Employee monitoring

  • Employment Law
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

The increase in remote working has led to a rise in employee monitoring software. But before implementing it, you need to think about the effects it may have.

If you don't manage employee monitoring carefully, you risk damaging your relationship with your employees. As well as facing legal action if you violate UK GDPR.

In this guide, we'll discuss employee monitoring laws, the pros and cons of tracking employees in your business, and how to manage it effectively.

What is meant by employee monitoring?

Employee monitoring is a practice many businesses have adopted. The aim of it is to track employee performance and productivity.

There are several types of employee monitoring. These range from small applications such as employee bag checks, to more severe monitoring, such as employee surveillance.

To implement this in the workplace, businesses use employee tracking tools.

Is employee monitoring legal in the UK?

Businesses in the UK can carry out employee monitoring. So long as employers perform it on a legitimate basis and don't violate employee rights.

Following the Data Protection Act's guidelines is a good place to start if you're considering employee monitoring in your workplace. And want to ensure you can implement it lawfully.

The Data Protection Act 2018

UK GDPR is the same as EU GDPR. However, UK GDPR includes the Data Protection Act.  This legislation contains the general advised data collection procedure. The legislation states that employers must not mishandle or exploit personal, raw data.

Examples of personal data include:

●      Telephone numbers.

●      Email addresses.

●      Home addresses.

The UK law also includes six data processing principles. These highlight how employers can legally manage the data collected.

Data processing principles

Data processing principles are a set of strict rules that act as a guide to processing, collecting and accessing personal, and sensitive data, safely. These principles are different to the six lawful bases of data processing.

The principles are as follows:

  • Lawful, fair and transparent: Are you using the monitoring on a lawful basis, fairly, and transparently?
  • Limited: Are you monitoring an employee for a specific purpose?
  • Adequate and necessary: Have you been explicit about employee monitoring?
  • Accuracy: Is the activity data you're monitoring accurate and up-to-date.
  • Necessary length of time: Are you monitoring employees for the necessary amount of time?
  • Integrity and confidentiality: Are you monitoring employees securely and privately?

Compliance with these principles will ensure you administer employee monitoring tools lawfully.

What are the reasons for employee monitoring?

You should have a fair and just cause for monitoring employees. There are several reason why employers may use a tracking system in the workplace.

These include:

  • Remote working.
  • Measuring productivity of employees.
  • Measuring the performance of employees.

Let's explore these reasons in more detail.

Remote working

If your business has a hybrid working policy, you may consider an employee monitoring tool.

Businesses advised its non-essential workers to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. And since that time, employers have become more flexible with remote working.

Some companies have even applied a hybrid working policy. Or permanently asked its employees to work from home. As a result, it's becoming more difficult for some company to track when work has been completed.

But, with an employee tracking system, you can supervise remote workers and remote teams.

Measure productivity

You can use workplace monitoring to measure your employee engagement and productivity.

As many businesses utilise work remote, employees' productivity is harder to manage. And it’s not as efficient when it comes to feedback. But with employee tracking software, you can determine how productive your employees are being.

For example, you could implement task management software. This type of tracking tool will help you plan, track and monitor whole team projects from start to finish. You can even set deadlines, so your employees know when you expect them to complete tasks.

Measure performance

It’s not easy to monitor how an employee performs at work without supervising them in real-time. But by reviewing employee activity, you can identify workers that aren't meeting company expectations.

For example, a real-time monitoring system can help discover what employees are doing at any moment. This can help determine which employees are spending time completing tasks and which are spending too much time scrolling social media.

Like employee productivity, workplace monitoring systems can measure the performance of your entire staff.

What types of employee monitoring are there?

Employee monitoring systems vary depending on the type of monitoring you need and the industry you belong to.

Most businesses use different monitoring tools to both track employee activity and measure multiple processes. New technologies can even track attendance, examine worker behaviour and ensure security.

Different types of employee monitoring include:

  • Internet and app usage.
  • Keystroke logging.
  • CCTV and webcams.
  • Email monitoring.
  • Phone monitoring.
  • Time and file tracking.
  • Instant messaging.

Let's explore these examples in more detail.

Internet usage

Activity tracking software allows employers to monitor their worker's computer activity.

This includes what URLs they visit on work computers and social media usage. As well as which applications they're using, and if they're using the computers for personal use.

This type of activity tracking is beneficial for employers enforcing remote work. This is because they can monitor remote user activity, and computer activities from a central location.

CCTV, screen capture and webcams

Employers may use CCTV, screen capture or computer webcams to monitor their workers.

With some software, senior members of a workplace can view user activity, or screen recordings of work computers, to ensure everyone is working productively.

This type of tracking comes with privacy concerns. So you should consider if it's the right fit for your business.

Email tracking

Email tracking is a common, but useful way to monitor employees. This type of software allows employers to check their worker's emails.

This can be a useful way to settle workplace conflict. And helps identify issues before they can affect your business.

For example, from email tracking, you could spot insider threats or even workplace harassment.

Phone tracking

You can also use phone tracking to monitor workers and see how your employees use their business phones.

Some software will allow you to view activity reports and capture screenshots of your workers' phones.

This includes the phone calls and texts they might make. Similarly, you can see if they use their phone for personal reasons.

Time tracking

Employers may also track the time employees spend on tasks during working hours. For example, they may use a tracking tool that confirms when employees start and finish work.

This includes clock ins, clock outs and activity logs. These can monitor how long a team member may take on each task.

Keystroke monitoring

Keystroke monitoring - or keystroke logging - is an extreme type of activity monitoring. It's a special system that records every keystroke an employee makes.

