Note: As always, our employment laws being complex and the penalties for getting them wrong severe, take specific professional advice in any doubt!
In a recent UK survey 72% of employees felt that their employers were eavesdropping on them.
Gathering information on employees is now a multibillion-dollar industry and is continuing to grow as more sophisticated technology is launched.
Why are employers doing this?
A good example of how keeping tabs on employees can be beneficial is the destruction of the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, where many firemen died needlessly searching for people who were not in the buildings. Technology is available that pinpoints who is in an area and how long it will take to get everyone to safety.
It is also possible to determine when people enter sensitive areas or try to access confidential information.
An employer also needs to know if its staff are passing on business secrets or running down the company to friends, fellow employees and the public – damage to a firm’s business reputation is one of the biggest existential risks faced by a company.
Employer versus employee
It is a balancing act as employees have a right to privacy and a right to their personal information being protected whilst as noted above the employer, in order to trade successfully, needs to be aware of potential harmful employee actions.
The most important issue is to maintain trust between employer and employee. Once this is undermined the harm to both parties can be lasting and severe.
Management need to be open with their staff if they intend to monitor them. Tell the staff what you plan to track (emails, social media, telephone conversations etc) and that any employee can request the information you have gathered and how you will use it, and destroy it once it is no longer needed. Update staff contracts and conditions of employment with these measures.
An open process with staff will help to clear up uncertainties they have and will keep the trust between you and your employees. It will also enable your business to protect itself against reputational damage from employees leaking negative information about your business.
Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA)
POPIA awaits the announcement of a commencement date before the one year grace period starts running and among other things will allow staff to compel employers to give their staff access to all the information that the business holds on them.
Technological advances have made it feasible to intercept and analyse your employees’ communications. In view of the arrival of POPIA and more importantly the relationships you have with your staff, think about this carefully, particularly as there will be harsh penalties for any material POPIA lapses.