Workplace monitoring: what does the law say?

A study conducted by the Trade Union Congress in 2018 found that more than half (56%) of UK workers believe they are monitored at work.

Everything from toilet breaks to internet usage can be monitored. It’s clear there’s increased anxiety around being snooped on in the workplace.

It’s a hotly debated issue, but what does the law say? How far can a business monitor its staff without breaching their privacy? We take a look at the legal implications.

This article looks specifically at monitoring rather than intercepting communication, which has its own set of rules.

Why do employers choose to monitor their workplaces?

Employers choose to monitor their workplaces for any number of reasons. It could be used as a means of assessing performance; whether employees are complying with rules; or safeguarding employees, especially those who might be at risk of unsafe working practices.  However, if the latter is the case, it will also be important to review and potentially improve the current Health & Safety practices/policies.

For others, it could simply be a case of time and resource management, in the form of time tracking software. Some businesses choose to track how often meeting rooms are booked and used to get a better understanding of how best to use office space.

However, as technology advances, so does the ability to more forensically monitor the workplace. Some employers choose to track internet usage, mobile devices or the location of company vehicles.

What does the law say about workplace monitoring?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 don’t prevent employers from monitoring the workplace.

However, under this legislation, you do need to fully disclose to employees any monitoring activity that takes place; the reason for the monitoring; how the information gathered will be used; and monitoring should be proportionate to what you are trying to achieve.  Covert monitoring can only be justified in exceptional circumstances.

It’s also really important that information gathered through monitoring is only ever used for the purposes you outline. There are some exceptions to this though. If the monitoring results in the discovery of criminal activity and the data needs to be used for an investigation or if you are obliged by regulations to disclose the information.

Types of monitoring 

There’s a whole host of different ways employers can monitor staff and sites. Some of the most common include:

  • CCTV monitoring
  • Audio recording
  • Monitoring emails and internet usage
  • Recording phone calls
  • Bag searches

Your responsibilities as an employer

Trust is vital to running a well-functioning workplace. And the key to trust? Good communication. This applies more than ever when it comes to making the decision to monitor different aspects of the workplace.

If you do choose to monitor your site, our top tips for ensuring you stay on the right side of the law include:

  • Make sure you have written policies and procedures in place that fully outline the monitoring being undertaken in the workplace.
  • Keep your employees updated about what information will be recorded or monitored, for what reasons that monitoring is taking place and how long you will keep any information collected.
  • Consider if the extent of the monitoring can be reduced in some way, while still achieving your aims.
  • Make sure any and all information that is collected through monitoring is stored in a secure place – be that physically or digitally.
  • Consider conducting a data protection impact assessment – to make sure you’ve identified any potential negative effects of monitoring.

Gillian McAteer, Head of Employment Law at Citation, comments:

“It can be a tricky balancing act for an employer to operate a monitoring policy whilst still retaining employees’ trust and keeping an engaged workforce.  Excellent communication and information are key.  Through well-drafted policies, an employer will not only comply with the relevant legislation, but employees should then also understand the extent of and reasons for the monitoring.”

Keeping your business safe with Citation

Have you got some questions about conducting workplace monitoring for your business? Or do you need some help pulling together policies that are legally sound? Whatever your question, our expert team are on-hand 24/7 to advise and support.

If you want the backing of our team for your business just give us a call on 0345 844 1111 or fire us over an email at hello@citation.co.uk.

Already a Citation client? Give us a call on 0345 844 4848 or email us at enquiries@citation.co.uk.

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