Workplace rights: Watching brief

Surveillance at work is becoming a contentious issue, with new technology creating ever more sophisticated methods of electronic snooping.

by Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors -e-mail:
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Microsoft was recently said to be seeking a patent for office 'spy' software capable of analysing staff wellbeing, competence and productivity in real time. Meanwhile, research for the Economic and Social Research Council suggests that the spread of ICT surveillance has caused a rise in work strain, reflected by feelings of anxiety and exhaustion. But although monitoring computer systems may seem invasive, there are sound reasons for employers to do it, such as quality control, protecting confidential information and preventing inappropriate behaviour and misuse of company time. These concerns have been heightened by the proliferation of blogs, networking sites and 'virtual worlds' such as Second Life. From a legal perspective, employers should tell staff that monitoring is taking place and the reasons for it, ensuring that data protection laws are observed and workers' privacy rights respected. This means having legitimate purposes for monitoring and making it no more intrusive than necessary. Organisations must develop clear, balanced and effective policies on the use of electronic media.

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