Is Watching Employees on Camera Illegal in the UK?

emily gordon brown
Emily Gordon BrownLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 14th November 2023

Have you ever found yourself wondering if it is illegal for your boss to watch you on CCTV in your workplace? Or do you work from home, and are wondering if it is illegal for your boss to watch you on camera all day? 

If so, this guide is intended to help you and others understand if it’s illegal to watch employees on cameras in the workplace.

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In this article we’ll cover: 

  • Whether it’s legal to watch employees on CCTV

  • The rights of workers

  • What UK law and legislation allows

  • Why employers need a workplace surveillance policy

  • Top workplace surveillance tips

Is it illegal to watch staff on camera?

The short answer to the above is no; workplace monitoring is not illegal in the UK as long as employers let employees know they are doing it. For employers, it can prove beneficial to monitor staff in the workplace, it can make sure a business is meeting its safety obligations, prevent the misuse of IT systems and much more. It’s not simply a question of security. 

But, to what extent can employers monitor their employees? 

Employees need to understand their rights at work, including how their personal data is managed. This is related to GDPR regulations

Examples of legal monitoring could include:

  • Monitoring which websites employees have visited

  • CCTV within the building

  • Checking bags as an employee leaves

Employers are not simply allowed to monitor workers everywhere, for example it is illegal to monitor staff in the toilet or in changing rooms. It is also illegal to purposely hide cameras, and to withhold information as to where cameras are placed.

Where employers fail to respect these rules, they could be in breach of the Data Protection Act.

Workers’ rights on being monitored at work

In our day-to-day life, CCTV cameras are everywhere. For example, the average person living in a major city can have their image captured up to 70 times a day, according to research by Clarion Security Systems. 

So, how often are employees monitored at work and what does the relevant legislation say?

Employers have a legal right to monitor their staff at work. When doing so, they must follow a number of employment law requirements. Whether you work from your employer’s workplace or from home, you could be being monitored. It’s essential to know your rights and know what you can do if you feel your employer is monitoring you illegally. 

Firstly, as an employee you have the right to know if and how you are being monitored at work. Your employer must inform you that they will be monitoring you at work before they begin; this may be in your contract, a written statement or within a staff handbook. 

Before carrying out surveillance, employers must perform an impact assessment to assess the benefits and disadvantages of doing so. This addresses how workplace monitoring will affect employees and whether it is justified and fair.

An impact assessment also considers other alternative methods of surveillance, and practical advice on how to manage employee data – which can help avoid a breach of GDPR.

UK law and guidance on workplace surveillance and monitoring 

There are three main pieces of legislation informing employment law on employee monitoring:

The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) enforces laws on data and privacy. It also specifically governs the use of cameras in workplaces. When factored together with the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) there’s a balance to be struck. While the DPA allows employers to monitor their employees at work, the HRA counterbalances these employer rights with employees’ right to privacy. 

Under GDPR, camera footage is considered personal data, and requirements for how employers store and manage employee data can be found within the regulations. GDPR requires employers to disclose the information they hold on their staff. 

If you’re concerned for any reason, for instance where there may be potential discrimination, you can submit a subject access request (SAR) to review that data your employer holds on you from camera monitoring at work.

The Data Protection Act 2018 goes into greater detail, including:

  • The legal status of CCTV footage

  • The obligations for employer data collection

  •  Processing data

  • The mandatory disclosure of CCTV data

There’s also the issue of trust between an employer and their people. Employers should consider their legitimate business interests in monitoring employees against their legal rights to privacy. 

Watching employees on camera when they work from home

As an employee working from home, you may wonder ‘Can my employer watch me on CCTV  from home?’. This could be a concern for those who are using company equipment or other forms of remote tracking software. 

To be clear, taking staff out of the office and allowing them more flexible working doesn’t mean employers don’t need to protect their employees and respect their privacy. 

Employers still have obligations to staff that work from home, many of which are aligned with the rules for when staff work from the office.

