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Increase in Bosses Tracking Messages and Keystrokes Triggers Privacy Warning

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Increase in Employers Monitoring Workers Triggers Privacy Warning

Employers who engage in excessive monitoring of their staff have been warned of potential fines by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The privacy watchdog has seen a surge in bosses tracking calls, messages, and keystrokes since the Covid-19 pandemic led to a rise in remote working. The ICO has stated that it will “take action” against companies that prioritize business interests over the privacy of their workers.

Emily Keaney, the deputy commissioner at the ICO, emphasized that organizations should consider both their legal obligations and their workers’ rights before implementing any monitoring measures. While data protection laws do not prohibit monitoring, the ICO’s guidance stipulates that it must be necessary, proportionate, and respectful of workers’ rights. The ICO has the power to impose fines of up to 4% of a company’s global turnover for serious breaches of privacy rules.

According to the ICO’s new guidance on monitoring workers, any tracking should be carried out in the least intrusive manner possible, and workers must be fully informed about the nature, extent, and reasons for the monitoring.

This warning comes as employers increasingly seek to monitor staff productivity due to the rise in remote working caused by the pandemic. Some companies have faced criticism in the past for implementing what has been referred to as “Big Brother” employment practices. For instance, Barclays had to abandon an employee monitoring system in 2020 after receiving backlash for enabling managers to monitor staff’s absence from their desks.

However, with hybrid working becoming more common post-pandemic, there has been an increase in bosses wanting to track staff productivity. Earlier this year, it was revealed that fintech Monzo was monitoring the time its customer service staff spent on their screens while working remotely. Monzo clarified that it assessed the availability to work, not the activity, of its customer support team.

The ICO stated that monitoring can involve tracking calls, messages, and keystrokes, capturing screenshots, webcam footage, or audio recordings, or using specialist monitoring software to track activity.

A recent survey commissioned by the ICO, conducted by pollster Survation, found that over two-thirds of workers consider workplace monitoring intrusive, and one in five believes they have been monitored by their employer. The survey also found that Generation Z workers were the least likely to find monitoring intrusive, while those over the age of 55 were the most likely to find it unwelcome.

The ICO emphasized that excessive monitoring can easily intrude into people’s private lives and undermine their privacy. Companies must have a lawful basis, such as employee consent or legal obligation, for processing workers’ data for monitoring purposes. Additionally, companies must make personal information collected through monitoring available to workers upon request.

Emily Keaney commented on the research findings, stating that today’s workforce is concerned about monitoring, especially with the rise of flexible working. She added that nobody wants to feel that their privacy is at risk, particularly in their own homes.

The ICO’s warning serves as a reminder to employers to balance their need to monitor productivity with their employees’ right to privacy. As remote working continues to be a prevalent practice, it is crucial for organizations to establish clear guidelines and procedures for monitoring that respect workers’ privacy and legal rights.

More detail via The Telegraph here… ( Image via The Telegraph )

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