How should my employer approach monitoring at work?

Employers may want to monitor their workplaces for a variety of legitimate reasons (e.g. to discourage theft or violence by members of the public). Workers will generally expect and accept some degree of monitoring as necessary – for example, monitoring can help ensure that workers in hazardous jobs are not at risk from unsafe working practices.

However, if used in inappropriate ways or in the wrong situations, monitoring can have an adverse impact on staff. It can intrude into their private lives, disrupt their work, or interfere with the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between them and their employer.

The Data Protection Act does not prevent employers from monitoring workers, but where monitoring involves the collection, storage and use of personal information, it must be neither routine nor excessive. Also, where the employer is holding data, it must do so securely, must not hold onto it for longer than is necessary and must dispose of it securely.

The duty to keep data safely includes a duty on your employer to keep payroll information, such as dates of birth, national insurance number, salary, address, bank details and so on secure and free from risks such as negligent loss, theft, hacking or identity theft. This includes where the data is administered by an outside organisation, such as a payroll company.  Check the website of the Information Commissioner for more information.

Before deciding whether to introduce monitoring arrangements, your employer should:

  • be clear about the reasons for monitoring staff and the benefits that this will bring;
  • identify any negative effects the monitoring may have on staff, including on their private lives within the workplace;
  • consider whether there are any less intrusive alternatives to monitoring; and
  • judge whether the monitoring is justified, taking into account all of the above.

Your employer should also consult with trade union or other staff representatives.

Except in extremely limited circumstances, employers must tell staff about any monitoring arrangements and the reasons why they are being or have been introduced.

If, for example, your employer is keeping a record of websites visited by staff, you should be told the reasons for this, what information will be recorded and retained and for how long, who will have access to the information, and how the information will be used.

Your employer owes an implied contractual duty of trust and confidence to all its employees. Introducing monitoring without proper consultation or without an adequate justification risks breaching this duty.

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.