Technology is often used to make the performance of our daily or work tasks easier – however it has become increasingly sophisticated and can now be used to measure and monitor our every move and task.

Recently, financial institution Barclays introduced a new tracking devices system called “OccupEye” underneath employee workstations in the UK. The OccupEye devices use heat and motion sensors to record how long employees are spending at their desks. Barclays has assured employees that the devices will be used to assess the use of the office space and will not be used for monitoring employees or productivity levels.

OccupEye technology has previously been the subject of scrutiny when they were installed (and promptly removed) at the desks of employees at the UK newspaper The Telegraph in January 2016.

This year, companies have shown an increased openness to new technology in the workplace, even encouraging the implanting of microchips into employees. The microchips allow employees to enter and exit the premises and access and use corporate technology. In our previous blog I, Robot: The “Human” in HR – Part 2 we looked at the use of data and technology in human resources including GPS and fitness trackers, and real time monitoring of employee morale using email software.

The use of such technology in the workplace raises issues about workplace surveillance and the collection and use of employees private information. Many workplaces have different surveillance devices in place to protect company property, monitor performance, ensure compliance with a code of conduct or to ensure work health and safety.

In NSW, workplace surveillance is governed by the Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 (NSW) (WS Act). Under the WS Act, surveillance is defined to include camera, computer or tracking surveillance. The WS Act requires employers to notify employees in writing before conducting surveillance of an employee. In accordance with sub-section 10(4) of the WS Act, this notice must state:

  • the kind of surveillance to be carried out (whether camera, computer and/or tracking);
  • how the surveillance will be carried out;
  • when the surveillance will start;
  • whether the surveillance will be continuous or intermittent; and
  • whether the surveillance will be ongoing or for a specified period of time.

The WS Act also sets out additional requirements depending on the method of surveillance to be used.

Lessons for employers

Before introducing workplace surveillance, employers should ensure that employees have been notified that they may be recorded, monitored or tracked.  Notification can be achieved by:

  • Telling employees what will be monitored;
  • Posting signs about the activities that will be monitored;
  • Incorporating provisions disclosing surveillance into contracts of employment; and
  • Implementing supporting policies and procedures.

There is no doubt that information obtained through surveillance may be useful to protect an employer’s interests or in Barclay’s case to assess office space utilisation. Equally however, employers must balance this against employee privacy considerations. 

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.

02 9256 7500 | sydney@workplacelaw.com.au

Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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