Code on staff monitoring leaves industry confused

Employers have three months to push for clear rules on monitoring staff e-mails and telephone calls following the publication of a draft code of practice last week.

The architect of the code, which covers telephone and e-mail monitoring of staff and the use of personal data, has admitted it will add to confusion among HR professionals.

But employers can challenge the code and ensure the final rules make it clear when and how they can monitor staff.

Employers have complained that the code seems to contradict regulations released earlier this month giving the green light to monitor staff (News, 10 October).

Assistant Commissioner David Smith, who drafted the code, said he had tried to set out the provisions of the Data Protection Act clearly. “We cannot lay down any hard and fast rules which apply to all businesses. I accept that there is potential for confusion, but we are anticipating a lot of feedback on the draft code and we expect to make changes,” he said.

The 63-page draft has been criticised by industry for being too complex and too unwieldy in the light of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which comes into force on 24 October.

Smith stressed that employers must first ensure they are satisfying the terms of the RIP Act. “If they don’t do that they’re not off the starting blocks,” he said.

The CBI’s head of e-business, Nigel Hickson, said the Data Protection Commissioner should have held back publication once the RIP laws were changed to avoid confusion.”I think it is well-intentioned, but some areas are impractical for employers.”

By Paul Dinsdale

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