HR · 23 August 2018

Do you snoop on your staff? 3 workers who were stalked by their boss

Three-quarters of workers say bosses should be banned from monitoring them outside of working hours

The I’ll Be Watching You report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that 6 in 10 workers think snooped on by their boss fuels “distrust and discrimination”. Here are the stories of three workers who submitted their own personal experiences to the TUC.

According to the report, snooping can take a variety of forms, such as:

  • Monitoring internet use, keystrokes and through webcams
  • Location tracking by handheld or wearable devices
  • Recording time away from work tasks (for example timing toilet breaks)
  • The use of facial recognition software to assess workers’ moods

Workers raised fears that this surveillance data will be used by bosses to set unfair targets, micro-manage them and take away control and autonomy.

Snooping outside of work

Three-quarters of workers say bosses should be banned from monitoring them outside of working hours. But a third think that their activity on social media accounts is being snooped on when they are not at work.

Stronger protections

The vast majority of workers (79%) say employers should be legally required to consult their workforces and reach agreement before using surveillance.

Enforcement of the new general data protection regulations (GDPR) may help but new safeguards are needed to ensure that employers respect workers’ rights to privacy and prevent employers using excessive or intrusive surveillance at work.

Commenting on this, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Employers should discuss and agree workplace monitoring policies with their workforces – not impose them upon them.

“Unions can negotiate agreements that safeguard workers’ privacy while still making sure the job gets done. But the law needs to change too, so that workers are better protected against excessive and intrusive surveillance.”

The following case studies were submitted to the TUC

Employee #1 – Every movement monitored

Trevor has worked as an HGV driver for the same employer for 28 years. In the last 10 years new monitoring technology has become a major cause of stress.

At first it was just a tracker system to let the employer see the vehicle’s location. That wasn’t a problem. But the company kept on stepping up the technology. He is now subject to live data streaming of every aspect of his driving, including monitoring and restricting the route he can take.

There are also in-cab cameras constantly watching drivers, even if they have a break. It’s not just clear problems that are watched for, like using a mobile while driving or not having a seatbelt on. The company has declared a raft of activities as ‘gross misconduct’ including drinking from a water bottle.

Drivers are only allowed to take a break from driving every three to four hours. And while driving their every movement is under intense scrutiny. They are controlled by a computer that always assumes a best-case scenario and does not allow for sensible reactions to things that can change. Trevor says it has created an oppressive and stressful environment where you feel you cannot relax for even a minute. And he thinks this is more of a safety risk when driving than taking a sip of water when he needs it.

Employee #2 – CCTV to sexually harass

Kirsty is 18 years old and from Yorkshire. She worked for a supermarket on their security team. One night she heard her colleagues talking and laughing about something on the radio. Later she went to the CCTV room to review the footage and discovered they had used the security camera to zoom in on her backside.

They tried to intimidate her, saying that if she put in a grievance they would look for things to get her into trouble – for example if she was late back from lunch, or took too many breaks. And they threatened to do the same to her Mum, who also worked at the store.

Kirsty was directly employed by the supermarket, but the staff responsible were from an external agency. She spoke to her manager about what had happened. But her manager wanted to avoid problems with the security agency and persuaded her not to put in a grievance.

Kirsty says that after her experience she does not believe it is possible to trust employers with the powerful surveillance technologies now available to them. There will always be rogue workers and managers who abuse the power it gives them. She wants tougher laws to protect the privacy of workers.

Employee #3 – Hacking emails

Paul worked as the HR manager for a cleaning company in the North East of England. He enjoyed his job, but that changed when a new owner came in.

An unqualified HR director was appointed, and Paul started to feel they wanted to push him out. He also believed that the company was no longer being run professionally, and later discovered that one of the new directors had previously been disqualified from holding directorships.

The new owner had employed his son. When the son had problems with a company laptop he was using, Paul was given the task of investigating. He found that the laptop had been infected with viruses when the owner’s son used it to watch pornography during work time.

When Paul reported it, he suffered reprisals. He was personally targeted for scrutiny and the employer trawled through his internet and email records. Emails to his line manager were found that were critical of the new management. He was suspended pending disciplinary proceedings.

Paul became sick from the stress of the situation and was offered a payment not to return. He felt he did not deserve to lose his job but had no choice but to accept.

He says that it is too easy for employers to abuse the data they collect on staff, and he wants to see stronger laws and enforcement to protect people like him.

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Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

Work and Wellbeing