Monitoring remote workers in the comfort of their own homes
Published 30 November 2020
Employers have the right to observe employees at work, but they may need to adapt if they wish to do so for those now working from home.
We are well aware that CCTV is fitted throughout workplaces, tracking devices and cameras are installed on company vehicles and that our use of a company’s computer system can be checked.
And, we should be clear about the reasons why this is being done, how that information is being used and who is in charge of processing such information.
Details from different methods of surveillance deployed by employers has been used to detect acts of misconduct and to discipline and dismiss employees.
A group of South Wales binmen were reportedly sacked after they were said to have been caught cheating on their overtime, thanks to CCTV cameras installed on their lorries (1)
Last year it was revealed that almost 100 staff at HMRC faced disciplinary action for computer misuse in the previous two full financial years (2).
With large numbers of employees now adhering to government advice and working from home where they can, monitoring what they are doing and getting up to may not be as straightforward.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in April 2020, 46.6 per cent of people in employment did some work at home (3). Of those who did some work from home, around one-third worked fewer hours than usual (34.4 per cent).
Although the numbers working from home has dropped in recent months, new research suggests that many businesses are keen to monitor those still doing so.
One in five employers (20 per cent) are already using, or plan to introduce, software to monitor employees who are working from home, according to a YouGov survey of 2,000 employers, commissioned by Skillcast (4).
The study found that 12 per cent of firms were already monitoring their staff remotely, while eight per cent had plans to implement monitoring. Another six per cent were considering whether to implement monitoring in the future.
For many working from home is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. An employer needs to inform its employees about any measures it plans to use, or is in fact using, to monitor their work while they are home-based.
Workers will be aware that checks of their usage of social media on work systems, time spent online and emails may be the norm in their usual workplace. However, their guard may drop when working from home in a relaxed and familiar setting.
If an employer plans to monitor online activity remotely and act on any detected misuse or breach of company policy, it must inform workers. Details of how such checks will be carried out and the reason for doing so should be provided
It is advisable to remind staff of their responsibilities while working from home and to inform them of any increased or new monitoring. Existing policies can be updated to provide the relevant information.
The idea of being monitored while working from home may alarm some people, as they may feel they are being snooped on. To avoid losing the trust of employees, the level of monitoring should be balanced to the genuine commercial interests at hand.
Employers can carry out monitoring activities under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (5). There are, however, additional legal considerations that need to be met.
In addition to complying with general rules for processing personal data, there are three key issues:
- What is the lawful basis for processing the data?
- Has a required data assessment been carried out and does this back the use of monitoring?
- Has the employee been informed that the monitoring may be carried out?
Any failure to comply with the rules can land an employer in serious trouble for breaking the law and not being clear about surveillance with its workforce.
(1) Binmen sacked after they had been caught on CCTV cheating on overtime [Internet] www.telegraph.co.uk [Cited 30.11.2020] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/10/07/binmen-complain-sacked-caught-skiving-cctv-cameras-installed/
(2) 100 staff at HMRC faced disciplinary action [Internet] www.theregister.com [Cited 30.11.2020] https://www.theregister.com/2019/10/01/hmrc_disciplined_almost_100_employees_for_computer_misuse_over_24_months/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%253A+co%252FTpyQ+%2528The+Register%2529
(3) 46.6 per cent of people in employment did some work at home [Internet] www.ons.gov.uk [Cited 30.11.2020] https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/coronavirusandhomeworkingintheuk/april2020.
(4) Software to monitor employees who are working from home. [Internet] www.skillcast.com [Cited 30.11.2020] https://www.skillcast.com/blog/remote-working-compliance-survey-key-findings
(5) GDPR [Internet] https://ico.org.uk [Cited 30.11.2020] https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/
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