Workplace surveillance: can your employer spy on you at work?

With CCTV cameras everywhere you go these days, how likely is it that your employer or client will be keeping an eye on you? Basically, quite likely. Employers can monitor staff through a variety of methods  – but it must do so in a way that is consistent with several legal requirements and we take a look at workplace surveillance and what the obligations are in our article here.

Employers may choose to monitor their staff through surveillance for any of the following reasons:

  • To safeguard their employees or members of the public (for e.g. health and safety reasons, prevent violence)
  • To protect business interests (prevent crime, theft or misconduct, or misappropriation of intellectual property and business secrets, by employees or members of the public) and ensure that Company policies are not broken
  • To ensure quality of customer services (which can also show training needs for their employees) and assess and improve productivity
  • To comply with legal and regulatory obligations.

Most large employers now will have a Social Media Policy which may include monitoring of employees usage of networking websites (and so on). Many employers will also have an IT and Communications Policy also setting out how employees can use their systems.

In a 2014 case, Atkinson v Community Gateway Association, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the Employer accessing an employee’s emails, in the course of a disciplinary investigation into the employee’s conduct, did not amount to an unjustified interference with the employees’ private life – the employee did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in circumstances where he had sent emails from his work account in breach of the e-mail policy (which he himself had drafted and was responsible for enforcing!) and the e-mails were not marked ‘personal/private’. The fact that Mr Atkinson had used the email system in breach of the Association’s email policy was discovered as a result of its legitimate investigation into his conduct. Employers should bear in made that staff may have a reasonable expectation of privacy at work if the Employer does not have an ‘Email and Internet Use Policy (or similar) which is made known to all staff.

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