Snooping Coworkers- And What You Can Do About It

Professionally, we have all had to suffer the occasional nosy coworker.

Whether it's passive-aggressive games the person is playing with the goal of making themselves look better or an overzealous employee who thinks they are looking out for the company's best interests, snooping into your private or work life can have very serious consequences.

In some cases, he or she may be content with prying a little into your personal life and gossiping about you behind your back.

However, there are instances where a colleague crosses a line with the intent of doing real damage to your career or your personal and professional reputation. These coworkers need to be dealt with quickly and decisively.

According to a recent global survey, 92% of respondents reported that they have caught their employees attempting to access information they don’t need for their day-to-day work!

Cyber-snooping of coworkers should be taken seriously by management as the behavior could open the company up to liability by the victim.

Defamation at work occurs when employers, customers or co-workers publish false statements of fact, without legal privilege to do so, that harm the reputation of employees.

Many states recognize a general right to privacy that can be enforced by one employee against another. For example, California’s state constitution has a right to privacy included in Article 1, Section 8.

Whatever the source, there are several different types of civil claims for invasion of privacy, each of which addresses a different type of privacy violation.

So what can you do to protect yourself from snooping coworkers?

First, the company has a significant role to play in fostering a culture of privacy. A good company will have a clearly defined privacy policy that protects its workers’ lives outside of work. Unfortunately, many American companies do not have a privacy policy for employees.

In addition, the company needs to take steps to ensure that employee access is restricted to information required to perform their job duties. Organizations should also have documented processes in place for granting and revoking access to information, as required [such as when an employee changes roles].

Often, simply confronting the snooper may the most effective way to put an end to the bad behavior. Pulling your coworker aside and firmly [but politely] discussing your concerns might encourage the employee to start respecting your limits.

For the non-confrontational among us, strongly consider speaking with your supervisor, or your supervisor’s supervisor with proof of the snooping behavior. If you feel uncomfortable or fear retaliation, a professional in human resources should also be able to help. Schedule an appointment and try to explain the situation as objectively as possible.


Make it as hard a possible for them to snoop.

You should consider making it as difficult on the snooper as you can. Try to take calls off of the speaker whenever possible, ensure that your work computer has a strong password and decline to answer any questions from coworkers that you consider to be too personal.

For those who may be a victim of cyber-snooping, track down the perpetrator’s social network profiles and block them. All of the major social platforms have strong privacy tools.

In extreme cases, it is also possible to block snooper’s IP address from accessing things like your personal website or portfolio. While this takes a little technical know-how, many platforms like Wordpress and Shopify have plugins that do the work for you. Wordfence for Wordpress and Traffic Guard for Shopify [among others].

Imagine the snooper’s surprise when you simply vanish online; your social profiles and personal website completely invisible to them!

You have the right to have a life outside of work.

 If you feel that one of your coworkers is crossing a line and making you uncomfortable, take steps to correct the bad behavior. Your productivity will increase, the company’s liability will decrease, and with time, the snooper’s behavior will improve.

For some, work is hard enough staying productive and looking out for the best interests of your company. Worrying about insider threats is a pain. That’s why the burden for keeping employees happy and safe rests squarely with the company itself and solid privacy policies to ensure that the work environment remains a safe space for all.

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