What is monitoring at work?

Monitoring is to some extent a routine part of the employer/employee relationship. Most employers make some checks on the quantity and quality of work produced by their staff, and employees will generally expect this.

Some employers carry out monitoring to safeguard workers, as well as to protect their own interests or those of their customers. For example, monitoring may help ensure that workers in hazardous jobs aren’t at risk from unsafe working practices, or in some financial services, employers have legal or regulatory obligations, which they can only fulfil by using some monitoring.

However, everyone has the right to some degree of privacy in the workplace and the law does set some limits on monitoring activities. Some of the more controversial forms of monitoring at work include opening and reading staff's emails, monitoring internet use, listening in on telephone calls and installing CCTV.

As a general rule, where employers intend to monitor the activities of staff they should consult with trade unions or staff and inform them of the monitoring arrangements they plan to introduce. They should also be clear that those arrangements are necessary and that there are no less intrusive alternatives.

Monitoring must be done in a way that is not oppressive to staff. Excessive, routine and unnecessarily intrusive monitoring is a breach of data protection laws. For more information on this, and a helpful guide for employers, you can visit the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) website.

Unions have secured important agreements through collective bargaining, limiting the impact of intrusive monitoring and surveillance for workers in workplaces where they are recognised – for example, securing management agreement that CCTV images or sound recordings will not be used for disciplinary purposes except in exceptional circumstances.

If you are concerned about excessive monitoring where you work, and you are not yet a member of a union, think about joining and encouraging your colleagues to do the same. The more union members there are in a workplace, the stronger the union's position when it comes to negotiating improvements to the conditions where you work. Browse our Union Finder tool to find the union most suited to you.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.