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Weekly blog: Tightrope walking – getting monitoring of staff right.

What did I get up to this weekend? I met up with some old friends in Sheffield and we, quite randomly, ended up at a massive dog show. Those who know me, know that I love dogs (one dog in particular – Benji). Fortunately, Benji was not with me this weekend otherwise my arms would not have been in my sockets – he is a friend to all and would have lost his mind at the hundreds of doggo friends that would have been around.

We saw all manner of sights whilst at the dog show. Particular highlights included the agility course (one golden retriever couldn’t figure out the tunnel and even after the poor owner crawled through it themselves, the dog still couldn’t quite figure it out) and the best in show (Flash, the 13 year old basset hound won best older dog and quite right if you ask me).

Things sadly took a turn for the worse when we stumbled across… the owl tent. As much as I love dogs, I hate owls. I suffer quite badly from Strigiformophobia (a fear of owls. Yes, I just Googled it) so having a gentleman offer to put one on my arm was quite literally my worst nightmare. I politely declined and promptly ran away.

My husband tells me he heard a loud hoot in the trees behind our house the other night, so it would seem we are going to be moving house soon – anybody know any good conveyancers?!

But enough about my quirks… let’s talk employment law. And, actually, thinking of those beady little owl-eyes has got me thinking about something employment-law related. It’s funny how the mind works isn’t it?

Monitoring of staff.

We saw a massive increase in the monitoring of staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. With more staff moving away from the traditional workplace, employers were concerned that they needed to ensure staff were still working productively and this often resulted in remote monitoring taking place. Methods have included tracking or recording phone calls, taking screenshots or using specialist monitoring software to track employee activity by accessing their systems remotely.

In response to this increase in employer monitoring, the Information Commissioners Office has recently published guidance on the data protection implications of monitoring staff.

The guidance is aimed at employers across both the public and private sectors and is designed to set out clearly how monitoring of staff can be done on a lawful and fair basis, whilst at the same time providing advice on good practice to help employers implement monitoring policies and at the same time maintaining trust with staff and respecting their rights to privacy.  That is a lot to balance!

The ICO guidance suggests that if employers are looking to monitor workers, they must take steps that include:

  • Making workers aware of the nature, extent and reasons for monitoring.
  • Having a clearly defined purpose and using the least intrusive means to achieve it.
  • Having a lawful basis for processing workers data – such as consent or legal obligation.
  • Telling workers about any monitoring in a way that is easy to understand i.e. having a good policy in place!
  • Only keeping the information which is relevant to its purpose.
  • Carrying out a Data Protection Impact Assessment for any monitoring that is likely to result in a high risk to the rights of workers.
  • Making the personal information collected through monitoring available to workers if they make a Subject Access Request (SAR).

So, what do we at Precept make of all of this?

Well, monitoring staff absolutely has it’s time and place and can be an effective management tool at times. But it also has the risk of being counter-productive and it can damage the trust that you have in your staff, or the trust that they have in you. So, we would always, always suggest:

  • You only monitor staff where it is absolutely necessary;
  • You restrict what you are monitoring (be mindful not to breach staff’s right to a personal life);
  • If you are wanting to introduce monitoring, you should consult with your staff so that they are fully up to speed on what you’re going to be monitoring and why you want to do that (bring them along on the journey!)
  • Make sure you’ve recorded clearly in writing why and how you will carry out monitoring – give us a shout and we will pull you something together;
  • Make sure your data protection policies are fully up to date and comprehensive on this topic – we can help here too;
  • Make sure, where you are monitoring staff, you are doing so in a non-discriminatory manner (don’t target individual groups of staff, either have a blanket policy or make sure your decision to target monitoring is entirely justified).

As with most things employment and HR related, monitoring staff can be a tricky tightrope to walk, balancing the needs of your organisation against the rights of your staff. Funnily enough, Precept are trained in tightrope walking (I can just imagine Emma Tice with a little gelled moustache on a highwire, can’t you?) so if you’ve got any questions about how to get this right, please make sure you give us a call!

PS – I have also realised how timely this is with the new series of Big Brother having just started……anyone would of thought the ICO planned it!!??!!