Accountancy firm EY has become the latest employer to use staff turnstile data to monitor office attendance in a crackdown on breaches of its hybrid working policy.
It has been reported that swipe card entry data is being circulated among senior managers in the UK, showing how frequently staff are attending its offices.
Sources told the Financial Times that the company is using the data as a “carrot rather than a stick” to encourage teams to comply with EY’s hybrid working guidelines, with it being estimated that at least half of some teams were failing to attend the office for at least the recommended two days per week.
Monitoring office attendance
The firm also reportedly updated its staff privacy notice in October to reflect changes to the “collection and further processing” of card entry data which would allow EY to oversee “flexible work arrangements, including awareness of … working location”.
EY has been contacted for comment.
There is a growing desire among employers to encourage more employees back into offices. Nationwide Building Society recently told staff it was scrapping its “work from anywhere” policy and would require a minimum of two days in the office per week, while Bank of America has threatened disciplinary action if employees refuse to meet office attendance requirements.
Barbara Matthews, chief people officer at HR software and employment tools provider Remote, said that tracking office attendance can indicate distrust between employers and employees. “It signals a belief that employees need to be physically present and monitored by managers in order to be productive,” she said.
“It lays a sour foundation for the relationship between management and employees, leaving employees feeling mistrusted which in turn can negatively impact productivity. Forcing employees back to the office is also detrimental to the ongoing battle to attract and retain talent.“
A report in The Times this week has also suggested some employers have started using surveillance software to monitor employees’ work at home and in the office, with one worker claiming her employer, which was not named, took a screenshot every 10 minutes to analyse employees’ productivity levels.
The Information Commissioner’s Office recently issued guidance warning that “excessive monitoring can have an adverse impact on the data protection rights and freedoms of workers” and is “likely to intrude into workers’ private lives and undermine their privacy and mental wellbeing”.
Matthews said that using surveillance software could be seen to violate employees’ trust and privacy.
She said: “Software that monitors employees plants a seed of distrust between management and employees, but also presents a number of privacy issues, particularly in cases of excessive or covert monitoring of work computers where the employee does not get a full overview of the extent to which they are being monitored and what this data is being used for.
“Managers need to move towards measuring impact and output, not time spent tapping on a keyboard, as well as better leaning into goal setting, communication and feedback in order to build trust and empower employees to become more independent.”
Rachel Barnet, an associate in the employment team at law firm Ashfords, said workforce monitoring can help improve efficiency or address concerns about security, but it must be necessary and proportionate.
She said: “Monitoring in the workplace is governed by web of different legal regimes, including data protection legislation, the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Investigatory Powers statutory regime which governs the interception of electronic communications. As with many workplace activities, employee monitoring also has the potential to result in discrimination and unfair dismissal allegations by employees, if the monitoring is carried out in an unreasonable or disproportionate way.
“As a starting point, employers should always give employees clear and advance notification of any monitoring they intend to carry out, for example in a privacy statement or policy, on posters if relevant or during staff meetings. A data protection impact assessment (DPIA) should also be undertaken, particularly where a new process or system is being brought in which is likely to pose a high risk to employees’ rights and freedoms.”
Kate Palka, a lawyer at The Legal Director, said human rights protections around employees’ privacy also extend to the workplace. She said employers should consider whether there are less intrusive ways to monitor employees’ activities.
She said: “Introducing monitoring – whether through screen capture, CCTV, internet usage, keystroke logging or reading emails – must include discussion and be transparent (except in extremely limited circumstances, such as where you suspect criminal activity). You must clearly inform employees what type of monitoring will be used, how it will work out in practice and the purposes for it, as well as how long you will keep any information that is gathered.”