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Your Privacy Rights at Work

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 15 Feb 2021 | comments*Discuss
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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 Telephone

The 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 Surveillance

    Employers 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 Information

    You 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.

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    Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
    My manager demanded an employee show them her private Facebook messages between her and other colleagues and as she is not happy we were moaning about the store we are all in big trouble. Can they do this as it was our personal Facebook messages on our personal phones out of work hours? Thank you
    Jessie - 15-Feb-21 @ 1:57 PM
    my employer has requested we download a app onto are own personal phone which we have discovered it has a tracking device on it. Can that legally track you without consent or making you aware when it is your own personal phone??
    Jack - 30-Sep-20 @ 5:58 PM
    my employer has requested we download a app onto are own personal phone whivh we gave discovered it has a tracking device on it. Can thet legally track you without consent or making you aware when it is uour own personal phone and car?
    Debbie - 16-Sep-20 @ 12:43 PM
    Hi, my employer has put in cctv and is watching us all constantly and can even listen in to conversations, there isn't anything put up anywhere saying cctv is in use, bearing in mind I work in a restaurant. What are my rights?
    Zippy12 - 1-Mar-20 @ 4:02 PM
    Hi. Can employer hold the email sent and you don't receive it. The other time I sent private image to my work email, on my phone. Is sent, but on the work email it does not appear.
    Kele - 5-Feb-20 @ 11:28 PM
    Steward of club know cameras are present when installed spoke to committee did any of them have access to cameras on phone were told no only onsite on computer i have reasons to beleave that one committee member has access on phone and showing other people
    Jacko - 27-Aug-19 @ 4:37 PM
    I am a manager in the public sector. I have a member of staff who is very difficult at times. On one occasion I sent him an email regarding some work and he replied to my email and basically accused me of implying that he wasn’t doing his job properly. I wanted to get some advise from one of his previous managers if what I had put in my email to the staff member suggested that he wasn’t doing his job correctly and also see the response I received. The staff member saw me showing the previous manager the emails and was not happy and shouted at me from where he was standing.The emails were not marked private or confidential or sensitive or restricted. Was it wrong of me to show the previous manager the emails?
    DancingD - 13-Jan-18 @ 8:38 PM
    @james - if they did and they found such pictures and there could be an overlap onto your work laptop via iCloud (you should have used a different computer), I don't think there's much you can do.
    Vidgh - 17-Nov-17 @ 2:06 PM
    Hi my work took my laptop into inspection to review my browser history for suspected use of 3 adult chat sites. (I admitted the use of the sites) They decided to take my laptop anyway - On taking my laptop I specially requested them not to invade on my iCloud account which is where my PERSONAL phone was linked with for temporary purposes. My HR and line manager both said they were looking to conduct checks only on my browser history. When I got the laptop back it appeared on the programs > recent documents that they in fact went through my iCloud account and found private images of my wife and me. They also opened up photos of my 2yr old daughter that at the time was sick and in a vulnerable state. (Picture used to show docs due to an up burst of a rash) They are now saying I broke the policy for the storing of pornographic material stored on company laptop.. Have I a case?? Did they break my privacy protections ??
    James - 14-Nov-17 @ 5:43 PM
    I've phoned in sick at work a couple of times and left a message on the answer phone which has then be shared to my work colleagues is this allowed
    Gorbob - 31-Aug-17 @ 6:21 PM
    You can monitor keystrokes and internet usage but you have to advise all employees first that internet use is being monitored,
    business owner been - 29-Jun-17 @ 7:27 PM
    can a employer monitor your keystorkes without your knowledge and dismiss you for gross misconduct because of this
    anon - 3-Mar-17 @ 8:15 PM
    A member of staff is voice recording others at work. Is this legal?
    Paranoid android - 27-Jan-17 @ 8:47 AM
    @Asss - as the manager you can simply ask your assistant to stop recording you and other staff.
    Izzy - 29-Nov-16 @ 12:18 PM
    Hi can some record on I phone from cctv moniter on work place
    Asi - 28-Nov-16 @ 9:15 PM
    I worked for big company& I am manager for 1yrs , but my assistant record me from his mobile phone & recorded me, and records other staff on his mobile phone , so pleas can you tell me is that legal or illegalto do this
    Asss - 28-Nov-16 @ 9:10 PM
    When the registered keeper of a vehicle (Employer) has completed their legal responsibility under Section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 should this conclude their part in the process. I would assume that the responsibility for the alleged offence would transfer to the named driver after the registered keeper had completed their duty and this would be a private matter forthwith. Would it be unlawful for the registered keeper (Employer) to interfere with the natural course of justice after returning the section 172 without good reason or cause. I assume that this would be an invasion of privacy.
    Prodrive - 9-Nov-16 @ 10:52 AM
    My girlfriend works for a company that she must not get involved with someone who lives in the place where she manages, they are now looking through CCTV Images to see if i have entered her house which she pays rent on they have threathend to dismiss her are they infringing her privacy under the law. I look forward to your response, Dell
    dell - 1-Nov-16 @ 7:20 PM
    hi ?? my manager has banned mobile ?? phones with the exception of Management in the workplace no notices concerning the ban States that they can keep them on company handbook States to be turned off i get threatened by management for having mine off and in my pocket screamed at like an idiot even tho I'm acting head chef for the week as my job title States in sous chefso technically I was part of the Management team for that week is this allowed?
    sven42 - 4-Oct-16 @ 6:08 PM
    I had a day off work for personal reasons. When I returned I explained it was personal and I didn't wish to discuss it and now am being threatened with disciplinary action for not giving a good enough reason. Can they do this?
    Ooo - 12-Sep-16 @ 9:07 PM
    My boss has just installed a camera in the truck which I have no problem with, however, the unit records voice conversations between my colleague and myself. Is this allowed?
    Spone - 14-Mar-16 @ 2:43 PM
    RyzoMc - Your Question:
    Hi, I recently joined a large insurance firm and during my lunch hour I was told off for using my mobile phone to check a payslip (which can be accessed on a company computer) against my tax band which I had screenshotted on my phone. I was warned that mobile phones should not be used near computers due to the personal data which can be seen on such company devices. Is this allowed and can they formally discipline me for this? Thanks

