Internet surveillance is a question of balance

Delegates heard that at one university in England there were six employment tribunals going on at any one time related to pornography abuse among staff.

This was revealed during a session on HR issues relating to data protection/Internet abuse by employees, which is about to be transformed with the introduction of the Human Rights Act on 1 October.

Euan MacLeod, a partner with law firm Dundas and Wilson, said surveillance issues were a “balance between the employer’s right to have work done properly and an employee’s right to retain dignity and privacy at work”.

He said all employers require “clear guidance and policies to establish parameters of acceptable use/conduct of the Internet”.

MacLeod said employers had lost cases against dismissed staff because downloading “unsuitable material was an acceptable practice within the office”.

He referred to a survey by research firm IRS which revealed that 77 per cent of employers monitor Internet use. Surfing the Net for personal use was estimated to have cost employers 8 million man hours last year.

Covert CCTV surveillance by an employer may also be in breach of the Human Rights Act if its use cannot be justified in court.

MacLeod recommended early action on breaches of employees’ contracts and ensuring that all staff were aware of policies and of the potential for surveillance to be used intermittently if the employer suspects there is a problem.

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