MONITORING WORKERS: There are various ways an employer might monitor the workforce. Common ways of getting monitored at work include:
- Bag searches
- Checking or tracking emails (or websites visited)
- Drug testing
- Video cameras to monitor workers (CCTV)
Any monitoring that involves taking images, data, or drug testing falls under data protection law in the United Kingdom.
There are several steps workers can take if they are unhappy about getting monitored. The first step is to check the work contract or staff handbook to check whether the employer can do it.
Searching Employees at Work
Your employer should have a written policy on searching employees. As a minimum, all staff searches should:
- Respect the privacy of the person getting searched.
- Get carried out by a member of the same sex.
- Have a witness present during the search.
Note: There are steps you can take after a ‘badly’ handled search or a drug test. Workers may have a rightful claim for discrimination, assault, or for false imprisonment.
Testing Employees for Drugs
An employer must have consent to test an employee for drugs. As a rule, employee drug testing gets cited in a work contract or the staff handbook. It would be part of a full contractual health and safety policy.
When testing a worker for drugs the employer should:
- Limit the testing only to employees that need to get drug tested.
- Make sure the tests are randomised avoiding discriminatory practices.
- Avoid singling out particular employees for drug testing. An exception may apply if there is justification due to the nature of the job positions.
Note: Under the law, employers cannot force their employees to take a drugs test. But, a refusal – when there is good grounds for testing – may result in disciplinary action.
CCTV Monitoring and Checking Staff Emails
The amount of monitoring taking place must be ‘clearly’ explained by employers. As a rule, the information would be in a contract of employment or the staff handbook.
The details should inform workers:
- The fact that they are being monitored (if applicable).
- What counts as a reasonable number of personal phone calls and emails.
- Whether the company disallows personal emails and phone calls.
Typical examples of checking up on staff and types of monitoring include:
- Inspecting websites that workers have visited.
- Closed-circuit television (CCTV) in the building.
- Checking bags as workers leave the building.
Employers cannot monitor workers in all places at the workplace. For example, workers must not get monitored in the toilet areas. Failing to respect this ruling could be in breach of the Data Protection Act.
Note: Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) have further advice about workplace disputes. You can also contact your local Citizens Advice or your trade union representative.
How to Request CCTV Footage of Yourself
If you request closed circuit television (CCTV) footage of yourself the owner of the footage must provide it within thirty (30) days. They might charge you for it but it should not cost more than £10.
You would need to make a written request to the owner of the system. It is not always obvious who owns the CCTV system (unless it is a shop). But, you can often find their details stamped on a sign attached to the camera.
Tell the owners you are requesting information they are holding about you under the Data Protection Act.
You may need to provide some basic information to help them identify you in the footage, such as:
- A specific date and an approximate time.
- A detailed description of yourself.
- Something that proves your identity (e.g. a driving licence).
There may be certain situations where the owner cannot share any of the footage with you, such as if:
- Viewing the film will show other people in it.
- They cannot edit out others in the footage (to protect their identity).
In some cases, the owner of the CCTV system may invite you to an authorised viewing of the footage:
- If they cannot give you a copy of the footage itself.
- Providing you agree to this type of arrangement.
But, if sharing the footage is going to put a criminal investigation at risk, they can refuse your request to get CCTV footage of yourself.
Note: As a general rule, most closed circuit television footage will be ‘automatically’ deleted 30 days after the recording. You can also contact the local council about crime prevention and community safety if you have further concerns.
CCTV Footage of a Crime
The police may already have the closed circuit television (CCTV) footage if some of the filming relates to a crime. In this case, the police would inform you whether you can view it.