New code sees staff monitoring tightened

Rules
on covert staff monitoring and accessing employees’ e-mails have been
tightened, following the launch of the long-awaited data protection monitoring
code.

The
code clarifies what employers’ rights are in monitoring staff internet use,
e-mails and phone calls, as well as CCTV surveillance.

The
guide, designed to help employers comply with the Data Protection Act 1998,
states that organisations must inform workers if they are being monitored, even
when a breach of company rules is suspected.

Information
Commissioner Richard Thomas, who has re-drafted the code, stressed that covert
monitoring is not allowed unless serious criminal activity is suspected,
warranting police involvement.

"Secret
snooping is nearly always unacceptable. Monitoring must be done for a clear
reason, and it is fundamental that HR makes sure staff are fully aware of
what’s going on," he said.

Thomas
is confident the code, which has been re-drafted twice and delayed for more
than a year following concerns over its complexity, will enable organisations
to draw up effective policies.

"I
believe this code will help HR. I hope this will fill the vacuum that’s been
around since the Act was introduced," he said.

The
CBI claimed the commissioner had still not gone far enough in addressing
concerns about the complexity of the code.

However,
Mike Emmott, employee relations expert at the Chartered Institute of Personnel
and Development, said: "The issue of the privacy of staff using work
equipment in the workplace is always going to be difficult, but this code
broadly strikes the right balance."

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