Employers can use software that can take screenshots; track when employees clock in and out; and log keystrokes. This has to be disclosed to employees in the same manner as an employer informing staff they are monitoring them through cameras at a physical workplace.

When it comes to webcams, employers do have the right to monitor their employees through their webcams. According to a late 2021 poll by the trade Union Prospect, 32% of remote workers were being monitored by remote tracking software at the time, while 13% were monitored by cameras in their homes.

Moral and ethical considerations

An All-Party Parliamentary Group has called for new legislation to address the impact of surveillance on remote workers. Legislation is trying to catch up with the shift in ways of working.

As an employer, you need to have a policy that takes into account the ethics and legalities of workplace and remote monitoring. For employees working from home, remote tracking software and especially camera monitoring raises moral and ethical questions. 

A ‘Big Brother’ approach from employers can cause a divide between an organisation and its people, triggering stress, possible absence and the potential loss of staff. It’s a fine line for employers to tread, especially given the rise in home working. 

Overall, employers must be honest and inform employees of the monitoring techniques they plan to use before putting them into action. For remote working especially, employers can solve a lot of challenges by integrating monitoring techniques and privacy policies into their onboarding process.

Common employee concerns on workplace surveillance

Employees have legitimate fears and concerns about workplace surveillance. These range from conflicts arising from a lack of trust, privacy fears relating to hidden cameras and worries over targeted monitoring and potential discrimination.

Employers can reduce these concerns through being open, honest and transparent. This can include clear documentation on monitoring including:

  • How data is collected and managed

  • Camera placement 

  • A clear process to deal with SAR requests

  • A careful consideration on whether personal data needs to be collected in the first place.

If you are an employee concerned about workplace surveillance and your privacy, take a look at our 3 email templates which you can use to start a conversation with your employer on the topic and withdraw your consent if you wish.

The importance of a workplace surveillance policy

If a business makes use of remote working, it should outline its remote working surveillance policy in an overarching workplace surveillance policy.

A workplace surveillance policy will ensure your staff understand your approach to monitoring, whether in the office or their homes. The policy should cover what data is being collected, what for, and for how long it will be stored.

For employees, knowing the ways you are monitored can be reassuring, and enable you to take action if you feel your employer is overstepping the lines they have drawn in regards to data collection in the duties of your employment.

The right policy should ensure a transparent relationship between employers and employees, leading to trust and mutual benefit.

Top tips for employers on workplace surveillance and complying with the law

Installing CCTV cameras in your workplace – or using your employees’ webcams – is a legal practice, as long as you inform your employees you’re doing so and follow the requirements of the legislation in place.

Above all, consider the ethical implications of monitoring your employees as this practice can lead to disgruntlement and worse a demotivated and depleted workforce.

Our Top 5 Tips For Employers Are:

1. Know the Rules

Make sure you understand the laws in the UK regarding workplace surveillance. Important ones include the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

2. Create Clear Rules

Develop straightforward policies that explain why you're monitoring and what you're monitoring. Be sure to tell your employees about these rules and get their agreement if needed.

3. Be Respectful

Don't invade your employees' privacy more than necessary. Avoid watching areas like restrooms and private spaces.

If you plan to monitor emails or other personal data, get your employees' informed consent. They should know what you're doing and why

5. Protect Information

Keep the data you collect safe. Use encryption, access controls, and regular checks to make sure it doesn't get into the wrong hands. Also, have clear rules on how long you keep this data and when you delete it.

Remember that the laws can change, so keep up-to-date and consider getting legal advice if you're unsure. Being open and respectful to your employees' privacy rights is key to a good work environment while following the law. 

If you’re unsure and need help, we’re on hand to provide support

For help and advice on employment law, whether you’re an employer or an employee, you can get a free, no obligation case assessment from our team and a fixed fee quote for specialist help from our experienced solicitors. Contact us today to get started.

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