I have my suspicions and have got a tip-off that an employee has been making phone calls using company telephones during work hours, phoning other companies looking for jobs. Can I listen in to the telephone conversations?

Generally, employers need the consent of employees before they can lawfully monitor communications at work e.g. email, internet use, telephone conversations. To listen to your employee’s telephone calls without his consent is likely to be a breach of data protection legislation.

This is because monitoring is seen to be intrusive and employees have a right to expect certain levels of privacy, even at work.

This is usually overcome by employers including a clause in contracts that are given to staff which states that certain communications undertaken by the employee during the course of their work will be monitored. This usually is accompanied by a set of disciplinary rules stipulating that unauthorised use of email, internet and/or telephone will be treated as a disciplinary matter. This then sets expectations in the employee’s mind that, should they then behave in this way, that they have done something wrong.

If such a clause does exist in your documentation then you can rely on this to listen to the call to see if this provides evidence for your suspicions. You should be careful to narrow down your search for the call to calls made by this particular employee at the time you suspect the call was made.

If you do not have the employee’s prior consent to monitoring, you will need to be more careful with your approach. You could consider issuing a statement to all staff that personal calls are not permitted and any instances where this occurs will be handled under the disciplinary procedure.

This may hopefully be enough to make the employee stop making these calls.

Adding a clause to contracts of employment for new staff, and therefore gaining their consent to monitoring, should prevent a recurrence of the problem.

For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.