“Should I monitor my remote employees?”

Last updated: May 19th, 2022

For many remote workers, continuing to work from home is the preferred option. With no commute and fewer expenses, remote workers find that they have a better work-life balance. Once their employer is happy to keep the arrangement going, what issue could there be?

Well, one question employers are asking is how best they can evaluate the productivity of off-site workers. This has led employers to consider various methods of online monitoring of employees.

What technology do employers use?

Software now exists that allows employers to track the number of keystrokes, mouse movements, and websites employees visit. Other software uses screenshots or webcam data to measure eye movements, facial expressions, and general levels of attention. This data can be compiled along with the employee’s output to evaluate productivity.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has urged the Government to develop clear guidance on employee monitoring as part of its submission in relation to the incoming employee right to request remote work. The ICTU stated that this type of employer surveillance undermines the trust required for an employment relationship to be effective.

The ICTU also raised concerns about a “general trend” among employers involving the use of AI-powered technologies for employment-related decisions in recruitment, performance reviews, and redundancy selection.

Do my employees have to know they’re being monitored?

Yes, your employees have a right to know.

Employee monitoring is often justified by emphasising its impact on productivity. Employers have certain legal obligations to comply with before using an employee monitoring system. Employers must show that monitoring is a necessary, legitimate, and proportionate intrusion on the employee’s right to privacy.

Businesses should have a monitoring policy in place and communicate it clearly to all workers, not just those who work from home. The policy should outline why monitoring is necessary and legitimate. The nature of the monitoring, how information gathered will be used, and who will have access to it should also be included.

Investigate the impact of monitoring

Implementing monitoring methods could strain employment relationships. That’s why it’s important to investigate how more invasive surveillance practices could affect employees from the outset.

You may find that opinions are divided among employees. Some may be aware of their privacy rights while others might be more demanding when it comes to knowing precisely what purpose any data gathered will be used for.

Employees who have work-life balance demands, such as employees with young children, may not appreciate further intrusion into their private lives. Employees that don’t agree with online monitoring are also more likely to evade any such monitoring systems.

You also have strict data protection obligations under GDPR and data protection legislation. Employees must be made aware of any data processing activity relating to their work and for what purpose their data will be used.

The importance of trust

If you propose the use of online monitoring to your employees and they reveal concerns, engage with the employees, unions, or any relevant representatives to address the issues raised. A unilateral decision to impose online monitoring systems could damage your bond of trust with employees and lead to unrest.

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