Monitoring employees’ emails or not to monitor? That is the question! Nobody wants to be accused of being Big Brother, but monitoring employees’ emails is perfectly legal if you go about it in the right way.
“Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed – no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres in your skull.”
― George Orwell, 1984
Data Protection and Employee Rights
As a business owner, you need to make sure your employees are carrying out their work effectively. You also have a responsibility to ensure they’re not using work email to do things they shouldn’t. Like sending offensive emails or sharing unprotected data. At the same time, you don’t want to encroach on your employees’ privacy or demonstrate a lack of trust.
Before we consider whether you should monitor employees emails, let’s take a look at whether you can.
The Information Commissioner’s Office states that, in general, it is considered intrusive to monitor your employees’ emails.
That’s because employees have a right to respect for a private and family life under article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This means people can send personal emails from a work computer and email address and expect them not to be monitored or read by employers.
But what about work email?
It’s perfectly legal for employers to monitor employees’ emails as long as certain criteria are fulfilled. This includes being:
- clear about the reasons for the monitoring
- satisfied that the monitoring arrangement is justified by real benefits
- clear with employees for the reasons, extent and nature of any monitoring that’s in place
If you decide to monitor, you’ll need to warn employees that emails sent from a work computer may be observed. A good way to do this is to include suitable wording in your contract of employment.
Before implementing a monitoring policy, employers must carry out an assessment of the proposed activity to establish
- the reasons for monitoring staff and the benefits that this will bring
- any negative effects the monitoring may have on staff
- whether the monitoring can be achieved through any less intrusive means
- whether the monitoring is justified, taking into account all of the above
Think you might have sufficient reason to monitor? Then the next thing to consider is proportion.
In-depth or Light-touch?
Depending on your business and sector there may be highly valid reasons for monitoring staff email. For example, financial services organisations often monitor communications to ensure sensitive data is not being shared, accidentally or otherwise.
However, all businesses considering email monitoring should act proportionately and fairly to achieve the right balance between organisational needs and employee privacy.
In most cases assessing the date, time and recipient or sender of an email will help you determine whether it relates to work or not. Reading private emails, particularly those that contain confidential information is likely to breach an employees’ privacy.
Automated email monitoring can analyse huge amounts of email traffic, spot inappropriate content and deliver reports for managers. This distances managers from the emails themselves and raises a red flag indicating that further investigation is required.
Before jumping straight into an in-depth review of an employee’s inbox, it can often be a good idea to hold a meeting. By discussing how the individual has been using email and the kinds of information they’ve sent you can decide on a proportionate response.
The Potential Impact of Monitoring Employees’ Emails
Monitoring employees’ emails can create an atmosphere of distrust if implemented and acted on incorrectly.
In some sectors, like those with significant data protection requirements, employees are likely to be more understanding of the need for monitoring employees’ emails. However, organisations where data is less sensitive may not find employees so tolerant.
Should any breach in policy be identified, managers’ next steps are key to how your monitoring policy is perceived. Managers using the information inappropriately will bring the policy intro disrepute. However, used effectively – to curtail inappropriate behaviour or prevent action being taken against the business – employees will likely support the policy.
Coupled with well-handled conversations and a genuine respect for employees’ privacy, email monitoring can be helpful for businesses. However, history has shown most people don’t appreciate their emails being monitored so introducing this policy requires careful handling.
If you do decide to go down this route ensure you’re acting legally, in line with your policy and for the good of your employees as well as the health of your business.
For help navigating email monitoring and other employment contract issues, contact Crosse HR on 0330 555 1139 or at email@example.com.
Since the #metoo movement hit the headlines, I’ve seen a big increase in the number of workplace sexual harassment cases.
In this climate, it can be tempting to focus on protecting those who make allegations. But as we all know, there are always two sides to every story.
In the eyes of the law, employers are responsible for giving both the person making the complaint and the person being accused a fair hearing.
In this article, I explore:
- what you need to do to protect your business from legal proceedings
- how you should deal with people who lodge a claim
- and how to treat those who have been accused, falsely or otherwise
What Counts as Sexual Harassment?
ACAS defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that violates the dignity of a worker. Or that creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Sexual harassment doesn’t have to be intentionally directed at an individual. Making sexual references, gestures or behaving inappropriately in a sexual way can still count as sexual harassment. Even if there’s no intended victim.
Critically, the nature of sexual harassment is defined by the person experiencing it. This means something can be considered sexual harassment even if the alleged harasser didn’t intend it to be.
- making comments of a sexual nature about an individual’s appearance
- asking questions about someone’s sex life
- telling offensive jokes
- displaying pornographic imagery
- sending emails of a sexual nature
- making unwanted physical contact
- sexual assault
Legally, all your employees, male and female, at all levels of the company are protected from sexual harassment. Depending on the nature of the incident, they will be covered by employment and/or criminal law.
As a business owner, you’re responsible for the safety of your people. Which means dealing appropriately with claims of sexual harassment is critical for the security of your business.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
Like many crimes of a sexual nature, harassment often takes place behind closed doors or away from other people. Without witnesses, cases often set one person’s account against the other’s.
As with any grievance, sexual harassment can only be alleged until a full investigation has taken place. This should align with your grievance policy and procedure which should follow the ACAS Code of Practice.
Investigate Thoroughly and Sensitively
Although it may feel like there’s a lot of pressure to act in the face of claims of sexual harassment, it’s important that you don’t jump to conclusions.
You will need to conduct an investigation into the alleged sexual harassment. In serious cases you may need to involve the police. Your investigation can run alongside the police investigation and you can take the police’s findings into account.
Depending on the type of allegation, you may need to consider working arrangements while the matter is investigated. This could include asking the accused to work from home or putting them on paid leave if paths are likely to cross.
Experiencing – and being accused of – sexual harassment is often extremely upsetting, so the case needs to be handled sensitively. It’s extremely important that both the claimant and the accused are supported throughout the process.
The individual making the claim can choose to remain anonymous. However, it’s really important that the person being accused understands the claim being made against them. This will allow them to mount a defence.
The individual making the claim should provide as much proof as possible to support their case. If emails have been sent they should provide copies of them. Or if there are witnesses, they should be asked to provide evidence.
If the outcome of the case is that the accused is guilty, you will need to take appropriate disciplinary action in line with your procedures. What constitutes a reasonable or justified action will depend on the details of the case. However, all outcomes should be fair and consistent.
Failing to deal with sexual harassment claims fairly for both parties can place your business at risk from tribunal or criminal claims.
What Happens if the Sexual Harassment Claims Are Groundless?
When someone is falsely accused, they will likely find the experience traumatic. It’s important that you deal with these individuals fairly as other employees will be watching your approach. If possible, you should integrate them back into the business.
Depending on the circumstances, you may feel that you need to take action against the accuser. This forms part of your duty to ensure your employees work in a safe environment where they are not put at risk. Even from false accusations.
Sexual harassment is one of the most difficult claims to investigate and deal with. As long as you do so legally, promptly and deal sensitively with all parties involved, you will be acting appropriately. Which will safeguard your employees and protect your business.
Don’t deal with sexual harassment claims alone. Contact Crosse HR for pragmatic support on 0330 555 1139 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.