We’ve all been there; you have something personal to print at work, but you don’t know if you should. Mouse-hovering over the print button, it’s easy to think that no one will find out. After all, no one is sitting by the printer, monitoring what employees are printing. Right? Well, it may not be as untraceable as you think.
Can Your Company Track What You Print?: Yes, most companies have their printers configured through a print server that keeps track of the user and the documents they print. Even smaller companies have ways to investigate your printer activity without an IT department.
Every time you log-on to a computer every action you take is trackable, especially on a work computer. Even if you think you’re sneaky like this sandwich thief in New Zealand who used the company printer to brag about his thievery. He was caught by HR when they checked the printer queue history. Whether your company is big or small, they have ways to find out what you’re printing.
What is a Print Server?
A print server is a device that connects printers to a group of computers. The server manages any requests that come in and queues it to the appropriate printer. This allows more jobs to be printed than if everyone had to wait for the printer to be available. If you’re able to wirelessly print at work, you probably have a print server.
Each print job is connected to your IP address and, usually, your employee log-in, which leaves a pretty easy trail for IT or HR to follow if something is amiss.
No one is sitting in a small room watching every single item that is printed but many companies have safeguards in place i.e. if an employee prints more than 100 pages a week, they may get flagged for an investigation. Or a company may set up a system to be flagged if certain keywords show up on the print job.
Some companies even have a monthly report delivered to them with details of how many pages employees have been printing at each print station.
Smaller companies with only one printer or without a print server, are still able to track what print jobs came from what computer and when. Each printer has a stored history that is searchable and very hard to delete.
Can I Lose My Job if I Print Personal Stuff at Work?
Printing a page here and there for personal use may seem harmless but companies are paying for the paper, ink, and maintenance of that machine and personal use may be seen as theft. When it comes down to it, It’s the equivalent of taking the printer home for the night to use it. If you wouldn’t actually roll that printer out to your car, you probably shouldn’t be printing personal things on it.
Employers are people though and a simple “Can I print my boarding pass for my flight tomorrow?” will probably be no big deal. Courtesy and permission is the name of the game.
Of course, if you’re printing out your resume, this is a giant red flag to your employer. Using company time and property for your job search is definitely grounds for termination.
What Else Can Your Employer Track?
With technology in this day and age, employers are able to track nearly 100% of everything you do on a work computer. Each employer is different and obviously have different levels of technology available to them but here are some trackable things to be aware of:
- Phone calls
- Company vehicle
- Use of your access badge
- Internet and app usage, including web history
- Downloads and files on your computer
Essentially anything you use that can be linked back to the company is capable of being monitored. This may sound super spy-like but companies need to protect themselves. Your company vehicle having a GPS allows your employer to know which employees are working effectively, wasting company time, or even just speeding in a vehicle advertising the company.
Most digital information that employers monitor won’t be used unless they suspect someone of misdeeds. If a manager suspects an employee is spending most of their working hours on Facebook, that’s hard to prove without standing right behind them all day. With internet monitoring, the manager can find out for sure whether the employee is working or wasting company time. This data can then be used to help terminate an employee.
Some more advanced companies even record computer screens of each employee or monitor how many keystrokes are entered per hour. Companies can tell how long your screen has been idle for or if you have software downloaded to make it look like you’re working.
You may think your company isn’t monitoring you but Delaware and Connecticut are currently the only states where companies need to inform their employees on how they’re being monitored. A 2007 study from the American Management Association showed 66% of companies monitor their employee’s email and internet usage.
Can My Employer Track My Personal Cell Phone Use?
You may think the answer to this one is an obvious no but you would be wrong. Most people understand that if you use a public wi-fi connection, you may be at risk of other people seeing what you’re doing. The same goes for using your company wi-fi, even if it’s on your personal phone.
Some companies provide their employees with cell phones for work use, these phones usually have a lot more monitoring software on them than your typical phone. By providing you with a phone, companies are entitled to look at anything you use that phone for including text messages and emails.
Again, you may feel like this level of surveillance is akin to a dystopian novel but many people take advantage of companies who don’t monitor their assets. Printing a few pages here and there or using Facebook on a company phone may not seem like huge problems when done sparingly but it adds up if everyone at the company starts doing it.
Where to Print if You Don’t Have a Printer
So printing at work is not an option for that last-minute print job, where should you go if you don’t have a printer?
Office Supply Stores
Stores like Staples or Office Depot typically have print shops within the store where you can print from the internet or a USB. They will often offer more elaborate print options like hole-punched pages or bound projects.
Shipping companies like UPS or FedEx will have computers available in their stores for customers to print off shipping labels. You can print other projects there as well.
Print and Copy Shops
Most print and copy shops are locally-owned but may be an option in your city. These shops typically offer lower prices than larger companies.
Local Library or University
It’s best to call ahead to your local library or university to make sure they allow printing to the public. However, most libraries offer a printing service for a fee.
Online Document Printing
If you’re not in a rush, ordering your print job online is always an option. Companies like Uprinting.com and Printrunner.com allow you to order a print job ahead of time to be shipped to your house. They also offer more elaborate print options.
Friend or Neighbors House
If you’re friends with a nearby neighbor or have a friend with a printer – just ask them if you could print out a document.