Has the pandemic turned our employers into Big Brother?

Here’s a statistic which may well send shivers down your spine.

In a recent survey one in three workers say surveillance by bosses is having a negative impact on their mental health.

The poll – carried out for the GMB union – canvassed the opinions of more than 1,600 workers and found 32 per cent said their sense of wellbeing at work and mental health had been impacted.

As we all learn to work more flexibly – and that means hybrid models in which we are partly based at home and partly based at work – the issue of how employers scrutinise us is becoming ever more important.

The question all employees want to know is this: Has the pandemic turned our employers into Big Brother?

There is some evidence that it has.

One poll by Opinium of more than 2,400 UK workers, found that around 32 per cent reckoned they were now being monitored in one way or another, compared to 24 per cent in April 2021.

Among those questioned, some 13 per cent of home workers said they were currently being watched by cameras whilst they worked – far higher than the five per cent figure of 12 months earlier.

And the burden of this monitoring is falling on younger workers. Some 48 per cent of those who replied aged 18-34 said they were watched at work, with as many as 20 per cent saying they were kept under observation by a camera.

Surveillance can take a number of forms – including logging keystrokes, monitoring internet use, using a camera and checking email content.

And it is not inherently illegal for an employer to monitor you while you work from home.

But there are certainly legal concerns that your bosses should address – and things you can do to make sure any surveillance is kept to a minimum and that you maintain your privacy.

Here, GDPR can be your friend. If your employer is capturing personal data they will need to tell you what they are going to do with it and how they plan to store it. There are strict rules they have to follow and for many raising the issue will make them think twice about the merits of surveillance in the first place.

You also have a right to privacy and can challenge the imposition of any tactics you feel are too invasive. By questioning the rationale behind the introduction of monitoring you may well be able to show your boss that what they are doing is unlikely to be beneficial in the long term, because of the impact it will have on employee morale.

And you can also ask if you are being discriminated against. If office or workplace-based staff are not being subject to the same monitoring techniques and practices, why are homeworkers being singled out? It will make it extremely hard for an employer to justify if there is any significant difference in their approach to the two sets of workers. This can be a particularly powerful deterrent if any homeworking staff belong to a protected characteristic.

Whilst employers strictly don’t have to say they are monitoring their staff, not doing so carries some huge risks. Staff could bring grievance procedures and even constructive dismissal claims and the impact on morale is likely to be huge. So if you find this happening at your workplace, ask to speak to management quickly to see exactly what is going on and why you have not been consulted.

And if you think the way you are being monitored is not right – and you’ve raised it with your managers and had no success – get in touch with us. We’ll be happy to take a look at your situation and give you expert advice during a free consultation.

If you would like to discuss these issues, or other HR concerns then please

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