Take care of privacy rules when monitoring staff, watchdog warns employers

Employers should be careful to stay on the right side of the law, the ICO said (Joe Giddens/PA)
August Graham, PA Business Reporter

The information watchdog has warned employers that it will take action if their monitoring of employees oversteps the line.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said that monitoring of employees must be “necessary, proportionate and respect the rights and freedoms of workers”.

Employers must ensure that staff know the nature, extent and the reasons that they are being monitored.

Staff must also be told about any monitoring in a way that is easy for them to understand, the ICO said.

“While data protection law does not prevent monitoring, our guidance is clear that it must be necessary, proportionate and respect the rights and freedoms of workers,” said Emily Keaney, deputy commissioner of regulatory policy.

“We will take action if we believe people’s privacy is being threatened.”

Any monitoring must have a clearly defined purpose, the ICO said, and use “the least intrusive means” to monitor employees.

It comes as a poll by Survation for the ICO showed that just under one fifth (19%) of people think that an employer has monitored them.

The survey of 1,012 adults between August 1 and 3 also found that 70% of people would find it intrusive to be monitored by their employer in any way.

Around a fifth (21%) said that it would not be intrusive in any way.

“Our research shows that monitoring at work is a real cause for concern, particularly with the rise of flexible working – nobody wants to feel like their privacy is at risk, especially in their own home,” Ms Keaney said.

“If not conducted lawfully, monitoring can have a negative impact on an employee’s wellbeing and worsen the power dynamics that already exist in the workplace.

“We want people to be aware of their rights under data protection law and empower them to both identify and challenge intrusive practices at work.

“We are urging all organisations to consider both their legal obligations and their workers’ rights before any monitoring is implemented.”