As we move into 2022, it is evident remote work is here to stay. Research by PwC has indicates this is an 'enduring shift' in how most businesses function. 78% of companies surveyed said they expect remote work to continue post-pandemic whether 100% remote or using a hybrid model.
Tracking the activities of your remote staff may have several advantages for your organisation, providing reassurance your employees are truly working and allowing you to follow their progress. However, one of the major challenges of managing a remote workforce is getting the monitoring process right. Getting it wrong can lead to loss of employee trust and potential legal issues around data protection, discrimination and invasion of privacy.
While there is no specific law on how employers can monitor employees, several laws must be adhered to in the UK and these can act as a guide. To begin with, this includes the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Act 2018. This law applies across the EU as well as the UK post-Brexit.
According to the Data Protection Act, these six guidelines should be followed when monitoring employees:
• Monitoring must be lawful, fair, and transparent
• The purpose of the monitoring must be specified, explicit, and legitimate
• If monitoring involves collecting personal information, the data collected must not be excessive but adequate and relevant
• Personal data must be accurate and kept up to date
• If personal data is collected, it shouldn’t be kept for longer than necessary
• Information gathered through monitoring must be kept securely
Amongst other laws, employment monitoring is also governed by Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights, (which has been incorporated into UK law). Other applicable UK laws include Telecommunications Regulations 2000 (Lawful Business Practice Interception of communications) the concept of fairness as applied by Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010.
To save you the pain of trawling through all these legal documents, we have summarised the five most common mistakes when monitoring remote employees and how you can avoid them.
1. Don’t monitor employees without telling them
The most crucial and basic step is to inform employees that you are monitoring them. UK government guidelines state that staff must be made ‘aware that they’re being monitored, and why.’ This will help you avoid potential employment tribunals and other legal issues.
- Not having a policy in place for monitoring employees
Putting employee monitoring policies and procedures in place is key to ensuring that employees understand what you are monitoring, how and why. Creating and sharing these policies with employees will keep you on the right side of employment law. Being transparent about your monitoring policy will also help you side step employee / employer misunderstandings which could damage trust and your reputation.
Policies should include on rules on how data will be collected, stored, and used and the procedures management will use which will be applied equally to every employee. Employees should have access to this information at all times, perhaps through staff handbooks or intranets and they should be notified of any changes. In addition to keeping your business in the proper legal standing, this will increase employee trust of the monitoring process.
- Be consistent with rules and policies
Making sure that you apply monitoring policies consistently across all employees is key to maintaining trust and good relationships. If you monitor some employees and not others employees will understandably feel they are being discriminated against and could use this to raise a legal case against your business. Ensuring that management apply the monitoring procedures uniformly is therefore key to avoiding discrimination complaints.
4. Insufficient care of employees’ personal data
Data-protection laws include specific rules on how long employees’ information can be kept, who can access it, and what rights employees have to their information. There is no avoiding studying and applying this set of rules and gaining a full understanding of how they affect your business. Failure to comply with these laws is highly likely to result in legal action.
The first step in securing employee data is to implement a data protection policy stating how you will be collecting and storing data and who will be able to access it.
Next, ensure all employee data is secure which means creating protocols for the handling of data by your remote team management. If that data isn’t secured appropriately, sensitive information such as payroll details can easily end up in the wrong hands.
- Monitoring Your Employees On Break and Outside of Work
Be respectful of your employees’ privacy and ensure you monitor work-related activities only. You should not track what they do either whilst on their break or outside of their working hours. Enable employees to click a clock-out button on trackers when they need to take a personal call or briefly handle other personal matters. This way you can be sure you won’t be accused of infringing on their rights to privacy.
Whilst monitoring the remote workforce may seem like a legal and ethical minefield, most problems can be avoided by applying common sense. Ensure monitoring rules are adhered to and applied consistently. Be respectful of employees’ rights to privacy inside and outside their working lives. By being transparent and having clear policies in place, you can prove all staff were made aware of the rules should you encounter any problems. Read, follow and create staff guidelines using the data protection laws. Mistakes over data are damaging, costly and definitely best avoided. Done right, monitoring should be comfortable for employees and help build mutual trust between them and your company.
*Note: This is article is intended as a general guide only and laws vary country by country. In order to be clear on your legal obligations, you should seek legal advice in the country you are considering monitoring your employees.