Hybrid workers may be monitored by their employers when working from home.
As hybrid working models become increasingly popular in a post-pandemic world, employees should be aware of the implications when it comes to surveillance by their employers. Staff can now be monitored using cameras, audio, keystrokes and mouse movements when logged into company software or using company computers.
According to Professor of Practice for the Schools of Management & Governance and Information Systems & Technology Management at UNSW, Peter Leonard, “some employers do not think about the legality of workplace surveillance, let alone which surveillance activities are reasonable.”
A recent study revealed that there are more than 500 technology monitoring products available to businesses. Globally, the employee computer surveillance industry is set to grow from $US 488 million to $US 1.7 billion by 2029.
Clearly, it is becoming a bigger part of the every-day work model. But what does that mean for you? And what are the legal precedents?
What does the law say?
The legal rights and obligations when monitoring employees varies from state to state in Australia.
“Surveillance is broadly illegal except where the law expressly permits it,” explains Professor Leonard.
As stated in the Workplace Surveillance Act NSW, employers must provide their staff with 14-days notice when planning to implement surveillance.
“Only notice is required: employers are not required to get prior consent from affected employees,” adds Prof. Leonard
Additionally, Section 16 of the Act allows the monitoring of employees when working from home if they are using work devices. This also includes software provided by the employer. If a staff member is logged into their company email using Microsoft 365, paid for by their company, the employer may monitor their activities without prior notice. This can include anything from computer keystrokes to recording conversations and optical surveillance.
As company monitoring is still a relatively new concept, questions around the ethics and responsibilities of these practices are constantly developing.
Why are employees being monitored?
A major driving factor behind the use of monitoring is the concern that employees are unproductive when working from home. When staff don’t come into the office, it is hard to determine the rate at which they complete tasks and whether they are working to the best of their abilities.
Another reason behind this surveillance is cyber security. Employers can use monitoring systems to check whether employee accounts have been accessed by third parties who may compromise information security.
“For instance, assume that I log in to a work-provided service from an uncustomary overseas location. My employer might use geo-locating features to query whether it was me logging-in. To ensure information security, some employers also use keystroke technology, analysing patterns of keystroking that may indicate a person typing is not the individual entitled to use a particular user account,” says Prof. Leonard
With an increasing number of malware attacks, many employers see this as a necessary step to protect their company and its staff.
What is the impact of the surveillance?
Employee surveillance has both positive and negative implications for companies. It impacts workplace culture by shaping notions of trust, responsibility and accountability, as well as changing the morale in the office.
Professor Leonard suggests that while monitoring may be necessary for some, it is important to always ensure surveillance is being undertaken for the right reasons. Respect between employers and employees, as well as an open line of communication, will ensure that everyone remains aware of their rights and responsibilities.
He warns against using monitoring systems arbitrarily, suggesting that while they may help to increase productivity and security, crossing the lines of employee privacy is a risk.
Interested in the role of technology in our workplaces? Check out this article on the impact of tech in HR.