Keystroke logging has two categories: hardware-based keylogging and software keylogging. It's important to research both thoroughly to work out what system is right for your business.

Instant messaging

Instant messages allow employers to contact their team whenever and wherever. Laptops and phones can install this type of software and they're typically cheaper to use than phone calls and texting.

As an employer, you can also monitor instant messaging and check if your team are sending and receiving data efficiently.

Instant message tracking can also alert employers when chats contain inappropriate keywords. Or when users chat with certain people. This can be particularly useful if two workers are in a dispute with each other.

The benefits of employee monitoring

When used correctly and within reason, employee tracking tools can have many advantages.

These include:

  • Better employee performance.
  • Increased productivity.
  • Optimized business processes.

Let's look at these benefits in context.

Better employee performance

Digital supervision can push your team to work harder. And ultimately, improve employee performance.

With tracking systems, you can measure individual employee work. And assess if a worker is meeting company expectations. As a result, to avoid repercussions, employees will work more efficiently and ultimately improve their performance.

Increased productivity

Workplace tracking tools could increase productivity for your staff.

With some tracking systems, you're able to monitor worker activity and employee engagement. This includes when they start and finish a task. As well as if they've completed a job on time.

Because workers will be aware you can view their activity, they'll try and finish all their tasks to the deadline.

Optimized business processes

Because of increased productivity and performance, you may find that employee tracking optimizes your business processes.

For example, if a worker in a sales team has become more productive as a result of workplace tracking, they may make more sales. And subsequently, your business brings in more revenue.

The disadvantages of employee monitoring

There is some debate around employee tracking. This is due to employee’s personal data being collected. As a result, there are some potential disadvantages.

These include:

  • Invasion of privacy.
  • High level of mistrust and stress.
  • Risk of data breaches.

Let's look at these disadvantages in context.

Invasion of privacy

If your business implements workplace tracking, your team may have concerns about their human rights being violated.

For example, you could stumble across private health information of a worker when keystroke logging. This would be a breach of employee privacy.

As a result, this could make them feel vulnerable and unsafe at work.

High mistrust and stress levels

If you decide to monitor workers, it could lead to a high level of mistrust and stress.

For example, you may not effectively communicate the implementation of workplace tracking to your workers. As a result, your team may misinterpret its use. And develop worries about their privacy. Which could damage your business and its reputation.

Risk of a data breach

A data or GDPR breach at your business is another risk of workplace tracking.

If you don't monitor your workers in accordance with data protection laws, you're at risk of monetary penalties. And in some instances, even legal action.

Is employee monitoring right for your business?

Even the best employee monitoring software might not be suitable for your business. Which is why you need to ask yourself a number of questions before making a commitment.

These questions include:

  • Is the reason for monitoring justified?
  • Is monitoring suitable for your workplace?
  • Is monitoring suitable for your business model?
  • Does your business have the correct software?

Let's explore these questions further.

Is the reason for monitoring justified?

First, you must ask yourself whether you have a legitimate reason for tracking employee activity.

These reasons may include:

  • Safeguarding staff data whilst they work remotely.
  • Protecting staff resources whilst they work remotely.
  • Improving staff performance whilst they work remotely.
  • Improving productivity whilst they work remotely.

If you already have an efficient team - and your reason for monitoring isn't valid, you should consider other solutions.

Is monitoring suitable for your work environment?

You should assess whether employee tracking tools are suitable for your work environment.

For example, if your workers are onsite or in the office five days a week, they probably already have a suitable amount of supervision. And likely communicate and collaborate more face-to-face than digitally.

Moreover, your workers may find this level of tracking extensive and feel micromanaged. As a result, this could lead to workplace disputes and high employee turnover.

Is monitoring suitable for your business model?

You need to ask yourself if tracking employee activity is suitable for your business model. For example, if your business operates on a small scale with a small team.

In this instance, implementing employee tracking systems could be unnecessary, as staff communication will be smaller.

Ultimately, there wouldn't be much activity to monitor. And it may not be cost effective.

Does your business have the correct software?

You also need to consider if your business has the right software to monitor workers.

Choosing to monitor workers means high volumes of data gathering and processing.  This means you need to abide by UK GDPR.

Without the correct software to manage your employee tracking tools, your business is at risk of data leaks. As a result, you could violate GDPR. Which means your business may face heavy fines and reputational damage.

If you still would like to implement employee tracking tools - but don't think you have enough data protection in place - it's worth conducting a GDPR audit.

Introducing employee monitoring software

It's important to take the right steps if you decide to introduce employee monitoring software.

This includes:

  • Being transparent with your staff: You should be completely transparent with your staff if you choose to monitor them. And be honest about the reasons why your using tracking tools. And what you'll be tracking. You should also consider the effect it will have on the business.
  • Having an open communication: It's important to maintain communication with your staff when implementing workplace tracking. This means asking workers to come to you with their concerns. As well as properly listening to them and addressing their worries.
  • Ensuring data security: You need to ensure data security when employee monitoring. This means contacting a data protection team to get advice about what software you will need to use. And information about protecting collected data.

Get expert advice from Peninsula

As an employer, you must manage employee monitoring in accordance with the law.

This means being transparent with employees and following data protection laws. As well as being explicit about the purpose of the monitoring.

Otherwise, you may be at risk of losing your employees' trust, as well as threatening employee morale and wellbeing. In some cases, you could even face legal action and reputational damage.

Peninsula offers you expert 24/7 HR advice and support, advising you on the best employee monitoring systems and practices. Contact us on 0800 028 2420.

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