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Privacy in the Workplace

22nd June 2011

It’s none of your business!
Privacy in the workplace.

With the news full of super injunctions, phone tapping scandals and leaked data, people are becoming more aware of privacy issues. Longer working hours and the convenience of the internet mean most of us mix our private and work lives, at least a little. This month we’re looking at some do’s and don’ts of monitoring employees.
Legally, monitoring employee’s actions can be risky. You need to have a good reason for doing it, and there are some places (such as toilets and showers) where monitoring is rarely acceptable. Like most employment law issues, you need to make sure any action you take is reasonable.

Introducing monitoring
It may be that you already have monitoring in place. If not, introducing it has its own particular problems, as it is likely to be a change in terms and conditions. Ideally, you need to consult with your employees and get their agreement to any monitoring. You should also have clear written policies on monitoring and make sure employees are aware of them.

Common types of monitoring
These include vehicle tracking, email, phone and internet monitoring. Some employers also block certain sites such as hotmail or facebook, so they can’t be accessed from work computers. Less common is drug and alcohol screening, though some employers do conduct such monitoring.

What you collect and how you use it
It isn’t just collecting the information that is risky; you need to be careful how you use it as well. Employers should only collect information they need - unless you are supplying footwear for employees, you probably don’t need to know their shoe size. Information should only be used for the purpose for which it was collected, should be kept secure and should only be accessed on a ‘need to know’ basis. For example, there is unlikely to be a reason why a junior colleague needs access to their manager’s personnel file. Remember, employees usually have a right to see information you keep about them.

The Data Protection Act sets out how you should treat personal information and ACAS have guidance specifically about employees and data protection on their website.

Right to a private and family life
The Human Rights Act states that everyone has a right to a private and family life.  Any decision made by a court has to follow the principals of the Human Rights Act.
Employees are entitled to some privacy in the workplace and you need to take care not to cross the line into invasion of that privacy.

Practical Issues
Employee privacy is a touchy subject and you need to think about how monitoring may effect employee morale. You may also need additional resources to deal with any information you collect. For example, if you are tracking vehicles to keep an eye on fuel consumption and driving routes, someone is going to have to look at the data and analyze it to get you the information you need.

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