12 most asked questions on UK employee monitoring laws

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Employee monitoring in the United Kingdom is recognized and permitted for employers who wish to monitor their employees on legitimate work-related grounds. However, this must be done in a way that complies with the laws in force.

1. Is employee monitoring legal in the UK?

Yes. Employee monitoring is legal in the UK. In fact, there are laws in the UK that guide monitoring employees in the workplace. These include, but are not limited to, the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018, and the Employment Practices Data Protection Code (EPDPC) 2011. According to the Data Protection Act, these six principles should at least be followed if employers wish to monitor their employees:

  • Monitoring must be lawful, fair, and transparent.
  • The purpose of the monitoring must be specified, explicit, and legitimate.
  • If employee monitoring involves collecting or using personal information, the data collected must be adequate, relevant, and not excessive.
  • The personal data must be accurate and kept up to date.
  • If personal data is collected, it shouldn’t be kept for any longer than is necessary.
  • Information gathered through monitoring should be kept secure.

Businesses must understand that employees have a right to a certain degree of privacy at work. It is best to strike a balance between their business interests and employee’s expectations of privacy. Most importantly, the monitoring process should be fair and reasonable.

2.Is it legal to monitor company’s computers?

Yes. In the UK, monitoring company computers are permissible by law. Employers have the right to ensure that computers in the workplace are used appropriately and not improperly. However, before implementing the monitoring, employers must first discuss this with their employees and clarify the monitoring. These reasons should be legitimate and in line with the business goals. Employers are also required to establish written policies on the use of work computers by employees, and employees should sign these policies accordingly.

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3. Is it legal to monitor employee internet and social media activities?

Yes. This is legal in the UK. It is within the employer’s right to see if employees use the internet and social media inappropriately or excessively during working hours. That said, the following should be taken into account before monitoring.

  • Employers must notify their employees before monitoring their internet and social media usage.
  • Employers are to establish clear policies on the internet and social media monitoring (on the company’s own social media page or the employees’ personal one) during designated work hours.
  • Monitoring policies should also specify the extent to which the monitoring is carried out, and when employees can access certain sites.
  • Policies must confirm the employer’s right to monitor employees’ use of email and the internet, including access to social media sites.

Although notifying employees about monitoring is a must, obtaining consent is, on the other hand, unnecessary in some cases. According to Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000, these exceptions allow businesses to intercept and record communications (including communications via social media) without consent:

  • To ensure compliance with the regulatory or self-regulatory practices or procedures relevant to the business.
  • To show company standards that are or should be met by employees.
  • To prevent or detect crime.
  • To investigate or detect any unauthorized or misuse of the telecommunications system.
  • To ensure that the system operates efficiently.

4. Is it legal to monitor screen contents and keystrokes?

Yes. While it is legal for employers to monitor screen contents and keystrokes in the UK, this monitoring type should only be considered if there is a legitimate business reason to do so. It is also considered to be illegal if employers do not notify their staff about the monitoring. As a general rule, it is always a good practice to establish clear monitoring policies. Employers may need to obtain written agreement for certain monitoring types such as keystroke capture in some cases.

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5. Is it legal to monitor email content?

Yes. In the UK, employers are allowed to monitor email content as long as it is on a company-provided device, and there is a legit business reason behind it.The employer also has the right to introduce policies limiting the use of work emails for personal use and provide full details of the monitoring in policies, handbooks, etc. Email monitoring policies should include the following:

  • When the email content is monitored.
  • Why the email content/use is being monitored.
  • How the information collected will be used.
  • Who the information collected will be disclosed to.

6. Is it legal to monitor or record phone conversations?

Yes, phone monitoring or recording is legal, especially if the purposes are relevant to the employer’s business and if the employee uses the company’s telecommunication device. The Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 give businesses the right to monitor communications on their own networks. Monitoring or recording phone conversations is authorized if the purpose is:

  • To allow employees to comply with the business regulations.
  • To ensure that employees carry out their work under company standards.
  • To prevent or detect criminal activity.
  • To ensure that the communication system operates effectively.
  • To allow the business to identify any unauthorized use of a company device.
  • For security purposes.

Employers must also inform potential users of the interception telecommunications system and establish monitoring policies for company-owned equipment.

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7. Is it legal to use video monitoring systems in the workplace?

