Keeping tabs on staff can be necessary, but checks must be done in accordance with legislation, writes Christina Morton
To monitor: 'to observe, supervise, keep under review, measure or test at intervals, especially for the purpose of regulation or control' - Oxford English Dictionary.
What is monitoring?
Monitoring is not a legally defined term, but it is used in several pieces of legislation that govern the type of monitoring activity that employers can carry out. The term covers any activity that involves watching or checking. This article will focus on the monitoring of e-mails and telephone calls.
Why might employers monitor employees' e-mails or telephone calls?
All employers need to feel they can check up on what their workers are doing from time to time. They may want to:
- Monitor standards of work or performance
- Check that time is being used for work and not personal activities
- Check for compliance with rules, on health and safety, confidentiality or harassment of co-workers, for example
- Check that employees are not working in competition with the employer or against the employer's interests
- Ensure that work can be carried on effectively during the absence of an employee on holiday or sick leave
To do this effectively, employers may need to:
- Read internal and external e-mails addressed to or sent by employees for evidence of misconduct or poor performance
- Listen to or record telephone calls made to or from employees for similar reasons
- Listen to an employee's voicemail messages
- Check telephone numbers used by employees, to identify excessive personal use or use of premium rate lines.
What restrictions does the law impose on these activities?
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) makes the interception of telecommunications - including telephone and e-mail - an offence, unless certain conditions are met - in particular, that the consent of the monitored individual is obtained first. However, the conditions under which employers can intercept communications without consent and without breaking the law, are set out in regulations on lawful business practice, in force since October 2000.
What do the regulations permit employers to do?
These regulations permit employers to intercept and record comm