New guidance due on employee monitoring

The Information Commissioner will this week issue new guidelines on employee monitoring, after it came under fire for offering far too negative an interpretation of the Data Protection Act.

The code of practice, designed to offer guidance on the implication of the Data Protection Act to employers, has also come under fire from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development for failing to explain data protection laws to employers in a meaningful way.

The third part of the four part code of practice on monitoring which includes tracking staff email usage and web activity, was originally issued for closed, private consultation in January this year. But widespread criticism of the tone of the code and campaigning from the CIPD has led the Information Commission to revisit its guidance.

Diane Sinclair, lead advisor on public policy at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development said described the original code of practice on monitoring as ‘very unbalanced’. ‘It took a very negative approach to monitoring. All the examples were for the purpose of monitoring negative employee behaviour rather than protecting individuals,’ Sinclair said.

The CIPD is calling for a simplified, concise code on monitoring that will be easy to understand by employers, including non HR specialists. ‘[The code] will have most impact if it is easily understood by organisations. The problem with a lengthy document is that the Information Commissioner will end up preaching to the converted.’

‘IT specialists have to be aware of this issue so they’re not falling foul of the law. If the organisation is big enough to have a data protection officer and an HR department, they should work together to make sure IT knows what its duties are, and when they could be in danger of breaching the data protection act,’ Sinclair warned.

The CIPD warns employees to check to see if their company has a policy in place and make sure they understand it. ‘Employees have the right to have their personal data protected but be very careful about what you send over your company’s IT systems,’ Sinclair said. ‘Monitoring is a management obligation but that doesn’t mean monitoring so closely that you damage employee relations.’

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