As anticipated, employers will have the right to monitor staff emails provided the employees have been warned that monitoring is taking place and the reasons for monitoring have been explained.
The advice is issued in the third part of the ‘Employment Practices Data Protection Code – Monitoring at Work’, released on Wednesday.
The code of practice covers a range of activities including opening emails or voicemail, checking internet usage, and recording activities with CCTV cameras.
The code also warns businesses that covert monitoring of employees is unlikely to be permissible, unless it is done in response to a request from law enforcement.
The code sets out benchmarks allowing employers to check whether monitoring is necessary, said Sandra Kilbourne, commercial technology solicitor at law firm Tarlo Lyons.
‘Employers would welcome the guide. It can be used to ensure that existing policies are revised, or new ones drawn up, in line with the best practice,’ she said.
Complex legal issues have delayed the publication of the code of practice, but it was necessary to make sure that any advice was easy to understand, said Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner.
‘Monitoring at work is a complex area, but we have now managed to provide simple and straightforward guidance to all types of employers,’ he said in a statement.
The Code was first mooted in late 2000 after concerns arose about staff monitoring.
The controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIP Act) had paved the way for widespread monitoring of staff communications, but the Data Protection Commission warned this had to be done in a ‘fair and proportionate manner’.
Guidelines were subsequently promised.
The guidelines have undergone many changes and revisions since then. Responses to a public consultation persuaded the Information Commission to deliver its verdict in four parts. The third part, dealing explicitly with workplace monitoring was expected by the end of last year.
Following the appointment of Thomas as Information Commissioner last November, publication was delayed once again, giving him time to conduct a review.
One point Thomas has insisted on was that a separate guide be issued for small businesses.
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