What kind of employee monitoring can I do, and should I do it?

There is increasing interest from employers about the kind of monitoring they can and can’t do on employees. This is partly because of an increase in technology which enables more sophisticated monitoring, partly because there has been an increase in remote working, leaving many employers worried about performance and productivity, and partly because there is a heightened awareness of data protection issues and therefore uncertainty about what is ‘allowed’ and what isn’t.

You may be doing some monitoring already – if you have a fob-type entry system in the workplace, for example, you are monitoring who is on the premises. But if you would like more information about your employees’ activities, there are a wide range of possibilities.

  • You can record phone calls, either all of them, or a sample, or certain kinds of calls. You may or may not listen to them as a matter of course, or only in the event of a complaint or other specific need arising.
  • You can monitor emails and other written communications, again either as a matter of course, or by looking in the event of an issue, or with trigger systems that bring up certain key words or phrases.
  • You can check internet usage during working hours and/or on work device, including social media activity.
  • You could check employees’ personal social media accounts to see what they’re posting in a private capacity.
  • You can use keystroke logging software to literally monitoring exactly what an employee is doing and when.
  • You can use vehicle tracking or tachographs to monitor driving and vehicle location.
  • You can use temperature checks in the workplace
  • You can use CCTV

Most of these can be used either very ‘light touch’ or to a more extreme and oppressive degree, and many of them can be used remotely as well as in the workplace. Some only apply to working hours or work-owned devices or other property, whereas some involve a more blurred line between work and personal life. Some are entirely, or almost entirely, automated, whereas some involve an actual person doing the activity, and making decisions around monitoring.

But should you be doing any monitoring? It’s not just a case of whether you should use any of these options for monitoring, it’s also a case of to what extent you should use them, and whether doing so is lawful. The answer to all of these questions will depend at least partly on the reason you are considering monitoring in the first place.

Think about what it is you are trying to achieve with the monitoring you are considering. It could be to facilitate training (commonly a reason for recording customer phone calls). It could be for health and safety reasons. It could be for prevention of theft or other illegal activities (such as use of CCTV in shops). It could be something to do with performance and productivity. If you have no clear objective in mind and just think it might be something you ‘should’ do, or are considering it mainly because you can, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

If you know exactly what you are trying to achieve, monitoring may be worth exploring further.

Once you have a clear ‘headline’ objective in mind, you can then consider whether monitoring is the best way to achieve that objective, or whether there is an alternative method. Monitoring can be extremely problematic legally, involving all sorts of potential issues around data protection, so on the whole, if there is an alternative option, it should at least be given serious consideration before monitoring is implemented.

If you’d like advice on whether employee monitoring is something you should be considering, or on how to implement it lawfully, do get in touch.