Is it legal to monitor my employees in the workplace?


Date: 12 February 2020

A row of employees work on computers in a modern office.

Do you want to protect your company against data breaches, and reduce misuse of company resources? You could consider using monitoring software to keep tabs on what your employees are up to in the workplace.

Nowadays the tools that are available make it easy to monitor exactly what your staff are up to. That includes the apps they use, their emails, online activity and file transfers. This can be used to ensure employee time is not spent on unproductive tasks, and ensure that data security protocols are being followed.

The big question is whether or not monitoring employees in this fashion is legal. The answer to that largely depends on the country and jurisdiction that you’re operating in:

  • Europe and the UK: Under European law, the privacy of employees is protected. Not only do employers have to provide notice to their employees before monitoring their online usage and communication, but they also need to obtain written agreement for some types of monitoring such as keystroke capture.
  • United States: Employers generally have the right under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to monitor employees while they’re in the workplace and using company equipment. Although there is no federal law that requires employers to notify employees before monitoring them, some states that require it - or example, the California Consumer Privacy Act has several strict guidelines that need to be followed.
  • Canada: The laws in Canada are similar to that of the European Union as far as employee monitoring is concerned. It requires that employees are notified in advance before they are monitored. On top of that, employers are responsible for providing a clear set of policies regarding internet, email, and telephone use.
  • Australia: Most of the states in Australia don’t have laws governing employee monitoring in the workplace. The one exception is New South Wales, where the Workplace Surveillance Act is in place. It stipulates that employees can be monitored, but must be notified about it.
  • India: Currently India allows employers to monitor their employees in a fairly comprehensive manner while at the workplace. However that monitoring must be restricted to the company premises, and can only be used to protect proprietary or sensitive data.
  • United Arab Emirates (UAE): The UAE requires that before employees are monitored, they need to provide consent. Without that consent, employers are not allowed to monitor their computers, phones, emails, keystrokes and so on.
  • Philippines: As things stand, there are no laws governing employee monitoring in the Philippines - making it largely a grey area. If the monitoring is restricted to the workplace and for business reasons, then there are no laws against it. However if it extends outside, there may be other surveillance laws that come into play.

If you’re planning to use employee computer tracking software, you should find out the legality of employee monitoring in your jurisdiction. You may need to clearly inform employees or obtain their written consent before you can monitor online activity, apps, keystrokes, emails, IM conversations, idle time and more.

As a general rule, it is a good idea to come up with a clear policy regarding employee monitoring, and let your employees know about it. That way you can explain to them the reason why the monitoring is required.

The last thing that you want is for your employees to feel that they have no privacy. Understanding your responsibilities under the law is part of that, and will place clear boundaries on what you can and cannot do when you start to monitor employees.

Copyright 2020. Featured post made possible by Mahendra Bajiya


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