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Thursday, January 14, 2016

How to Screw Up Employee Monitoring

The UK newspaper Daily Telegraph has provided a brilliant example of how NOT to engage in monitoring employees when it covertly installed motion and heat sensors recently on the under side of the desks of employees.  Arriving at work on January 11, journalists discovered the devices, googled the device's brand name, OccupEye, and found that they provided management with complete data about whether and when an employee is at their desk.  In the face of the ensuing firestorm of protest, with HR reported to be "frantically rowing back on it," the company claimed that the sensors had been installed for only four weeks as an environmental measure to determine office usage and to lower heating, cooling and lighting costs at times of low usage.  Four hours after BuzzFeed News contacted the Telegraph about the sensors, management announced that it was withdrawing them immediately.

So what did the Telegram do wrong?  Not informing employees of the monitoring would be at the top of the list.  Not consulting with union representatives would be another.  Failing to inform employees about how the desk usage data would, and would not, be used and retained, would be a third.  Put all these together and the result was that employees felt they were being spied on.  What a shame, given the highly plausible objective management claims to have been pursuing!

Stories like this reverberate around the globe.  In New Zealand, a rather naive tech journalist for Stuff.co.nz said that "while the Daily Telegraph has tried and failed at covertly monitoring its workers , it seems privacy laws would prevent any New Zealand employer from trying the same trick."  Uh, isn't what the Telegram did a violation of UK data protection law?  And since when did the existence of privacy laws "prevent" employers from violating them?  In Australia, the Telegram debacle led to an analysis of inconsistencies in privacy protections for employees across various states and territories.  The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) called for uniform national laws on surveillance in the workplace in June 2014, but the federal government has not introduced the legislation that would be required.

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