Is workplace surveillance right for your business?


Some employers have taken to implementing workplace surveillance to gain more visibility on employee activity and productivity. The HR Dept's blog asks if this could be the route to better work.  

There is a crucial element of trust in an employer-employee relationship. For example, you trust the employee to come to work and complete the tasks you have set for them to the required standard. Whilst they trust that you will treat them fairly and pay them correctly.

When these expectations are not met, trust can be damaged. And from this, all sorts of problems can unfold.

Following instances of doubt or damaged trust, some employers may want to dismiss an employee. This is understandable, but must be backed up by a sufficient investigation and evidence of misconduct. Without this, it can be a risky route to take and could instigate a claim for unfair dismissal. An additional discrimination claim can be raised if a protected characteristic is involved.

So what should you do if you have lost trust in an employee?

A workplace surveillance trial

Some employers have taken to implementing workplace surveillance in order to gain better visibility of employee activity and productivity. Could this be the answer?

While it may work for some, it doesn’t work for all. Barclays Bank trialled and subsequently removed workplace surveillance software after receiving a backlash.

Barclays explained that the monitoring software installed on employee computers was intended to improve processes. But the implementation was not so well received. One whistleblower criticised the practice as ‘causing stress beyond belief’, adding that employees feared leaving their desks.

Whilst surveillance can provide more eyes and ears for an employer, it can be seen as invasive and a ‘big brother’ style of supervision. It can also lead trustworthy employees to believe that they are not trusted, and negatively impact those who had ordinarily been working well.

There are strict legal rules surrounding workplace surveillance under the Data Protection Act. For example, transparency. Staff must be made aware before any monitoring takes place and they should also be told how the information will be used and stored.

When surveillance can work well

When the rules are followed and a legitimate need exists, workplace surveillance can be a viable way to protect a business.

A recent case heard by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found that a supermarket was lawful in its dismissal of employees after covert recording showed them to be stealing. The dismissed employees claimed that their privacy had been breached. But the CCTV was installed after money was found to be missing and employees were notified of the added security measures prior to filming.

For businesses that deal with money handling and itemised stock, lawful surveillance can be a useful security measure.

Employers who are considering workplace surveillance would be wise to familiarise themselves with the Employment Practices Code from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Improving processes

Whilst monitoring behaviour and productivity is an important aspect of people management and a legitimate way to protect your business, employee surveillance can have both moral and legal implications if it is not implemented well.

There are less intrusive ways to manage difficult situations with employees, and we feel that surveillance is rarely a substitution for good people management. Up-skilling your leadership team and empowering them to make informed decisions surrounding employee misconduct can see issues resolved in good time.

Additionally, regular catch-ups with employees provide the opportunity to address instances of poor performance. If, for whatever reason you are unable to move forward with an employee after doing so, formal disciplinary and grievance procedures should follow. We can help.


Local businesses throughout Cambridgeshire, run by people like you, outsource their HR because it is easier and more cost effective. We tell you what you can do, not what you can’t. We are here to give you practical and sensible help to sort out problems whenever you need us. When you are thinking about how to grow for the future, we can help you put together the ‘people plans’ to enable you to be even more profitable tomorrow.

HR Dept.