Many businesses in the UK deploy monitoring equipment like CCTV to keep an eye on their staff. Some employers take this a step further by implementing drug testing, bag testing, email monitoring and even browsing history checking.
Whilst Data protection law in the UK allows the monitoring activity (making images, data, or drug testing) if employees are unhappy about being monitored at work, they can raise this with their employers.
To do this, they must firstly check their employment contract or staff handbook to see whether their employers are allowed to install monitoring equipment in their premises. If not, the employee may be justified in submitting a resignation and claiming constructive dismissal.
Monitoring in the workplace can be done for a number of reasons. While it is used to safeguard employees from gross misconduct, unsafe working practices and discrimination, in some sectors, employers may have a regulatory or legal need to monitor their staff.
However, the gathered information should only be used for the purpose it was designed to be carried out for, unless it leads to the discovery of other things like health and safety breaches.
UK employment law stipulates that employers must have a written policy in place on monitoring their staff at work. Also, they must conduct monitoring in a manner that:
- isn’t excessive and must be justified;
- information collected is kept secure;
- employees are informed about what information will be recorded and how long will it be kept;
- the information collected or used according to the stipulations under the Data Protection Act.
Usually, employers don’t have any specific issue with their staff using their phones, internet or email for personal use. Instead, most workplaces in the UK allow some access as long as the productivity is not affected by the personal engagements over phone or email.
However, if employers choose to monitor the personal communication of their employees, they must clearly inform them first of the same and specify the reason behind the decision.
Additionally, employers should implement policies to clearly set out what is and what isn’t allowed – whether it is access to some websites or certain types of emails. Overall, employers need to tell their staff:
- if they are being monitored;
- what is a reasonable amount of personal phone calls and emails;
- Whether personal calls and emails are allowed.
Such policies should be simple and straightforward so that employees understand them Employees who not comply with the policy may be subjected to appropriate disciplinary action.
CCTV monitoring is used across workplaces in the UK for a number of reasons. However, if CCTV monitoring is implemented in the premises, the employer must make sure that the employees are made aware of the same. Usually, this is done by displaying signs that depict the locations of the cameras. Additionally, these signs must:
- be clear, visible and readable;
- contain details of the purpose of the surveillance;
- Include contact details like whom to contact about the scheme, website address, email address or telephone number.
Under the Data Protection Act, the employer cannot use the recorded camera footage for any other purpose than that informed to the employees. For example, if the reason to install CCTV cameras is to prevent theft, the employer cannot then use the recorded footage for other reasons like recording entry and exit of employees from the workplace.
It’s very rare that employers would be required to install CCTV or other monitoring equipment in secret, without informing their staff they are being monitored.
If they do, employers must have a genuine reason to undertake covert monitoring. Possible reasons may include tackling criminal activities or malpractice at the workplace.
Furthermore, covert monitoring data must only be obtained as part of a specific investigation and as quickly as possible. The monitoring must stop immediately once the investigation concludes.
Installing CCTV and other surveillance equipment inside and near the workplace is an important decision for employers.
They may choose to monitor their employees for a number of reasons. However, under UK employment law, no employer can monitor their staff without informing them of the same.
Not only this, employers are also not allowed to use the monitored data and surveillance footage for any reason other than the one specified to the employees, as stipulated under the Data Protection Act.
If your employer proceeds to monitor your personal communication and movements inside the office premises, you may raise a grievance alleging misconduct on the part of your employer, which could lead to a constructive dismissal claim. You should take legal advice from experienced employment law solicitors about your rights in this regard.
Tom Street qualified as a solicitor in 2003 and has over 20 years experience in employment and litigation law. He studied law at the University of Manchester before undertaking the legal practice course at the College of Law in Guildford, going on to complete his legal training at a firm in Chancery Lane, London. Once fully qualified, he moved to a niche litigation practice in the City of London.
In 2010, Tom set up his own legal practice, Tom Street & Co Solicitors and as part of this, in accordance with his strongly held objective to provide everyone with an easy pathway to justice he established the online portals Do I Have A Case? and Tribunal Claim. These websites are trading names of Tom Street & Co Solicitors.