Surveillance in the workplace - Is Big Brother watching you?


The Trades Union Congress has recently conducted research into workplace monitoring, and this has resulted in their publication of a Report entitled “I Will Be Watching You.”

The TUC unequivocally acknowledge that workplace monitoring can be justified and used fairly, especially when it helps to protect the health and safety of workers, and improves business practices.  However, they are concerned that when used badly or inappropriately, it can demonstrate an employer’s lack of trust in their staff and this can be demoralising.  Of course, excessive surveillance can also be overly intrusive and interfere with workers’ rights to privacy and dignity at work.

The research focused on three areas:

1.  How widespread is workplace surveillance?

2.  The impact of surveillance on working people.

3.  How employees feel about being monitored.

The key findings of the research are fascinating and include the following:

  • 56% of those surveyed believed it is likely they are already being monitored at work by such means as viewing work emails and browsing histories, CCTV and logging and recording telephone calls.
  • Workplace monitoring is more likely to be happening to younger workers and those in large companies.
  • 66% of those surveyed expressed concern that workplace surveillance could be used in a discriminatory way if left unregulated.
  • 70% believe that surveillance is likely to become more common in the future and they are consequently worried about its impact on relationships between workers and managers.

The upshot is that working people would like to see certain steps being taken, including:

1.  A legal requirement for employers to consult with staff before introducing new forms of surveillance.

2.  Employers to justify the use of any new forms of workplace monitoring before they can be enforced.

3.  Regulations to be put in place to stop monitoring being used in a discriminatory way.

Workplace monitoring is clearly an issue about which the TUC feels strongly.  However, this is not a new issue.  As long ago as 1998, Michael Ford QC, in “Surveillance and Privacy at Work” stated, “Surveillance is almost as old as work itself, but new techniques represent a growing threat of a different kind to workers and Unions.”

If you have a query relating to workplace monitoring, or indeed in relation to any aspect of HR or employment law, please contact Jonathan Moreland ( or Sharney Randhawa (, or call 0191 3842441.

Source: The Trades Union Congress

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