When is Workplace Surveillance acceptable?

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A recent report by the TUC found that over half of UK workers believe they are being monitored by a senior member of staff at work. This article by the MIA’s business helpline partner, Croner, explores whether surveillance of your staff is legal, and explains the best approach to take… 

What form does surveillance take?

Technology can now be deployed for monitoring in a variety of different ways. Digital monitoring includes techniques such as location tracking, CCTV, facial recognition, social media monitoring, and keyboard stroke tracking.

Each method tends to be used for its own specific reason, some of which are legitimate means of ensuring employee safety, and preventing theft.

What am I legally allowed to do?

The Information Commissioner’s Office has clear guidelines on what can and can’t be done when monitoring workers. The key is communication. If you have monitoring arrangements in place, inform your employees about them. If you are keeping records, staff should be informed exactly what data is being taken and how long it will be kept. Any data kept should also be in line with the GDPR.

If CCTV monitoring is required in your business, ensure that monitoring is only used for the purpose it was carried out for. For example, if you own a shop, and install a CCTV camera outside the doors to prevent theft, you cannot legally use that footage for recording entry and exit of workers from the shop.

With regards to social media, employers can include social media monitoring as part of an IT policy as a contractual right to monitor what employees get up to on social media during working hours. However, as suggested in the TUC report, some employers will snoop out of work hours also. While legally acceptable, such activity can have a profoundly negative effect on the morale of employees, and so it is advisable to refrain from doing so unless absolutely necessary.

What is the best approach?

Restricting access to social media during working hours can ensure employees don’t use social media and therefore solve the problem. However, this can be seen as a total lack of trust by the employer, and cause a drop in morale. Only restrict if necessary to do so, and be wary that some employees may attempt to access social media via their phones or by other means, leading to further distraction.

Having a well-established monitoring policy, and making sure your employees have access to it, will ensure clarity and reduce the risk of resentment. Trusting your employees to get on with their work and not deploying some of the more extreme monitoring systems (such as keyboard tracking and facial recognition software), will have a positive impact. Making sure you are approachable is also a big plus, as it allows employees to come to you if they feel monitoring is being abused. According to the TUC report, only 38% of respondents felt they could challenge surveillance they felt was being improperly used.

It can be frustrating, when you are sure work time is being wasted by an employee, to be bogged down by surveillance guidelines. However, having a well-defined policy in place should prevent abuse, and if it doesn’t, then it will help you back up any disciplinary action you take against the offending employee.

Expert Support

MIA members benefit from FREE advice from Croner.  Email alice@mia.org.uk or call 01403 800500 for the exclusive Business Support Helpline scheme number.

www.croner.co.uk