HR Expert: Surveillance
In light of recent headlines surrounding the use of webcams to monitor employees, a client would like to know more about the legalities of this as well as other surveillance methods.

Employees have an overarching right to privacy, even whilst at work – either in the office or at home. This does not mean, however, that your client cannot monitor their staff.

Your client needs to have a fair, proportionate, and legitimate reason to monitor their employees. This will be important to get the balance right between your client’s business needs and the employees’ privacy rights. Typical reasons to monitor employees may be to ensure they are carrying out professional activities during working hours or to ensure that confidential/inappropriate content is not being sent through email.

Employees need to be told that monitoring will take place before it happens. It should also be explained to them how this will be carried out, when and what communication will be monitored, e.g. whether this is just emails or includes telephone calls (if company property) and video calls as well.

Your client may already have a monitoring policy in place, which is a good way of informing staff that they are being monitored – either by a standalone policy or by including specific monitoring clauses in email and internet policies. If not they should strongly consider implementing this if they hope to monitor their employees.

When it comes to remote workers for whom a new method of surveillance is being used (e.g. recorded video calls), your client will need to make sure they are either updating or including this in their monitoring policies and informing staff of this. If remote working is temporary, your client may choose to inform their staff via email rather than updating their policies. The important thing is that employees are notified before being monitored.

The policy (or email) informing staff that they are being monitored can also include the consequences or disciplinary action that can be taken following monitoring.

The extent of monitoring should be limited to that which is necessary to meet the business’ aim. For example, if the aim is to ensure the employee is not using work accounts for personal matters, it will generally be sufficient to look at the date, time and recipient of emails sent by the employee. Whereas, accessing all emails and reading the content, especially where personal, is likely to go too far and breach the employee’s privacy rights. Similarly, it may be viewed as excessive (though not unlawful) to place remote staff on a permanent video call mode each day for monitoring purposes.

Even if employees are informed of monitoring, if there is a policy in place and a legitimate business aim, your client should still assess whether there is an alternative method of surveillance that they can adopt; or whether surveillance is necessary at all.

Unless an employee fails to carry out their day-to-day duties effectively, there may not be a need to record all their video calls or set up constant meetings with them throughout the day. If an employee fails to carry out their duties effectively, your client may wish to consider returning them to the office provided this is done in line with government guidelines.

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