Blog 4- Workplace Monitoring
Sometimes it is a thorny issue but should it be so? In this blog I merely scratch the surface of the topic and encourage you to seek further guidance or information should you have concerns about it whether you are employer or employee.
In routine terms, workplace monitoring involves the checks that an employer makes on the quality and quantity of work produced by its workforce, e.g. via appraisals or monthly sales targets. However, it can mean something quite different and potentially much more controversial when it refers to a continuous form of staff monitoring.
Examples in such circumstances include:
- CCTV surveillance
- Call-logging, the monitoring of both Internet use and downloads, as well as the opening and reading of employee e-mails.
- Driver/ vehicle tracking.
- Monitoring of employees for health-related matters, e.g. those working in high-risk environments. It’s a contentious subject, as many employees - regardless of whether or not their employer’s method of workplace monitoring is justified - view it as intrusive and a way to “spy” on them.
This doesn’t mean employers can’t carry it out provided that they properly comply with the relevant legislation and meet other legal duties; it’s a perfectly acceptable way to keep an eye on employees and what they do during working hours.
Before deciding whether to introduce monitoring an employer should:
- be clear about the reasons for monitoring staff and the benefits that this will bring
- identify any negative effects the monitoring may have on staff. This is called an impact assessment
- consider whether there are any, less intrusive, alternatives to monitoring
- work out whether the monitoring is justified, taking into account all of the above.
Except in extremely limited circumstances, employers must take reasonable steps to let staff know that monitoring is happening, what is being monitored and why it is necessary.
Employers who can justify monitoring once they have carried out a proper impact assessment will usually not need the consent of individual members of staff
Why should we monitor staff?
Quite simply, to protect your business. On the technology side, a study of 664 organisations for the “Information Security Breaches Survey 2015” found that 74% of small businesses had suffered at least one IT-related security breach in the last twelve months (up from 60% in 2014) and, of these, 31% suffered staff-related security breaches. In financial terms, the 2015 Survey found that the average cost of the worst single security breach for small businesses was between £75,200 and £310,800. This figure includes:
- Direct and indirect financial losses
- Business disruption
- Damage to reputation.
In some cases, it can also involve tribunal claims, e.g. from a female member of staff if pornographic images are downloaded and passed around by male colleagues or vice versa. Equally, they can involve staff using technology, such as memory sticks, to download confidential information, e.g. customer lists, which might then be sold on to a third party competitor, taken to a new job or used by the employee to set up in competition. It’s also common for employers to monitor employees’ telephone calls both for training purposes and to ensure that customer service standards are being maintained.
Is there any form of workplace monitoring we can’t avoid?
Yes. Firstly, all employers must keep personnel records that include personal information such as address, attendance, appraisal details or the outcome of any disciplinary and grievance proceedings. Some of this workplace monitoring is subject to legislative controls and in the event that your workplace is potentially hazardous, e.g. due to chemicals or high noise levels, the law requires you to carry out health investigation and monitoring. Given that this could involve medical procedures such as lung function or hearing tests, it will involve the creation of medical records. Alternatively, a medical may be required to ensure that an employee is fit enough to continue carrying out safety-critical work. This all amounts to workplace monitoring and you must abide by strict rules.
Laws covering workplace monitoring:
• Data Protection Act 1998
• Human Rights Act 1998
• Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
• Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000.