Yes. Video monitoring systems are allowed in the workplace as long as there is a legitimate business purpose. That being said, it is important to note that employees must be aware of the surveillance, and it is recommended that signs be displayed to show the cameras’ locations. Employers are also not allowed to monitor employees in certain areas (restrooms, lactation rooms, washrooms). Data Protection Act advises employers to be clear about the purpose of monitoring, and the following should be taken into account before the monitoring:

  • Employers should also consider the nature of the problem they are looking to address, and whether a surveillance system would be justified and a practical solution or whether better solutions exist.
  • Employers should consider what effect this kind of surveillance may have on employees and whether its use is a solution to the problem.
  • If employers decide to implement it, the video monitoring systems should not be intrusive to privacy.

8. Is it legal to monitor private messages and email content?

Yes, employers are allowed to monitor and limit certain activities, such as sending or receiving private messages or emails during working hours, particularly on the company device. At the same time, employers should be careful not to infringe laws such as the Data Protection Act 1998, the Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000, among others, when accessing private information. Before monitoring takes place, employees should be notified about this, and they should understand that there is a limit to how much privacy they have when working on a company device.

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9. Is it legal to monitor employees’ personal devices?

Yes. But only if the device holds work-related information or the employer wants to restrict use during working hours, guarantee quality control, or ensure that employees comply with company rules. Businesses should also have a clear BYOD policy that all employees are aware of in place. Other than that, employees’ personal devices should be out of bounds to the employer.

10. Is it legal to monitor employees’ personal computers?

Yes, as stated in the “Is it legal to monitor employees’ personal devices” section, if the computer contains work-related information or the employer has a clear BYOD policy that all employees are aware of, this is legal. But again, employers should be reasonable about how and when the monitoring is carried out.

11. Is it required to inform employees of the monitoring?

Yes, this is a requirement in the UK. It is relatively uncommon to carry out monitoring in secret without notifying the staff. However, there are limited exemptions where employers can monitor employees without informing them. Specifically, the exception applies where:

  • There is suspicion of criminal activity, and it is most likely that letting the employee know would make it more difficult to detect the crime.
  • Businesses covertly monitor for specific investigation purposes.
  • Covert monitoring must be carried out as quickly as possible and only as part of a particular investigation. Covert monitoring must stop immediately after the investigation has been concluded.

Although it is necessary to inform employees of the monitoring process, employers do not need employees’ consent in some cases. Employees do not need to consent to the monitoring (including monitoring the use of social media) provided that:

  • An impact assessment has been carried out.
  • The monitoring is for legitimate purposes.
  • The monitoring does not involve the handling of sensitive personal data.

12. Employee monitoring policy – mandatory or not?

Yes, employee monitoring policies, handbooks e.t.c are mandatory. Policies help lay down guidelines for employee behavior and company devices inside and outside the workplace. Businesses ought to have comprehensive monitoring policies that cover:

  • The nature and extent of the monitoring process.
  • The reason for the monitoring.
  • The impact of the monitoring on the business.
  • How confidential or sensitive information is handled. (If any is taken)
  • Point out acceptable and unacceptable uses.

Additionally, employers need to ensure that they inform employees of the policy, provide copies to each employee, confirm that employees have read and understood the policy, and finally notify employees of any changes or updates to the policy. The provision of data security training to those who are handling the monitored data is also crucial.
Employers must ensure that their monitoring policies are compliant with legal requirements.

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Are there laws in the UK that protect employee workplace privacy?

Yes. In the UK, some laws protect employees’ privacy in the workplace, and an employer must comply with those laws when monitoring employees. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Human Rights Act 1998) provides the right to respect one’s “private and family life. The Data Protection Act 1998 puts in place fundamental principles that should govern the handling, processing, and storage of ‘personal data’ relating to employers’ employees. Other legislation includes the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), The Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice)(Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 (LBP), among others.

Is there professional lawyers’ advice on monitoring?

Yes. Lawyers acknowledge that, although there are many legitimate reasons employers may have to monitor employees, the monitoring process should comply with the law and should be fair. Lawyers recommend that businesses:

  • Conduct an impact assessment before the monitoring.
  • Clearly explain the purpose behind the monitoring to employees. (Reason should be valid and reasonable)
  • Create clear monitoring policies so that employees understand what is permissible or not.
  • Ensure that information collected from the monitoring is used only for the purpose for which it has been collected.
  • Avoid excessive monitoring, and only relevant information should be retained.
  • Ensure that only assigned personnel can access the data monitored.
  • Ensure that they balance the monitoring with the employee’s right to privacy.

What is the bottom line?

Transparency and notification of employees about the nature and content of the monitoring is key to successful monitoring at the workplace. As a general rule, it is good practice for businesses to create monitoring policies and ensure that employees are familiar with them. That way, they can fully understand the monitoring process and comply.

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Disclaimer
The information provided in this article is for general understanding only and not to be used as legal advice. To receive professional legal advice, please consult your lawyer.

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