Send to

[Pressure points] Boss spying on your work messenger: Where’s the line?

June 25, 2024 - 17:23 By Song Seung-hyun


When star dog trainer Kang Hyung-wook was accused by his employees of mistreating and bullying them at work in May, the core allegation was that Kang had been monitoring staff messenger conversations and using surveillance cameras.

The dispute between Kang and his former employees has sparked a debate about the appropriateness and legality of employers monitoring workplace messengers. Should management have the right to monitor employee communications?

While companies may argue that such monitoring protects company interests, employees feel it infringes on their privacy and creates an atmosphere of distrust in the workplace.

According to labor attorney Ju Hyun-jong, if the company introduces a system to facilitate work-related communication, the authority to manage it can be considered the company’s. However, the individual employees are the actual users, so employees' rights should also be taken into account.

“Taking these factors into consideration, a separate, specific review of individual cases would be needed to determine whether there are any violations of the Personal Information Protection Act,” Ju said.

“We recently started using the Microsoft Teams messenger and I am aware the management can monitor it,” said Park, an employee at local fashion company LF who asked to be identified only by his surname. “But I don’t expect my boss to look into mine unless there is a legitimate reason to do so.”

Park explained that "legitimate reasons," in his view, include incidents in which the company needs to decide on disciplining an employee and requires related evidence. Simply monitoring daily conversations is not acceptable, he said.

“To be honest, I complain about my team leader a lot with my coworkers on Teams, but doesn’t everyone do that?” he said. “I don’t think I am important enough to be watched 24/7. It seems unnecessary and a waste of human resources. Besides, how can one survive in corporate Korea without freely talking trash about their boss?”

Kim, an HR manager at a local IT startup, said her company also uses the same app that Kang’s company used and monitored -- Naver Works -- and she now worries that her employees will think she is monitoring their conversations too.

“As far as I know, the company would not do it. But I am worried that our employees will become suspicious,” Kim said. She believes that such surveillance would only lead to distrust within the company and that it would do no good to monitor employees' daily conversations.

On Blind, an anonymous online discussion forum for verified employees, some users believe that if it is a work messenger, management should be able to look into it, and that there should not be any personal conversations needing privacy protection happening on such messengers.

“It’s a work messenger so of course the company should be able to have access to it. I think it is a stupid choice to talk trash about your boss on such a messenger,” one comment said, regarding the accusations Kang's surveillance of his employees' work messenger communications constitute an abuse of power.

“The first thing I learned from my boss when I started working was that the company email and company messenger are company assets. So the company can have access to them if it wishes,” another commenter said. “I was also told not to share personal information or talk trash using them. I am just so surprised that there are people who did not know this.”

Park, a director-level official leading a business division at a local conglomerate, told The Korea Herald that she has seen several cases where conversations on workplace messengers are used as evidence in sexual harassment cases.

In the view of the internet portal Naver, which provides the work messenger used in Kang’s company, management access to employees' conversations on its messenger is an essential function.

“Proper notification should be given to employees that such content can be monitored by the management. We include this in the terms of use for managers using our service,” said Park Mi-suk, a Naver official.

How they use this access is up to the management, she said.

“Our service also leaves records whenever management accesses the system," she added. "This is because abuse of this access can also be a problem.”

What are your thoughts? Share your opinion on this issue with us at

"Pressure points" delves into the seemingly trivial, yet surprisingly contentious topics that ignite debate in our everyday lives. -- Ed.