As an employer, monitoring your employees can be useful to ensure productivity and their own safety. With working from home becoming such a common option too, having surveillance also allows employers to properly meet their Work Health and Safety obligations in a remote workspace.
However, the extent to which employees are monitored is debatable. Installing workplace cameras and surveillance is generally legal in the UK, as long as the kind of surveillance does not breach the employees’ privacy rights (we’ll cover this in more detail later in this article).
Although working from home is becoming an increasingly popular option, it can be difficult for employers to find the balance between monitoring their employees without overstepping the bounds of their privacy.
Understanding your employer obligations when using surveillance is key to striking this balance. Read on to find out more.
Are Cameras Legal In The Workplace?
Yes, cameras are legal in the workplace. However, there are limits to how surveillance cameras can be used. More specifically, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 both apply here.
The Data Protection Act sets out requirements around how businesses can collect, process and share CCTV data with others.
As a business, if you are using CCTV in the workplace, it also becomes your obligation to register your details with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
Under legislation, you are also required to tell people that they are being recorded by your surveillance cameras. You are also responsible for ensuring they are only being recorded for a single intended purpose. For example, you could have surveillance cameras outside of your storage space to prevent theft, and this purpose should be disclosed to anyone entering that space (this can be done by having a sign).
Can I Track Employees While They Work From Home?
Yes, certain programs and technology can be used to track employees as they work from home. Employers can choose to monitor emails, login and log off times, chats and searches to keep tabs on their employees. GPS trackers can also be installed for employees that travel for work.
Employers have even been known to access the webcams of employees that work from home or devices that create alerts for when they leave their designated workspace. The technology to monitor employees is widely available, however, the extent to which it is engaged will depend on the employer.
Giving Notice To Employees
If you intend to record or monitor employees while they work, you need to follow the correct legal process.
Firstly, you need to conduct an impact assessment. This requires looking at how the monitoring will impact the employee and whether the surveillance is justified.
Then, you’ll need to inform employees that you will be monitoring them and the reasons why you’ll be doing so. This could be in the form of a written statement.
It’s also a great way for new employees to understand how this will work from the outset, creating a smooth onboarding process.
What Do Privacy Laws Say?
There are two main sources of legislation that deal with surveillance in the workplace:
- Data Protection Act 2018
- The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012
Data Protection Act 2018
The Data Protection Act 2018 is essentially the implementation of the GDPR in the UK. It regulates the use and distribution of personal data, especially for businesses. Thus, it protects customers whose personal information is being collected and disclosed for various reasons.
So, how does this regulate workplace cameras in the UK?
As the DPA protects the way data is stored, collected and distributed, it also regulates the way that surveillance should be conducted in the workplace. For example, businesses should disclose when they will be monitoring employees, what they will be monitoring and the reasons for monitoring.
The Human Rights Act 1998
The Human Rights Act 1998 is another piece of legislation that largely governs data and privacy. While it is a broader area of law, it also regulates the use of CCTV cameras in the workplace.
More specifically, it preserves a right to privacy and extends this protection to public places, including workplaces. So, while the DPA allows employers to monitor employees and the workplace through CCTV cameras, the Human Rights Act also balances this with the employee’s right to privacy.
Are Workplace Cameras Ethical?
Since the disruptions caused by COVID-19, workplace surveillance laws are yet to catch up to these new working arrangements.
As an employer, privacy is one of the biggest considerations in the workplace. As such, a common dilemma you’ll find is whether it is actually ethical to engage in monitoring your employees through surveillance.
It’s crucial to draw the line between monitoring your employees under your workplace obligations and impeding on their right to privacy. Workplace surveillance and monitoring can be a breaking point for many employees, where too much surveillance can cause unnecessary stress, anxiety and potentially a strained relationship with employees.
It can be a tricky area to navigate, especially if you run your business from home. Our expert lawyers are happy to chat you through your options if you need any legal help around Data & Privacy and Employment Law.
My Employees Work From Home – What Other Obligations Do I Have?
Even when employees work from home, employers still have a number of responsibilities towards their employees that need to be fulfilled as if they were working in a physical office.
Eliminating the presence of an office does not take away employer obligations towards the employee. The most significant example here is Workplace Health and Safety.
Work From Home (WFH) Policy
WFH policies aim to keep all employees safe and businesses operations running smoothly, even if they are not present. It basically acts as a guide for employees and employers alike to understand their obligations to contribute to a safe and inclusive workplace, consistent with your business values.
WFH policies can include matters such as:
- Safe work practices
- Work from home processes
- Behaviour and professionalism on work message threads
- Rules around businesses equipment
- The expectations of employees regarding work from home processes
- The responsibilities of the employer
A work from home policy will look different based on the business and its specific requirements. For example, employers will have different ways of fulfilling their WFH obligations.
Some workplaces may require a full scan of employees’ WFH spaces, whereas other businesses might prefer to simply send out a short survey to employees to report whether their workplace is safe to work in or not.
This kind of policy is also essential as your employees will be accessing your business’ confidential information at home, where they may be living with family members or roommates.
It’s important to take extra steps to protect that confidential information and incorporate these processes into your WFH policy, such as two factor authentication when accessing certain data remotely.
Sarah works for John’s online business, and works from home full-time. She works as a customer service representative and is in constant contact with various clients.
Her phone calls and other interactions with customers are recorded and stored for security purposes, and at times, is used to train new recruits.
Sarah is made aware of this through written notice at the beginning of her employment and agreed to it prior to her first day.
Workplace Surveillance Policy
It’s good practice to have a Work From Home Policy to set out how the business will run remotely, but if you’re setting up surveillance, it’s worth having a separate Workplace Surveillance Policy.
Whether you are monitoring employees at a physical office or remotely, a Workplace Surveillance Policy is beneficial for ensuring all staff are on the same page about privacy laws and how surveillance maintains WHS obligations on the employer’s part.
Put simply, this policy will ensure a transparent relationship between employees and employers.
The policy should let employees know about what activity will be tracked, for how long and for what purpose as well as any other relevant information.
Installing workplace cameras and surveillance is legal, as long as you provide notice to employees following the requirements under the relevant legislation. You also want to make sure that these processes are made crystal clear in your workplace policies to avoid confusion and legal headaches.
When it comes to data and privacy, our legal team is more than happy to walk you through the relevant legislation and provide advice on your best options for protecting your business. Reach out to us at 08081347754 or [email protected] for a free, no-obligations chat.
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