Is Business Use of Employee Surveillance Acceptable?

It should be for valid reasons, justifiable and proportionate

At the workplace, some businesses often already have an arsenal of measures, from CCTV to stop and search and security guards in place, for use in all types of surveillance or monitoring to use a less pejorative term of workers.


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Surveillance is increasingly common, and of course, enabled by technology. Employers have the right to monitor activities in many situations, but at the same time, workers and employees can have genuine and reasonable expectations of privacy in some circumstances. Expectations about these vary internationally.

Some best practices for surveillance

So, as good practice, employers should:

  • have a clear and easily understandable policy, and especially, details on how exactly it works in practice;
  • ensure compliance with any and all legal and regulatory requirements. This includes, for example, the European Convention of Human Rights, the Data Protection Act and the Information Commissioner’s code of conduct before doing it; and
  • consider ethical standards.

So, as good practice, employers should have a clear and easily understandable policy, and especially, details on how exactly it works in practice.

A trio of big questions and issues here are:

  • What is its point and real purpose?

The rhetoric might be to improve customer relations, health and safety, etc. The question is then exactly how? The reality may be personnel and performance monitoring.

  • How open is it?

It can be covert, which is more difficult to justify/defend unless there is evidence of serious malpractice and that telling employees would prejudice the reasons why it is being carried out. It can be overt (easier to justify/defend). The more open and clearer the employer is about its reasons, necessity to do it and all the benefits, the better.

  • Have risks been considered?

These are not only legal claims (for example of constructive dismissal, discrimination, human rights and data protection principle breaches, etc), but critically, reputational risk and damage to worker and employee morale. As such, company behaviour can come across as capricious and indicate a lack of trust and this is hardly conducive for enlightened and progressive employee relations.

In short, common sense should prevail when it comes to this area of human resource management (HRM). However, even if employees are informed such surveillance is taking place, it still should be for valid business reasons, justifiable and proportionate. Management should not create a Panopticon for its own sake – that is very risky and the reputational costs and damage to staff morale very real.


Do you agree – what do you think? Love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

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