Privacy at work: Surveillance cameras

Employers have the right to monitor activities in many situations at work, including:

  • recording on CCTV cameras & videoing outside the workplace
  • opening mail or e-mail & use of automated software to check e-mail
  • checking phone logs or recording of phone calls
  • checking logs of websites visited
  • getting information from credit reference agencies.

Workplace monitoring

All of these forms of monitoring are covered by data protection law. Data protection law doesn't prevent monitoring in the workplace. However, it does set down rules about the circumstances and the way in which monitoring should be carried out.

Ideally, an employer should have a code of conduct or policy that covers workplace monitoring. If a code or policy has been agreed, it will usually form part of your contract of employment.

A right to privacy?

However, does video surveillance in  a workplace infringe on any individual's right to privacy? This was raised in a recent case, Antovic and Mirkovic v Montenegro, where video surveillance was installed in lecture halls at a Montenegro University and a lecturer felt that this infringed his right to privacy. 

The Dean of the School of Mathematics installed video surveillance in a public lecture theatre at the university to protect the safety of property, people and students. It also recorded lectures.The data was protected by codes known only to the Dean and kept for one year.

The Personal Data Protection Agency ordered the removal of the cameras. There was no evidence that safety had been an issue and therefore no legitimate grounds for data collection.

Ms Antovic and Mr Mirkovic brought compensation claims. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to respect for private and family life. Domestic courts in Montenegro held that Article 8 had not been violated.

Private life encompasses business activities

By four votes to three the European Court ruled that although the University is a public sphere, private life encompasses business and professional activities. Article 8 had been breached.

Paul Burton, Head of Frettens' Employment Team, says "If a member of staff thinks that you, as their employer, have been monitoring them in a way which is not allowed, you might need to seek expert advice. The best course of action is to talk to the employee about the monitoring, why it is in place and what happens with footage/data. You should check that your contracts of employment and staff handbook are up to date and correct for the surveillance that you have in place, just in case a member of staff raises this as an issue or takes out a grievance. We are happy to help if you need advice on what should be included in your policies or guidance on what can be allowed."

At Frettens, all of our solicitors offer a free initial meeting or chat on the phone to answer your questions. If this article raises issues for you or your business, please call us on 01202 499255 and Kate or Paul will be happy to discuss it with you.