    Our Response:
    It depends what the nature of your company is and whether it specifies in your contract that you are not allowed to uses mobiles in the office.
    YourPrivacy - 22-Jan-16 @ 12:02 PM
    Hi, I recently joined a large insurance firm and during my lunch hour I was told off for using my mobile phone to check a payslip (which can be accessed on a company computer) against my tax band which I had screenshotted on my phone. I was warned that mobile phones should not be used near computers due to the personal data which can be seen on such company devices. Is this allowed and can they formally discipline me for this? Thanks
    RyzoMc - 21-Jan-16 @ 6:04 PM
    @buster - I wouldn't think so, and it depends what you mean by 'spy'? Your employer may be able to monitor your workload if you are working from home on a company laptop and are connected to the company server. But otherwise, it is very unlikely. I hope this helps.
    YourPrivacy - 7-May-15 @ 10:54 AM
    If I am working can my employee spy on me when he is at home.
    buster - 6-May-15 @ 11:12 AM
    @andreasax - you don't say if you are working at the hotel or just a guest. If you are staff at the hotel then, yes, you would need to give the person your last name if the person wanted to make an official complaint. If you are a fellow guest, then you are under no obligation.
    Mark - 23-Dec-14 @ 10:35 AM
    A guest in a hotel wants to make a complain about me and he wants my "full name". I do not want to give him my full name, he can only have my first name. Is he entitled to have my full name or there is a some privacy at work in UK that make my last name "private and confidential"?
    andreasax - 22-Dec-14 @ 12:05 AM
    The lock on my work locker was broken and removed while I was away on holiday to find something really trivial which could have easily been made by the engineer. I was not emailed, nor told on my return. I just found it. My change pot containing about £5, my IPod and all personally provided tools were left unguarded for theremainder of my holiday. Can they do that?
    mysticalmoooo - 27-Aug-13 @ 10:49 AM
    Hello, today I heard one manager talking about one of my colleagues going to be investigated, and one of the supervisors answered "he is an idiot". Is it even legal to talk informally about a worker being investigated in public where others workers can hear about it? I thought there was a right to privacy in the work place regarding investigations? If someone can answer this I will appreciate it. Thanks.
    sus - 20-Jul-13 @ 5:40 PM
    I would like some advice about employers using cctv to mointoring you at work I thought they had to inform you before they commenced.
    Long - 13-Jun-13 @ 1:46 PM
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