Between the 19th and 22nd October 2021, the Trade Union, Prospect, conducted a survey of 2424 of their members regarding the electronic monitoring of homeworkers by their employers.
Since the start of the pandemic, a huge number of employees were forced to work from home and while many have now returned to their place of work, either on a full-time basis or more flexibly, a great number continue to do so.
It has transpired that many employers have been using technology – usually used within the workplace – to monitor their staff. Such monitoring can include watching staff at their desks at home via a webcam, using movement sensors, recording keyboard strokes or mouse movements, and taking screenshots of desktops to ensure employees are not watching videos or browsing the internet.
The survey has revealed that 32% of homeworkers are now being monitored by their employers and this is up from 24% in April 2021. This rises to 48% for younger employees aged between 18 to 34 years. The proportion of staff being monitored at home by camera has also risen from 5% to 13% since April 2021.
As a consequence, Prospect has called for the monitoring of employees through webcams to be made illegal, except during calls and meetings.
The General Secretary of Prospect, Mike Clancy, states, “We are used to the idea of employers checking up on workers, but when people are working in their own homes, this assumes a whole new dimension……New technology allows employers to have a constant window into their employees’ homes and the use of the technology is largely unregulated by Government.”
The Information Commissioners Office recently carried out a consultation to inform their views on new data protection and guidance on employee practices. On this issue, they have advised that employers should ensure staff are aware of being monitored at work – whether at home or in the office - before it commences. Staff should also explicitly be informed of the reasons for the monitoring. Further, the ICO has urged employers to consider the potential negative effects of monitoring of staff and whether there are any less intrusive alternatives, such as regular calls or exchanges of emails.
A spokesman for the ICO stated, “People expect that they can keep their personal lives private and that they are also entitled to a degree of privacy in the workplace…We are currently working on updating our Employment Practices Guidance to address the changes in data protection law and to reflect the new ways employers use technology and interact with staff.”
From a political perspective, the Labour Shadow Digital Minister, Chi Onwurah, stated, “Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy, whether in their workplace or home.”
Conversely, many employers who use this technology and such monitoring techniques feel that they are acting reasonably, with so many employees now out of sight of their Managers and difficult to oversee. It is clearly a contentious issue and one where there appear to be compelling arguments on both sides. What is highly probable is that further, and possibly more stringent, regulation is imminent.
If you require guidance on this issue – particularly whether you as an employer are able to monitor your staff who are working from home – or if you have any other queries in relation to employment or HR law, please contact Jonathan Moreland by email at email@example.com or call him on 0191 3842441.
With thanks and acknowledgement to Thomson Reuters Practical Law and the BBC