Nobody likes the idea of being monitored at work, but it’s par for the course today. Anyone who has worked in an office, particularly within a business which prides itself on being tech-savvy, will no doubt be aware that their computer-based activities were watched on regular basis (if not all the time).
Companies might not realise just how demoralising and challenging employee-monitoring can be. Not only does it imply a certain lack of trust, but it suggests those making the decisions see their workforce as little more than drones who should be focused on the job every second of the working day. It’s natural to want a brief break from time to time, browsing favourite websites or checking social media, but doing either can reflect poorly on your behaviour in the eyes of the strictest employers.
Of course, spying software is not restricted to your work computer. It can apply to GPS tracking on your smartphone or in your vehicle too, which enable your employer to stay updated on your every activity.
Businesses do have a right to monitor employee activities, but only to a certain degree. Irish companies are required to give their workers access to a clear policy covering their internal email and internet usage, which includes behaviour related to social media. This must describe how much freedom employees have in using these facilities.
An official stance
The Data Privacy Commissioner stipulates that businesses’ internet-usage policies should carry information on these areas:
- Ways in which personal internet use is allowed, listing specific types of websites or materials which should not be accessed using work equipment.
- Any systems which are in place to restrict access to said websites and to monitor employees’ activities, stating explicitly whether behaviour will be recorded or viewed by anyone else in the company.
- The purpose for gathering data from employees’ internet activities and the websites they access.
- Information on how representatives (such as a trade union, if relevant) will be involved in the surveillance policy’s application.
Employers must inform employees of the reasons and motivations for spying. Even if a company allows emails and internet to be used for personal activities in a fairly relaxed manner, it’s likely they will still be monitoring the websites you visit for security purposes. Any and all surveillance to be utilised has to be made clear to all employees.
If any employees are found to go against the rules within the policy (such as visiting websites that go against the company’s interests, as covered in the policy) any fallout or punishments must be described beforehand. In other words, the cost of committing policy breaches needs to be established well in advance, so employees are aware of the dangers.
Much of this applies to employee GPS tracking too: companies monitoring their employees’ activities using wearable tech, smartphone apps, or vehicular units must all inform workers well ahead of implementation. Businesses have been fined significant amounts of money before for tracking employees without informing them first.
In some cases, there may be strong reasons behind the company’s decision, such as suspicious behaviour, data leaks, or more, but this doesn’t change how important it is to keep workers informed at all times. Employees are likely to feel cheated and violated if they discover they have been tracked without being told. They may seek legal advice too, which can end up being costly for the business if the outcome goes against them.
The right to ask questions
In terms of combatting spying software and GPS tracking in the workplace, there are some steps you can take, but not many. First of all, you can question your employer’s motivations and plans. Have they informed yourself and your colleagues of the reasons behind their decision to integrate spying software? If so, have they covered in detail how it will benefit the company, boost productivity, and minimize undesirable behaviour?
This is paramount, and not just from a legal perspective: teams which are subject to close scrutiny every hour of the working day may actually become less productive despite being unable to access non-work-related websites. Without the chance to take a break, they may find their minds wandering and their ability to concentrate reduced.
Provided your employer is honest and upfront about the type of surveillance they are performing, their reasons for doing so, and the way in which any data gathered will be used, there isn’t a great deal you can do to fight it. A refusal to follow the rules stipulated in the company’s employee handbook without good reason could be seen as resistance for resistance’s sake.
Such an approach could cost you your job.
GPS tracking is a little more complicated than software monitoring your every click and key-press. Haulage firms, for example, may integrate devices into their vehicles which enable them to follow their drivers’ routes, assess their fuel consumption, view how many miles they cover in a day, and the number of stops they make. This is typically to reduce wasted time, stay on top of expenses, and ensure maximum productivity.
Again, though, your company has to inform you of any GPS software to be installed in your vehicle, explain how this will affect your job, and how all information gleaned from the surveillance will contribute to the business.
Spying software in the workplace is unlikely to go anywhere soon, whether that is a program installed on every computer in the office, a tracking app on your company smartphone, or a device in your truck. Employers have a responsibility to be honest and clear about any surveillance they perform, while employees have the right to question that surveillance in a way that doesn’t breach policy without risking their job.