Q How does the Act affect monitoring?
• If you monitor your workers by collecting or using information about them, the Data Protection Act
will apply. This can happen, for example, when you video workers using CCTV
to detect crime, when you check telephone logs to detect excessive private use, and when you monitor e-mails or check Internet use.
• The Act doesn’t generally prevent monitoring. However, it sets out principles for the gathering and use of personal information. In short, data protection means that if monitoring has any adverse effect on workers, this must be justified by its benefit to the employer or others.
• The Act requires openness. Workers should be aware of the nature, extent and reasons for any monitoring unless, exceptionally, covert monitoring is justified. Q If I want to monitor my workers, what must I do?
• Consider why you want to carry out the monitoring. This might mean asking what problem you are trying to solve, for example theft in the workplace.
• Once you are clear about the purpose, ask whether the particular monitoring arrangement will truly bring the benefit you are looking for and whether it is justified by this benefit.
1. Monitoring is usually intrusive.
2. Workers legitimately expect to keep their personal lives private.
3. Workers are entitled to some privacy in the work environment.
• Consider whether alternative approaches or different methods of monitoring would deliver the benefits you want while being more acceptable to workers. Can you target the monitoring at an area of risk, for example the part of your premises where you think theft is occurring?
Ensure your workers are aware that they are being monitored and why.
You could tell them this by putting a notice on a notice-board or signs in the areas where monitoring is taking place. If your workers have computers, you could send them an E-mail about the monitoring. If you are open about it, they will know what to expect.
• If monitoring is to be used to enforce your rules and standards, make sure workers know clearly what these are.
• Only use information obtained through monitoring for the purpose for which you carried out the monitoring, unless the monitoring leads to the discovery of an activity that no employer could reasonably be expected to ignore, for example breaches of health and safety rules that put other workers at risk.
• Keep secure the information that you gather through monitoring. This might mean only allowing one or two people to have access to it. Don’t keep the information for longer than necessary or keep more information than you really need. This might mean deleting it once disciplinary action against a worker is over. Q Are there other points to consider for particular types of monitoring?
• Be particularly careful when monitoring communications, such as e-mails, that are clearly personal. Avoid wherever possible opening e-mails, especially those that clearly show they are private or personal. Monitor the message’s address or heading only.
• If it is necessary to check the e-mail accounts or voice-mails of workers in their absence, make sure they are aware this will happen.
• Where video or audio monitoring is justified, target the monitoring, where possible, at areas of particular risk, and only use it where workers wouldn’t expect much privacy.
• Ensure that if you use information for monitoring which is held by third parties, such as credit reference or electoral roll information, you can justify this. Take particular care with any information you hold about workers as a result of non-employment dealings with them, for example where they are also your customers.
• If you are justified in obtaining information about a worker’s criminal convictions for monitoring, only do so through a ‘disclosure’ from the Criminal Records Bureau. Q Can I ever undertake secret monitoring?
• The covert monitoring of workers can rarely be justified. Do not carry it out unless it has been authorised at the highest level in your business.
You should be satisfied that there are grounds for suspecting criminal activity or equivalent malpractice, and that telling people about the monitoring would make it difficult to prevent or detect such wrongdoing.
• Use covert monitoring only as part of a specific investigation, and stop using it when the investigation has been completed. Do not use covert monitoring in places such as toilets or private offices unless you suspect serious crime and intend to involve the police.
Source: Data Protection Act Registrar