Most employers, large or small, conduct some kind of monitoring of their staff. But do you know what kind of monitoring is or isn’t acceptable, and how the Data Protection Act (“the Act”) affects monitoring activities at work? Here are some frequently asked questions about monitoring staff lawfully and fairly.
Why might employers monitor staff?
There are a number of reasons why you might consider monitoring staff. Some of this you might be doing without even having realised it is monitoring. You might be carrying out checks on work carried out, for example looking at quantity or quality. You may have employees who work in potentially hazardous conditions and may monitor activities to ensure their safety. You may monitor employees to protect your customers or clients. In some industries you might be subject to legal obligations which can only be met using monitoring.
When does monitoring come under the Act?
If you are monitoring quality of work, or safety precautions by simply watching, then although this is monitoring, it doesn’t come under the Act. This changes whenever you start recording or processing any personal information, either on a systematic regular basis, or on a temporary occasional basis.
Why does the Act restrict monitoring?
Employees are entitled to private lives and to a relationship of trust and confidence with their employer, including a degree of privacy even in the workplace. Some monitoring may have a negative impact on these things, which is usually unacceptable, unless the monitoring can be justified.
What kind of monitoring activities does the Act apply to?
There’s no specific definition, but the kind of activities you need to consider as being affected by the Act include:
- Opening emails
- Listening to voicemails
- Using software to collect information about workers’ activities
- Recording telephone calls
- Credit checks
- Vehicle tracking
What principles do I need to stick to?
Bearing in mind your workers’ entitlement to privacy, if you wish to monitor them you should
- Be clear about exactly why you are doing it
- Take steps to satisfy yourself that the proposed monitoring is strictly necessary and justified by the benefits it brings
- Ensure workers are aware of any monitoring that is taking place, including the reasons for it. (It is unusual for covert monitoring to be justifiable).
What actions should I take if considering monitoring?
In order to ensure you comply with the Act, there are a number of recommended actions when considering monitoring.
- Make sure managers know that they cannot introduce monitoring without the appropriate authority
- Identify the purpose of the monitoring and the specific benefits it will bring, to ensure there is definitely a genuine business reason to consider doing it.
- Consider the impact of the monitoring. This means identifying any potential adverse effect the monitoring might have (intrusion into privacy, other individuals accessing personal information, impact on relationship of trust and confidence, impact on legitimate relationships).
- Consider how the impact could be reduced. Are there any alternative arrangements which might meet your business need? Could the scope of the monitoring be reduced or more precisely targeted, or access to information limited?
- Ensure information gathered as a result of your monitoring is kept and processed in such a way as to be compliant with the Act
- Ensure you notify workers of the monitoring, including why it is happening and what the information is (or may be) used for.
If you’d like to know more about employee monitoring and the Data Protection Act, do get in touch.