Imagine if you were taking a surreptitious look at Rightmove on your company laptop and your boss phoned to ask if you were thinking of relocating. Or you popped into the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and your line manager texted to say she had noticed you had been away from your desk for 12 minutes.  Is this the future of remote working? No, it’s already here.

Since the pandemic began, sales of employee surveillance software have rocketed.  Time Doctor turns your laptop camera against you and takes a photo every 10 minutes.  Hubstaff tracks movements via the GPS on your phone and provides a list of websites you have visited. TransparentBusiness sends screenshots of your computer to your line manager. That’s how they know you are looking at Rightmove….. or worse.

But can employers do this? Isn’t it a breach of privacy? Well, this is a complex area involving the Human Rights Act, Data Protection, the Investigatory Powers Act and a lot more legislation I won’t bore you with. But the bottom line is that employers aren’t prevented from monitoring their employees, though staff are entitled to some privacy at work. Monitoring should not be excessive and should only be carried out as necessary and justifiable for business purposes.

Employees must be made aware that they are being monitored, and it’s therefore vital to have written policies setting out the extent of the surveillance. It may also be necessary to carry out an impact assessment if the monitoring carries a high risk to employee privacy.

Policies should explain when and why information about staff is likely to be obtained, how it will be used and who the information will be disclosed to. It’s not enough just to post the policy on their intranet and hope workers read it. Employers need to be more proactive, perhaps by setting up IT systems so that workers must read the policy in full from time to time before they can access email or the internet, or having a short message that pops up when workers access the internet.

It’s very rare that your employer would carry out secret monitoring without making you aware. However, they could do so if there is a genuine reason, for example a suspicion of criminal activity. Any evidence should be obtained as quickly as possible, and only as part of a specific investigation. The monitoring must stop as soon as the investigation has concluded.

Right, I’m off for a 9 minute coffee break now – must smile for the camera before I go!