Are you being watched? Millions of Brits left in the dark over employee monitoring

Operator monitoring CCTV - istock/andreypopovDoes your boss know what you’re getting up to at work? We recently surveyed 1,997 Britons about privacy in the workplace and found that many people have no idea about what employers are legally allowed to do to when it comes to monitoring employees, or how behaviour outside of work could impact their job.

By law, companies are permitted to monitor their workers. This can include CCTV, vehicle tracking, reading emails and recording phone calls.

However, respondents to our survey had mixed views about the legal limits. While a majority said they thought CCTV and recording phone and web site records were permitted, a smaller number identified activities such as recording phone calls or information gathered by Point of Sale terminals as being legal.

Richard Parr of Blacks Solicitors LLP says “well-advised employer[s] will adopt a strategy of informing employees that monitoring is to take place – perhaps via a general policy statement issued to staff.”

“However, even where a proper and considered case for monitoring has been made out, an employer must still be realistic about how a general policy statement will be perceived and received. If, for example, an employer proposed that CCTV monitoring might take place anywhere within a building, that employer should not be surprised if employees objected that they had a legitimate expectation of privacy in certain areas – for example, toilets.”

Specialist employment lawyer Karin Henson at Lexoo also notes that informing employees about monitoring would be necessary “if the employer would like to rely on the monitoring [during disciplinary hearings]”.

While the law does give employers a lot of leeway when it comes to monitoring, many people are not happy with the idea that their company might record so much data. Though it’s very strange to see that 29% are apparently fine with their employers recording personal phone calls!

Employers considering taking these steps should pause to think about whether the possible hit to morale is really worth it. As part of the survey we asked respondents how comfortable they would be with various organisations monitoring their web browser activity, generating an overall “trust score” for each. Employers were second from bottom, below the police, intelligence agencies and even their own friends.

It’s also crucial for everyone to be aware that social media posts can affect your job. Even if you post on social media using your own equipment outside of work hours, it might still be used against you. Richard Parr says social media “can become an area of legitimate interest to an employer if the employee posts a comment or remark which identifies the individual as being an employee of that employer, and the comment or remark is either critical of the employer or risks adversely affecting the employer’s reputation – whether directly or by association with the employee.”

“If you are concerned about your privacy at work, you should never use your employer’s email account for personal emails.  In fact, don’t use any media which belongs to the employer (for example, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and so on), don’t make postings in your employer’s paid time, don’t use your employer’s IT equipment for emails etc, and beware of identifying your employer in an email, posting or blog if the reference to your employer is unflattering and there is even a remote risk that the comment might leak into the public domain.”