The Data Protection Act is fast becoming the biggest thorn in the side of HR
professionals, and the Information Commission’s ham-fisted approach to
introducing guidance is largely to blame. The commission has excelled itself
yet again in making the final draft of its guidance on employee monitoring even
more unfriendly to employers than the first version. The commission is giving
employers’ groups, including the CBI and the CIPD, a last chance today to undo
some of the damage, but past experience gives no grounds for optimism.
The latest draft informs organisations that they must involve the police
before undertaking any covert monitoring of staff, and advises employers to
inform staff every time they intend to monitor them.
The problem with this is if you tip off would-be pornographers and betrayers
of confidential company information that you’re about to monitor them, it is
likely to make the monitoring pointless. And is it really necessary under the
Act to inform staff they could be monitored before every work session, instead
of enshrining it in policy and informing all recruits of the fact on induction?
This is leaving aside concerns that it is not at all clear exactly how often HR
departments are supposed to remind staff. Should it be every day?
Of course the privacy of individuals needs to be protected in this
information age. But the simple fact is that employers’ business systems are
the property of the company. It is perfectly reasonable that employers monitor
the use of these systems to protect staff, customers and the business. The
proposed guidance makes it unnecessarily difficult to do this.
Worst of all, we shall once again have to wait for legal precedent to
clarify the scope of employment regulations. The Government’s manifesto promise
of a light touch on employment legislation is already looking very hollow.
By Noel O’Reilly