiation is only applicable when you get an offer letter," he said. "It really begins from the first point you put your résumé out there."
Goodman said job seekers should evaluate themselves as they would a potential investment, looking at the skills and experience they bring to the table. Then, he said, they need to answer questions about how much money and perks they want, compared with how much they need to live. Then, he said, it will be all the easier to answer those questions when they come from a potential employer.
"You should just really plan ahead," he said. "I know always what my top and bottom lines are."
Send tips, gripes and your impressions on punching the virtual time clock to Carrie Johnson at email@example.com.