Employee surveillance on the rise

The number of employees reporting being monitored by their employer while at work has surged over the last six months, research has found, including a doubling in the use of web-cam monitoring.

A poll of 2,400 workers by the union Prospect found one in three of workers reported being monitored at work in October this year, up from a quarter in April 2021.

Additionally, the number of remote workers who report being monitored by an at-home camera has more than doubled since April 2021. More than one in 10 remote workers reported having a camera installed in their home, compared with just 5% six months ago.

While employers have the right to monitor employees, staff need to be informed of any surveillance and any measures businesses take need to be “relevant, necessary and respect people’s privacy”.

Employers should discuss potential monitoring with their employees before committing to surveillance. It may be that sharing work in progress on shared drives, having goal setting discussions and regular updates with line managers may be effective alternatives to at-home supervision. Employers must be wary of data protection laws when implementing employee surveillance.

Since the introduction of GDPR, there are legal considerations that employers must follow. They can no longer rely on employees giving their consent via a data protection clause in their employment contract. Employers must consider the legal reasons for monitoring staff and give employees sufficient advance information about any monitoring, including the type of monitoring, the reasons for monitoring, and the potential uses of the information collected through monitoring.

The trade union who conducted the research, Prospect has called on the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to introduce stricter measures to combat workplace surveillance, including a total ban on webcam monitoring outside of calls and meetings, stating that employees should not be subject to digital surveillance without their informed consent, and adding that there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers.

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