Employee monitoring may be commonplace in many work environments, yet there’s no escaping the mystery surrounding the legal implications of tracking employee activity.
There’s little discussion about the laws around employee monitoring, which makes it a sticky subject for key decision-makers who want to avoid lawsuits and legal expenses.
From both the employer and employee perspective, there are many questions that come up regarding the legality of the remote management practice, such as:
- Is employee monitoring legal in your country?
- What if you outsource your work to a team based in another country?
- Do you need employees' consent to monitor their equipment?
Due to the confusion on both sides, we decided to explore the laws of 10 different countries and present you with some clarity on the subject. Countries have different laws and regulations relating to employee control and workplace privacy, so it’s important to get to know the laws in the countries you hire in.
Disclaimer: This article provides general information and it’s not to be used as legal advice. Please contact your legal team for more information about specific regulations.
Employee Surveillance in the US
Generally speaking, companies are allowed to monitor company equipment. Although, they are not allowed to track personal emails. However, in alignment with The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, employers can surveil verbal and written communications in some cases (depending on the State.)
Since the laws in the United States vary by state, some of them require the employer to notify workers about the user tracking software beforehand, while in others it is completely legal for companies to track employees without consent.
In the US, courts often found that the expectation of privacy at work is limited while on the job. But employees are given some protection from electronic monitoring, under certain circumstances, such as union contracts.
Some states in the US require companies to notify the workers about user activity monitoring, while that’s unnecessary in others.
- Business owners have the right to monitor communications if they have good reason to do so
- Employers can track employee activity with consent, though it varies state to state
- Employers are within their rights to monitor activity on company-owned computers
Transparency is key here - if you open up about your intentions for employee monitoring with your workforce, you will better protect your business from legal action as everyone is in the loop.
Employee Tracking in the EU
The European Union doesn’t have specific regulations related to employee monitoring, so for reference, most companies are using the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which was first introduced in 2018.
GDPR requires data subjects (in this case employees) to provide their consent before the monitoring starts. However, employers are also able to track employees based on legitimate interest, if they perform a legitimate interest assessment and have justified reasons to process data without consent.
GDPR also requires employers to perform a Privacy Impact Assessment before implementing the software, in order to determine needs and challenges that could arise once the corporate computer monitoring software is installed.
GDPR also applies to companies who hire citizens of European countries, so it’s worth bearing this in mind if you’re outsourcing business services.
Employee Monitoring in the UK
Since the UK operates outside of the jurisdiction of the EU following the Brexit vote of 2020, it has its own laws in place for employee monitoring.
According to the UK government website, employers can monitor employee activity provided that:
- It’s clearly communicated in the employment contract
- It’s stated whether personal emails and calls are permitted
Specifically regarding computer monitoring, the UK falls in line with The Data Protection Act 2018, and as such you can assume that monitoring is fine provided you have employees' consent.
Employee Monitoring and Surveillance in Australia
While there’s no specific law surrounding employee surveillance in Australia, employers are expected to look to Australian, State, and local territory laws for guidance on monitoring practices.
In most cases, the employer is usually permitted to install computer software to monitor activity on the computers they provide for the purposes of work.
Additionally, employees must be notified they’ll be monitored, in simple clear language, no less than 14 days prior to installation/activation.
Can you Monitor Employees in the Workplace in India?
According to Indian Employment and Labour Law, the employer has the right to monitor employee activities, systems, premises, company emails, SIM cards, headsets, and computers. The basis for the monitoring is the safeguarding of the company’s confidential and proprietary information.
In order to notify employees, the organization can create policies that describe such activities. If the monitoring goes beyond company premises or is found to be a violation of employees’ right to privacy, the organization might have to justify monitoring.
Is Employee Tracking Legal in Canada?
Canadian laws about privacy in the workplace are clear.
Employers should tell workers what personal data will be collected, used, and disclosed. All workers should be notified about policies regarding web, email, and telephone use. And they also must be notified if they're subject to random or continuous employee surveillance.
Employers shouldn’t collect, use and disclose employee data about pay and benefits, formal and informal personnel files, video or audio tapes, and records of web-browsing, electronic mail, and keystrokes without employees' knowledge or consent.
Can You Monitor Employee Computers in Nigeria?
Currently, Nigeria doesn’t have specific and comprehensive data privacy and protection laws.
Generally, employers should get consent from employees before they use and store personal information.
When it comes to making sure employees are following company policies and any laws, or regulations, employers are allowed to use computer monitoring software. However, it is advisable that workers are informed of the monitoring.
Employee Monitoring in Russia
In Russia, employers mustn’t monitor phone conversations, but they are allowed to monitor the time of the calls, and phone numbers of participants. When it comes to monitoring corporate devices, this is allowed, but employees must be notified about corporate tracking software, as well as advised only to use these devices for business purposes.
Internal documents and policies allow companies to monitor workers in Russia, but the monitoring mustn’t be a breach of employees’ privacy.
Worker Monitoring in UAE
The law in the United Arab Emirates allows employers to monitor company property, including computers, phones, other electronic devices, email content, keystrokes, etc. However, employees must be fully aware of the practices, and they need to give prior consent.
UAE Federal Laws protect employees since they have a right to personal privacy, and if they don’t agree with the processing of personal and sensitive data, then the employer can’t monitor them.
Staff Monitoring in Malaysia
If the work equipment belongs to the company, the employer has every right to monitor employees' emails, phone calls, and general use of equipment provided for work purposes.
Based on the Notice and Choice Principle the employer must issue a written notice in English and Malay to inform the employees about employee tracking, more precisely which personal data is being collected, why, how long it will be kept, etc.
Employee Monitoring in Finland
Finland has the strictest laws and policies regarding data protection, as well as employee-employer relationships. The companies have a very limited right to monitor emails, calls, and computer usage, as these are protected under the privacy of communication.
Employers can, however, issue a regulation or guidance on best practices for the usage of company equipment.
The Bottom Line
As a baseline, the monitoring of work devices in most countries is completely legal.
Yet, in some, you need consent while in others you can monitor emails but not keystrokes, and so on. The legality of the extent of employee tracking depends on local, state, or federal laws.
The computer monitoring software industry is expanding at a fast pace, and if you’re looking to monitor your employees, you should know a few things.
Updated on June 12th 2023