Experts are warning employers that surveillance of employees’ emails, phones or webcams may damage trust and put businesses in legal issues.
A recent survey of over 2200 workers in England and Wales found that three in five (60%) of employees stated they had been under surveillance or monitored whilst at work during 2021. This has highlighted a noticeable increase from 53% in 2020.
When looking more in-depth, employers were more likely to report monitoring of staff devices (24% in comparison to 20%) and monitoring of employee phone calls (14% compared to 11%) in 2021 than in the survey taken in 2020.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, warned that worker surveillance technology had “taken off during this pandemic, and now risks spiralling out of control”. O’Grady called on the government to create a right to disconnect outside the working hours of employees. She suggested that this move could be included in the employment bill currently making its way through parliament.
The trade union is also calling for a statutory duty to consult trade unions before employers introduce the use of artificial intelligence and automated decision-making systems, and the universal right to human review of high-risk decisions made by technology.
According to the poll, employees are in support of new regulations on the introduction of new artificial intelligence and technology-based surveillance in the workplace. 82% of employees participating in the poll supported legal requirements to consult staff before introducing monitoring. This has seen an increase from the result found in the 2020 survey (75%). In addition, over three quarters (77%) of employees also supported a ban on monitoring outside working hours, an increase of 5% from 2020.
Finally, 72% of participants in the poll believe that without careful regulation, the use of technology to make decisions about workers could cause a rise in unfair treatment, up from 61% who believed this the year prior.
Hayfa Mohdzaini, senior research adviser in data, tech and AI at the CIPD, warned that “intrusive workplace surveillance can damage trust, have a negative impact on morale, and can cause stress and anxiety” when discussing the data, and has called on businesses that have implemented employee surveillance to ensure they have clear policies in place.
“Noting the potential negative impacts of excessive monitoring, employers may get better results, driving productivity through investing in line manager training and providing employees with the support they need to perform their best,” Mohdzaini explained.
Alan Lewis, partner at Constantine Law, highlighted that there are various laws that employers must be aware of. Lewis pointed to the right to privacy in the European Convention on Human rights and data protection rules in the investigatory powers act (2016) in addition to the investigatory powers regulations (2018).
Firms also needed to consider GDPR compliance, said Paul Kelly, head of employment law at Blacks Solicitors. “Staff need to be aware of how the information gathered from workplace monitoring will be collated, stored and who will have access to it,” Kelly explained. Firms need to set out a comprehensive monitoring policy so all staff understand how they are affected he suggested.
If your business has implemented employee surveillance, as has been warned by experts it is important you create a clear and comprehensive policy outlining the intention with the information collected is to avoid any potential legal issues that may appear.
With oneHR you can ensure all employees are able to access this policy and any other important documents, such as risk assessments and more in the companywide document storage feature. Protect you and your business from legal hot water when implementing employee surveillance with oneHR
If you would like to discuss this topic further or learn more about how oneHR can help protect your business from legal issues when implementing new policies, contact our team and request a free demo today.