A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Data Protection

Email, Internet, CCTV monitoring and data protection issues

You should expect some communications monitoring at work by your employer – it’s necessary for them to carry out their health and safety duties under employment law. However, where monitoring involves taking data or images, like email and CCTV,  this must be done in a way that’s lawful and fair to you.

The amount of workplace monitoring should be clearly set out by your employer (eg in your contract or company handbook). If you are under surveillance, this should be made clear. You should also be told what is a reasonable number of personal emails and phone calls in any given period or be told if they are not allowed at all. Examples of workplace surveillance can range from looking at which websites you have visited (eg. to see if pornography has been downloaded) to checking your bag as you leave, to combat theft.

You have the right to keep your personal life private and to some privacy at work. This means you can’t be monitored everywhere (for example, in the toilet). If your employer doesn’t respect this they could be in breach of the Data Protection Act.

Under the Data Protection Act any monitoring must normally be open and there should be good reasons for your employer or others to do it. Your employer should carry out an assessment of its effects before allowing its use.

Resolving a data protection dispute and employment law

If you are unhappy with being  monitored at work, check your company handbook, contract or written statement first to see if your employer is expressly allowed to do this. If not, you should raise the problem with your employer informally. If this doesn’t work, your organisation should have a grievance procedure – the details should be in your company handbook, contract of employment or written statement.

If the policy isn’t contractual, you might be able to resign and claim unfair ‘constructive’ dismissal for breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, but this will depend on the facts and can be difficult to prove.