Your Privacy Rights at Work
Concerned about your rights at work? The Information Commission publishes full legal guidelines on the employee’s right to privacy. This summary covers your rights to use email and telephones your rights relating to surveillance, and your rights relating to personal data.
Your Right to Use Email and TelephoneThe Human Rights Act states that everyone is entitled to respect for their private life. In law, this translates into a right to use email and telephone communication for private purposes – even when you’re at work. It is, however, expected that usage is reasonable and employers can show in court to have been taken advantage of. Make sure you’re on the right side of the law in case of a dispute – do the following:
- Ask your employer to clarify their policy on telephone and email use. Are your communications monitored when you are absent? Who will have access to them, and how will they treat personal communication? Are you entitled to use the internet to access personal email accounts? Should you use your landline or mobile for personal calls? (You should be able to receive emergency calls on one of the two.)
- Request a ‘personal email’ template that will identify any personal emails you may send or receive. Your employer should respect personal communication and endeavour not to read or monitor these.
- Use your mobile telephone for personal or family calls.
Your Rights Regarding SurveillanceEmployers are entitled to monitor their employees. There’s no way around it. If, however, their motives are less than professional, they could be breaching your legal rights. If your employer wants to monitor you and your colleagues (including video surveillance, phone recording, and keystroke monitoring), (s)he must do the following:
- Demonstrate good cause for monitoring employees.
- Make staff fully aware of the surveillance policy, reasons for surveillance, and everything that will be seen as unacceptable.
- Only allow one or two people access to computer logs or phone call recordings. Information must be stored in accordance with the Data Protection Act.
- Never read or listen to emails or calls which are evidently personal or private.
- Never undertake covert surveillance unless the employer has evidence of criminal activity.
Your Right to Protect Personal InformationYou may have supplied personal information when you applied for your job. This could be kept, along with notes on your history and performance, in a file by your employer. It is disconcerting to realise that your employer could hold a great deal of personal information on you. But the law protects your right to privacy, and your rights include:
- The right to know what your information is used for.
- The right to know if any checks have been carried out on you (and their results).
- The right to know exactly what information is held about you. (You can request this from your employer, who is legally obliged to provide it within 40 days.)
- The right to correct any errors in your personal record.
- The right to ensure that your information is securely kept.
- The right to refuse tests or checks that have no business purpose.
Concerned About Your Rights at Work?First, raise the issue with your employer. If you do not reach a satisfactory conclusion, you may take your concerns to the Information Commission.