Employee monitoring spiked in the last six months, research finds

Number of workers reporting webcam surveillance at home by their employer has more than doubled, as experts warn companies to be wary of breaching data protection rules

The number of employees reporting being monitored by their employer while at work has surged over the last six months, research has found, including a doubling in the use of web-cam monitoring.

A poll of 2,400 workers by the union Prospect found one in three (32 per cent) of workers reported being monitored at work in October this year, up from a quarter (24 per cent) in April 2021.

Additionally, the number of remote workers who report being monitored by an at-home camera has more than doubled since April 2021. More than one in 10 (13 per cent) remote workers reported having a camera installed in their home, compared with just 5 per cent six months ago.

Younger workers were the most affected by the increased surveillance, with almost half (48 per cent) of those aged 18 to 34 reporting being monitored at work, according to the report.

Hayfa Mohdzaini, senior researcher at the CIPD, said that while employers have the right to monitor employees, staff need to be informed of any surveillance and any measures businesses take need to be “relevant, necessary and respect people's privacy”.

Mohdzaini recommended that employers discuss potential monitoring with their employees before committing to surveillance, adding that “sharing work in progress on shared drives, having clearer goal setting discussions and regular updates with line managers” could all be effective alternatives to at-home supervision.

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Similarly, Rachel Tozer, employment law partner at Keystone Law, said employers needed to be wary of data protection laws when implementing employee surveillance.

“Since the introduction of GDPR, there are additional legal considerations that employers must follow and they can no longer rely on employees giving their consent via a data protection clause in their employment contract,” she said, adding that the financial consequences for breaching data protection rules could be substantial.

She suggested employers consider identifying legal reasons for monitoring staff, carry out data protection impact assessment and give employees sufficient advance information about any monitoring, including the type of monitoring, the reasons for monitoring, and the potential uses of the information collected through monitoring.

“Legal requirements, as well as social norms, of each country need to be considered if employers wish to seek to avoid damaging employee/employer relations,” Tozer added.

The poll found that the majority of workers were in favour of some form of control over the use of webcam technology for monitoring, with half (52 per cent) saying the use of webcam monitoring at home should be banned and 20 per cent saying it should be heavily regulated.

Just 8 per cent of respondents thought employers should be able to single-handedly decide when to use at-home camera monitoring.

Mike Clancy, Prospect’s general secretary, called for legislation to be introduced to protect the privacy of staff. “We are used to the idea of employers checking up on workers, but when people are working in their own homes this assumes a whole new dimension,” he said.

“We think that we need to upgrade the law to protect the privacy of workers and set reasonable limits on the use of this snooping technology, and the public overwhelmingly agree with us.”

The trade union also called on the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to introduce stricter measures to combat workplace surveillance, including a total ban on webcam monitoring outside of calls and meetings.

Chi Onwurah, Labour MP and shadow minister for science, research and digital, also called for the government to “urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home.

‘Workers should not be subject to digital surveillance without their informed consent, and there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers,” she said.