Employee monitoring: how far is too far?

HR
departments are under pressure to step up the monitoring of staff e-mail and
internet usage, but they risk alienating employees if they go to far. Daniel
Thomas asks where companies should draw the line

Employers
want to monitor internet usage not only to cut down on the over-use of business
systems, but also to prevent internal crime, harassment and the leaking of
confidential company information.

The
misuse of e-mail and the internet by staff can have more than embarrassing
consequences. A recent survey of 400 HR and IT professionals, from filtering
firm SurfControl, revealed 40 per cent of respondents admitted receiving
sensitive information via e-mail that was not intended for them.

Although
information is often disclosed inadvertently, such as when the deleted text
from a document is retained in a final version, sometimes the misuse is more
calculated.

In
2003, the Inland Revenue admitted that some of its staff had looked up the tax
records of celebrities, and there was some evidence of confidential taxpayers’
information being used maliciously, such as passing on the salary data of an
ex-spouse to the Child Support Agency.

Some
form of usage policy is clearly necessary, but HR must be wary of not going too
far to ensure employees aren’t alienated.

The
TUC claims that constant, intrusive staff monitoring is bad for workers’ health
and productivity, and has called for the Data Protection Code to be altered in
a bid to stop employers ‘snooping’ on staff.

It
says employers go too far by monitoring e-mails, internet use and computer work
as well as eavesdropping on telephone calls, measuring the length of toilet
breaks, and using CCTV to keep an eye on workers.

A
dilemma for HR then, but as long as it is sensible and communicates clearly
with staff, there should not be a problem, says Ben Willmott, employee relations
adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

“Monitoring
is about common sense, really,” he says. “If your organisation has a clear
business reason for monitoring, and you can explain that and justify that to
employees, it is likely to be acceptable and understood.

“You
need to spell out the fact that you have a clear monitoring policy, and make it
clear what the policy is – particularly at induction stage.”

Personnel
Today has produced a One-stop Guide to Employee Monitoring to help employers
decide whether or not to monitor, and how to do it. It offers guidance through
the confusing legislation that surrounds this controversial workplace issue.

The
40-page report includes:

*
Clear explanation of the business case for employee monitoring and the benefits
and risks of different approaches

*  Explanations of the issues surrounding the
monitoring of e-mail, the internet, telephones, and the use of biometric data
and CCTV

*
Overview of the key research on what other employers are doing in the area of
staff monitoring

*
Advice on whether or not to monitor staff communications and how to go about it

*
Model policies and checklists of everything that should be included in
monitoring policies

To
get your copy of Personnel Today’s One-stop Guide to Employee Monitoring, call
Caron Berry on 01371 810 433, or e-mail: personneltoday@esco.co.uk

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