Is Your Boss Watching You?

  • 13th August 2020
  • Evgeniy Anisimov
  • Technology
Is Your Boss Watching You?

We live in an age where CCTV is on most corners, and we allow others to watch our lives via social media. But how much are we being watched at work too?

Some employers are going to extraordinary lengths to surveil their employees. From CCTV and keystroke monitoring to wearable devices to track behaviour and location, surveillance is on the rise.

This may include:

  • CCTV
  • Email monitoring
  • Webcam
  • Company mobile phones
  • Company laptops
  • Fitness trackers to track your location
  • Voice recording
  • Scanning instant messaging systems
  • Monitoring internet usage and history
  • Social media
  • Monitoring phone logs and calls
  • It's even been alleged that workers in China have worn helmets which tracks brain waves- checking for fatigue and attention loss.

Why would an employer want to collect information about you, your movements, and what you do in (and occasionally out of) work hours? There are many reasons, ranging from the obvious to the questionably moral.

People Analytics, as it is sometimes called, is a growing area. It aims to predict employee behaviour and help improve the workplace. The majority of businesses would say that it helps streamline performance. By seeing how employees spend their work time allows employers to drive efficiency better.

Some employees are more dismissive. There are concerns about how the collected data is stored and used- whether it is used for decisions in disciplinaries or to dismiss staff. Will it affect promotions, or can your employer see that you have sent your CV to a rival company?

How much info can monitoring provide? When a company gathers data, it may be collected and used in an algorithm, but this is not fail-safe. What about data it hasn't collected? What if one person can speak to a colleague about a project, who is sitting across a desk? Whereas another colleague has to use email to contact another? The latter may look more productive if employers are scrutinising email output. Algorithms based on some data collection can be distorted.

According to a 2018 TUC survey, 56% of employees feel it is likely they are being watched in one way or another. From bosses trawling social media to tracking toilet breaks, there are some deeply unpopular practices. Staff feel it sends a clear signal that they cannot be trusted. Some feel more strongly that data could be stockpiled and used to dismiss someone at a later date by finding one small discrepancy. Only 38% of people interviewed felt they could challenge the surveillance they currently feel uncomfortable with.

In the UK, the GDPR laws brought in during 2018, can help workers.

"A data subject has the right not to be subjected to a decision which may include a measure evaluating personal aspects relating to him or her which is based solely on automated processing and which produces legal effects concerning him or her that affect him or her, such as recruiting practices without any human intervention."

What can an employer legally monitor? Phillip Landau, a partner at Landau Law, says "In the UK, employers are allowed to monitor which websites you look at while at work. However, the device they monitor must be partly or wholly provided by work. Employers must also give a prior warning if they are going to monitor your online activity, and should make you aware of the relevant social media policy."

And while it is legal to monitor keystrokes, each employee must be informed. But a higher number of keystrokes does not always equate to high levels of productivity and vice versa. He continues to say that employers could theoretically use a webcam on your computer to see when you're at your desk. Again, you should be informed beforehand, and there needs to be sufficient justification for such monitoring.

Any company vehicles that you drive may also be tracked. "However, the data they collect must only be used for the management purposes of the company. Any GPS device is not allowed to be turned on if the employee is using the vehicle for personal reasons outside of work."

The TUC says 81% of people believe that bosses should inform them of any workplace monitoring in a clear, understandable and justifiable way. And with 7 out of 10 believing that it will become more commonplace in the future, they are calling upon employers to only use it when needed. This is to protect staff, such as ensuring people can work safely.

The TUC would like to see these recommendations put into place:

  • Employers should only use surveillance for legitimate reasons which protect the interests of workers, such as ensuring people can work safely.
  • Where unions are recognised, they must agree on any use of workplace surveillance.
  • All workers in all workplaces must be informed of any monitoring arrangements and the reasons for their use.
  • The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) code on employment practices should be updated to take account of new tech. And if employers don't comply with the code, anyone who loses their job due to evidence gathered using surveillance should automatically be considered as unfairly dismissed.

It is likely that as 'snooping' becomes the norm, many more rules and regulations will need to be thrashed out to protect both sides.

Employers and Social Media

If your information is public or your boss is a friend, they can see what you put on social media. If you call in sick, it makes sense not to post that you have gone shopping or have a friend tag you in a bar!

Your Notty account will show you want your Employer will see about you, and how you use Social Media can affect your future prospects.