3rd October 2019
The concept of monitoring employees is a controversial one. Employers thinking about introducing a method of monitoring in the workplace need to give due consideration to the impacts it might have. Thought should be given not only to the possible effects on employee morale, but also to whether the monitoring will achieve the desired outcome. We explore the ins and outs of this topic, and how to go about monitoring employees at work.
What are the negative effects of employee monitoring?
When deciding whether to put a monitoring system into place, it is recommended that employers carry out something known as an ‘Impact Assessment’. The reason for this is to thoroughly evaluate how such a system might work, how it might affect employees, and if there are any less-intrusive steps that could be taken instead.
Employee Monitoring Pros and Cons
During the assessment, think about the reasons why a monitoring system might be advantageous, as well as the reasons it might not be.
|Reasons For||Reasons Against|
|To protect employees’ safety: in some sectors employers might actually be legally obliged to monitor employees. For instance in the case of bag searching at a government/high-profile building.||Low morale amongst staff: if employees feel like they are not trusted, they are likely to become unhappy at work, believing that the employer has little to no faith in them.|
|To detect or prevent a crime: employers who suspect criminal activity have a duty of care to other employees, and could use monitoring such as surveillance in order to gather evidence for the police.||Low employee productivity: if staff are under the impression that the management team does not trust them, this can have a negative impact on the effort they put into their work – and consequently their productivity.|
|To assess employees’ quality of work: an employer could deem it necessary to check emails or listen to employees’ phone calls at work in order to check their professionalism, and provide any constructive criticism about their communication.||Increased stress among staff: knowing you are being closely monitored can cause employees to feel like they are under significant pressure, leading to stress and frustration.|
|To monitor employee internet usage: an employer might choose to check staff computer usage if they suspect their activity is unlawful, offensive, or if they are using it for excessive personal use. These reasons will usually violate the company policy – as outlined in the employee handbook.||High staff turnover: if employees feel as though they are being spied on, or increasingly micro-managed, they are more likely to seek alternative employment at a more easy-going company.|
If employees understand and appreciate the reasons why they are being monitored, they are less likely to experience the negative impacts outlined above. Instead, they will feel respected and as though they are valued members of the team. They might even appreciate the increased monitoring if they can see benefits for the employees.
Types of Employee Monitoring
There are a number of ways in which companies undertake staff monitoring, depending on what they are looking to achieve. These include;
- CCTV & Audio Recording (see ICO’s CCTV Code of Practice)
- Checking emails and internet usage
- Listening to phone calls
- Bag searches
- Drug testing
What Are the Rules About Employee Monitoring?
Employers who have made the decision to monitor their employees need to be aware of the laws that will apply;
- Employers are obliged to inform their employees about any monitoring.
In almost all cases, if any of the aforementioned monitoring methods will be put into place the employees must be made aware. Communication needs to be clear and informative, making staff fully aware of the reasons why the monitoring is being carried out, of what data will be recorded, and how long it will be kept.
- These reasons for monitoring must be justified.
When making the decision to carry out employee monitoring, employers need to consider the reasons why they are doing so. There needs to be a reason to believe that monitoring will make a positive difference to the work environment, either from a safety perspective or a professional one.
- If information will be collected or used, employers need to consider the Data Protection Act.
The Data Protection Act stipulates that information is stored securely, and is available to those about whom it relates. You can read more about this legislation here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/data-protection-act-2018
- An employee must be made aware of the company policies.
If an employer wants to monitor emails, internet usage, and phone calls, the employees must be made aware of what is allowed beforehand and the employers should allow their employees easy access to these policies. This information will most often be covered in the employee handbook, but having them uploaded to a self-serviced cloud based HR system is another great way to make sure employees are always able to view them. They should know what is and is not allowed when it comes to the type of use, the length of time permitted, and the fact that they might be monitored.
- Phone calls cannot be recorded.
It is also worth noting that while phone calls and voicemails can be listened to, it is illegal to record employee phone calls without their consent.
A Word on Covert Monitoring
There are few cases where covert monitoring is permitted. If an employer wants to use covert monitoring, they must have a legitimate and genuine reason. For example, this could be suspicion of dangerous or criminal activity. In this instance, the monitoring must be done promptly and only for a specific investigation. It must end when the investigation is complete. Read more about covert monitoring.
Deciding if You Should Monitor Your Employees
Even equipped with all the information about reasons, methods, and laws, coming to a decision about whether or not you should monitor your employees can be a difficult one to make. Consider if the action is likely to have a negative effect on your workforce, or if indeed it will have the desired outcome. If you do decide to go ahead, communication is key. Keep your employees fully in the loop to avoid frustration and doubt. For further reading, see the Citizen’s Advice guidance to find out about your employees’ rights.
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