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employee privacy

New guidance calls for fairer workplace monitoring

ICO issues workplace monitoring guidelines amid rising concerns over privacy invasion in remote work

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19% of respondents believe they have been subject to monitoring by their employers.
Today’s workforce is concerned about monitoring, particularly with the rise of flexible working.
Invading employee privacy can lead to higher stress levels, lower engagement, and even legal issues.

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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued fresh guidance on workplace monitoring following a study revealing that 70% of individuals would perceive it as intrusive to be monitored by their employers.

The ICO’s research indicates that nearly 19% of respondents believe they have been subject to monitoring by their employers. In parallel, only 19% of individuals would feel at ease accepting a new job if they were aware that their employer intended to monitor their activities.

Emily Keaney, Deputy Commissioner of Regulatory Policy at the ICO, emphasised the workforce’s apprehensions about monitoring, particularly in the context of the increasing prevalence of flexible work arrangements. Keaney stated, “Our research shows that today’s workforce is concerned about monitoring, particularly with the rise of flexible working. Nobody wants to feel like their privacy is at risk, especially in their own home. As the data protection regulator, we want to remind organisations that business interests must never be prioritised over the privacy of their workers.”

Monitoring practices encompass tracking calls, messages, and keystrokes, capturing screenshots, webcam footage, or audio recordings, and deploying specialised monitoring software to track activities.

The newly released guidance delineates the legal obligations related to monitoring and offers advice on fostering trust with employees while respecting their right to privacy. This includes transparently informing employees about any monitoring in a comprehensible manner and utilising monitoring for a clearly defined purpose in the least invasive manner possible.

While monitoring staff might seem like a way to increase productivity by discouraging long breaks and social media usage, it can actually have the opposite effect.

The guidance specifies that employers should retain only relevant information and conduct a data protection impact assessment for any monitoring likely to pose a high risk to workers’ rights. Lack of transparency and fairness in employee monitoring can erode trust, according to Ian Moore, Managing Director of HR support Lodge Court.

Moore cautioned, “While monitoring staff might seem like a way to increase productivity by discouraging long breaks and social media usage, it can actually have the opposite effect. Invading employee privacy can lead to higher stress levels, lower engagement, and even legal issues. Excessive monitoring can also breed mistrust, as employees may feel that they are not trusted to do their work without constant oversight.”

Matt Creagh, Employment Rights Policy Officer at the Trades Union Congress, noted that with the surge in remote work, some employers are more inclined to intensify monitoring. Creagh stressed the potential intrusiveness of workplace monitoring, especially when employees are working from home, and highlighted the importance of proper consultation with workers and unions on its use.

He stated, “Workplace monitoring and surveillance can be intrusive and infringe the private lives of working people and their families, especially when they are working from home. Workers and unions must be properly consulted on the use of workplace monitoring and surveillance.” Creagh added that surveillance technologies, if misused, can undermine trust and confidence between staff and employers, emphasising the role of trade unions in ensuring safeguards to protect workers’ health and wellbeing.

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