As an employer, you may have reasons to monitor your employees’ digital communications when they’re at work. But it can be a bit of a sticky subject; what are the laws surrounding workplace monitoring?

This guide will explain everything you need to know, including what the rules are on employee monitoring and when it might be beneficial for your business.

What is workplace monitoring?

If you’re an employer, you have the right to monitor your employees’ activities in the workplace. This includes:

  • CCTV camera recording
  • Opening emails or mail
  • Using automated software to check email
  • Checking logs of websites visited

Data protection laws cover each of these activities, and set out rules about the circumstances and ways in which you should carry them out. We’ll cover those a bit later on.

Reasons for workplace monitoring

You can legally monitor your employees’ internet, phone or email use in the workplace for any of the following reasons:

  • If the monitoring is related to the business
  • If the equipment being monitored is provided by work (so you can’t monitor a staff member’s personal mobile phone during work hours, for example)
  • To establish facts relevant to the business
  • To check that staff are following procedures correctly, or to check standards
  • To detect or prevent crime, such as theft in the workplace
  • To ensure employees aren’t using the internet or emails for personal use
  • To check that electronic devices and systems are operating properly, e.g. to prevent viruses on computers
  • To check calls to confidential lines –bear in mind, you can’t record calls, but you can listen to voicemails and open employee emails
  • If it’s in the interest of national security

To make sure your staff are fully aware that you can and may take these measures, you should have a workplace monitoring policy or code of conduct in place. This should form part of all employment contracts and state that they could be subject to disciplinary action if they’re found to be using work equipment inappropriately.

Workplace monitoring rules and guidelines

As mentioned earlier, there are rules when it comes to monitoring employee activities in the workplace. Here are the guidelines you’ll need to follow:

Give your employees notice

You must make it clear that communications might be monitored, and how you intent to do it, in advance. It’s also important to provide safeguards to your staff to make sure their communications can’t be accessed unless they’re aware that it might happen.

Consider your reasons

Think carefully about why you want to monitor the actions of your staff. You should only really use it as an option if your reasons can be justified from a business standpoint.

Use the least intrusive methods possible

Before you make a start on your surveillance efforts, make sure you’ve got that policy in place so that your employees are aware of your intentions.

You should never use automated monitoring methods, like spyware, for instance, to access your employees’ workplace communications or browser history. Nor should you conduct surveillance using methods that don’t leave a trace, such as logging into a staff member’s computer without their knowledge.

Prove that you have lawful grounds to monitor your staff

As an organization, you need to provide evidence that you have a legal ground to monitor and collect information from your employees.

According to GDPR laws, your employees cannot give you consent due to the imbalance of power. They can’t provide consent freely if there’s a chance they’ll face a negative effect from refusing to do so. For example, an employee might worry about losing their job if they don’t consent to being monitored at work.

This means that you need a legitimate reason to use surveillance procedures and must be able to prove this to your staff.

The reality is, you need to create a mutual trust between you and your employees. Try to strike a balance between your right to act in the interest of your business and your employees’ right to privacy. If you’re unsure about the laws on workplace monitoring, it’s worth reaching out to an employment law expert to get more advice.

Author’s Bio: Alan Price is the Chief Operations Officer and Employment Law Director at Peninsula Business Services