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, and 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.
Your employer should:
carry out a privacy impact assessment to make sure they minimise the extent of monitoring and the degree of privacy intrusion. This should include consulting with trade union or other staff representatives, to find ways of minimising the intrusion and opting for the least intrusive solution
make sure monitoring is proportionate, for example by placing clear limits on how long it will go on for and who sees the results
warn staff in writing that monitoring might take place and if so, why, when, how, and what form it will take
have a lawful justification, for example, protecting worker health and safety, and not use the results of the monitoring for any other purpose (unless they reveal something serious that no reasonable employer could be expected to ignore).
The more intrusive the monitoring, the harder it will be for your employer to justify.
Under the GDPR, employers are expected to use ‘privacy by design’ when introducing new surveillance technology into the workplace, choosing the least intrusive technology, and siting it carefully.
In particular, employers must not be tempted to use new features of monitoring technology ‘just because they are there’. Monitoring must be proportionate and justified by a lawful purpose.
The ICO says that audio recording can only ever be justified if there is evidence of a “pressing social need”.