Big Brother or Big Bother?

Negotiating the minefield of email monitoring

Many productive hours each year are lost by employees sending and receiving private emails at work. But where do you draw the line between protecting your business and respecting the privacy of your employees?

The law is a potential minefield: the Human Rights Act confers the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence; Under the Data Protection Act, employees are entitled to see any information gathered about them through email monitoring; according to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, interception of communication without consent is prohibited except in very specific circumstances, such as for reasons of national security! Although, the Lawful Business Practice Regulations do set out circumstances in which monitoring without consent is allowed.

What is important is that employees are made aware that monitoring may be happening, that a clear policy is put in place, supported by training, and that this should form part of the employment contract.

In practice, the less intrusive the monitoring, the more likely it is to be justifiable under the law and employers should take a pragmatic approach, recognising that mistakes do happen. It is all a question of balance … just don’t leave your business unprotected.