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Is your boss spying on you at work? And did the EU Commission sanction it?

The reality is that the majority of our daily lives come under scrutiny

Before you accept a position with a new company, you can guarantee that someone has had more than a cursory glance at any sites you frequent, or show public data on you.

Monitoring continues throughout your working day as the hours you keep, sites you visit, times you log on/off, and emails you send are recorded and examined carefully by your employer, either using an automated system or on-demand.

Employers need to keep an eye on their workforce to ensure that nothing illegal is being conducted during work time or on the premises. Such scrutiny can also assist with issues such as cyber bullying, or perhaps even outline any obvious gaps in knowledge and training.

Using CCTV, information technology, checking mail and phone logs are all legal, but there is a fine line between monitoring staff for their output and efficiency levels and out and out spying.

In June 2015, plant manufacturer JCB removed 10 CCTV cameras from its main manufacturing floor, ostensibly introduced to aid health and safety at work, simply because its workforce threatened strike action if the cameras remained.

Information is protected by the Data Protection Act, dictating the way in which it can be carried out. No-one likes being watched so employers must be clear as to how the monitoring takes place and the reasons for it, all of which must be in the employee handbook or contract.

This code of conduct enables employers to react to any transgressions with disciplinary action if discovered. Impact assessments outline the effect on staff behaviour in monitoring situations, and reasonable steps necessary to reduce any negative feelings.

Smartphones push emails to us wherever we are, social media sites update us as to the whereabouts of our friends, and we are constantly bombarded with information on ‘deals’.

However, all of us must remember that employers are paying us for our time. Constantly updating our Facebook or Twitter accounts or sending texts every few minutes is cutting into that contracted period, and employers have every right to restrict such activity, especially if it impacts productivity.

There is a balancing act between allowing staff to be in contact and their availability to perform the task at hand.

The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled in favour of an employer who had dismissed a member of staff for using social media to contact friends at work because the account used was created for company use only. Whilst the British judiciary is required to take ECHR judgements “into consideration”, they are not legally obliged to follow them and will judge each specific case on its merits.

That said, the guidelines are very much a matter of common sense. If the phone, PC, or account you are using is company-owned then the company has all rights to its use and content. If you want to have privacy, you will need to use your own hardware, your own internet service (not the company Wi-Fi), and your private data will stay just that…private.

And of course we must separate work and personal time and the associated activities.

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