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With news of Chinese workers wearing wristbands and helmets to monitor their brainwaves for fatigue, our employment and disputes specialist Tim Wolley, guides you through the law relating to the monitoring of employees.

In 2017, Three Square Market, a vending machine company in Wisconsin, started to microchip its employees. The device, the size of a grain of rice, was placed in the hand, and did away with computer logins and security door passwords.

But how far can employers go in monitoring their employees? And is such monitoring lawful?

Terms and conditions of employment set out the basic ground rules for the job, the hours of work and what constitutes bad behaviour. And targets are often used to measure performance, as are appraisals and performance reviews.

But we live in a digital and ever more interconnected world. Where there used to be clocking in and out, and a vigilant foreman or supervisor, there’s now monitoring of employees’ telephone calls, voicemails, emails, and keystrokes. There’s CCTV, webcams, screenshots, security scanners, GPS and activity tracking.

Is monitoring becoming more sinister, or is it a useful tool which helps everyone, improves safety and prevents harassment?

With GDPR freshly in force it’s never been a better time to ensure that proper consent has been obtained from employees for monitoring. Secrecy is only acceptable in limited circumstances for example if crime is suspected. Employers should spell out exactly what the monitoring is and why it’s necessary, and it must be strictly business related – is a good job being done, are procedures being followed? Because, above all, employees’ privacy must be respected. Consequently careful consideration should be given to less intrusive alternatives, and impact assessments should be performed to highlight likely negative effects on staff.

The Information Commissioner’s Office issued a helpful and detailed Employment Practices Data Protection Code in November 2011 (available on the ICO’s website). The interception of communications is covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, various statutory instruments, and the Human Rights Act 1998 which ensures that privacy of workers.

Monitoring if lawfully applied can undoubtedly improve efficiency and security. But it can take away autonomy, and simply encourage employees to find ways round it. It can also land businesses in hot water when employees’ privacy and human rights are violated.

This blog does not provide a full statement of the law and we advise you to take legal advice before taking any action based on the information contained. For more information and to make an appointment contact Tim Wolley today by calling 01782 200007 or email

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