Ensure workers have right to privacy when work is monitored, says Labour

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The Labour Party has called on the government to urgently update guidance on the use of surveillance at work after research has shown a sharp increase in the number of organisations monitoring employees’ performance and tasks remotely.

It urged the Information Commissioner’s Office to update its Employment Practices Code to reflect the rising use of technology that monitors employees’ activities while they are working from home.

According to a recent YouGov survey, one in five firms has introduced, or is planning to implement, software that can track employees’ work remotely or can monitor their productivity.

Labour says that any employee surveillance systems introduced should be subject to a data protection impact assessment, and employers should consult with their staff and trade unions before introducing such technology.

The party’s shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah said: “Guidance and regulation to protect workers are woefully outdated in light of the accelerated move to remote working and rapid advancements in technology.

“The bottom line is that workers should not be digitally monitored without their informed consent, and there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers.

“Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home – which are increasingly one and the same.”

In November the TUC formed a taskforce to help tackle “punitive” forms of employee performance monitoring, after it found one in seven workers had experienced an increased in employee surveillance during the pandemic, including technology that could be used to inform redundancy decisions.

Only 28% of those polled by the TUC were comfortable with technology being used to make decisions about people at work and only 5% said they would trust the decisions made about them by AI, machine learning and algorithms – which are increasingly being used by employers.

Current guidance from the ICO says that workers should be aware when monitoring is carried out and why it is being carried out, and it recommends that they are periodically reminded of existing monitoring arrangements.

“Simply telling them that, for example, their emails may be monitored may not be sufficient. They should be left with a clear understanding of when information about them is likely to be obtained, why it is being obtained, how it will be used and who, if anyone, it will be disclosed to,” the guidance says.

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