Using technology in various ways in the employment relationship with your workforce can bring enormous benefits to your small business. Whether it’s keeping track of absence through HR software, implementing fingerprint entry systems or using group chat for team discussions, technology can add value through time-saving, improving efficiency and engaging staff.
But as well as embracing the benefits of technology, there are five key legal considerations small business owners need to be aware of when looking to bring technology into managing employees, and some steps you can take to mitigate them.
Employees are entitled to a reasonable degree of privacy in the workplace. This not only impacts any monitoring you might be considering, such as installing CCTV systems, but also more generally the personal data you might hold about them.
There is no blanket right to read employees’ correspondence just because it (for example) involves using workplace technology. If you read emails or messages which are clearly personal, you will need to be able to justify doing so.
The more technology you use in the workplace, the more accurate and detailed a picture of your staff you could potentially build up, about their personal lives, their habits and activities. This information is automatically captured if you use lots of technological solutions, it doesn’t have to be specific and deliberate surveillance.
Using technology usually increases the personal data you will be holding about staff, and personal data you hold about them should remain confidential and secure, with access limited only to those who need to see it. Use of technology risks a security breach if adequate protections and processes are not put in place. As well as being a breach of data protection legislation, a security breach is also highly likely to put you in breach of contractual obligations you may have with employees, clients, customers or suppliers.
Human rights breaches
As well as rights under data protection legislation, employees also have a right to privacy under the Human Rights Act, and monitoring of personal phone calls or CCTV in the workplace could both be in contravention of your employees’ human rights if the monitoring cannot be justified or is done without the employees’ knowledge.
Copyright infringement and licensing issues
It’s very easy using the internet to breach copyright protections or licensing requirements, and as an employer you could find yourself liable for this if team members do it at work, in the context of their role and/or using workplace technology.
Confidentiality and trade secrets
Careless use of social media either during or outside office hours can lead to trade secrets, client information or employee personal data being disclosed, and potentially spread widely. This could lead to legal vulnerabilities for the employer, including potential breaches of contracts with clients or suppliers.
What can you do?
There are several steps you can take to avoid legal liability when it comes to using technology with your staff, as follows:
Ensure you have a robust Data Protection Policy in place setting out how you handle and protect data, and making sure staff are fully aware what is expected of them.
Issue staff with Employee Privacy Notices, and make sure that these accurately reflect the data you are processing. It is common to ‘forget’ data gathered through technology, such as CCTV imagery, and entrance system records.
Have a clear social media/internet use policy in place, giving employees guidance on acceptable use of social media inside and outside the workplace, and clarity on the consequences for them and for the business in the event of confidentiality breaches, copyright infringements or similar via social media or the internet.
Make sure staff are fully aware of any monitoring that takes place in the workplace, whether it is phone calls, emails, or CCTV. Consult them on any new monitoring you are proposing and ensure there is business justification for it.
If staff are entitled to use any software packages or similar through a licensing arrangement, ensure they are aware of any restrictions in place through the licence, and don’t share log on details or similar, either with unauthorised colleagues or friends and family outside the business.
If you require further information on legal considersations when using technology in the workplace, do get in touch.