Public safety has ushered in an era of remote working, but do employers have a right to monitor their employees?
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen employees adapt and embrace technology enabling them to efficiently work from home. The Families in Australia Survey: Towards COVID Normal found an increase in employees working from home with two-thirds of employees now sometimes or always working from home, compared to 42% pre-COVID.
Working from home has allowed employees to work remotely, move away from major cities, save time and money on travel, and create a flexible workplace environment. Employers have embraced the changes this has led to an increase in the use of monitoring tools to analyse productivity and keep track of employees’ performance and activity in the new working environment. There are currently several ways businesses can monitor employees working at home:
Time tracking software tools
Computer software allows employees to sign in and out but may also monitor whether employees are actively online. Some tools link with payroll, accounting, and HR systems, which helps streamline work practices. Employers are conscious of work, health, and safety requirements, so the tracking tools allow them to identify employees who stay online for excessive periods and how they can then be guided to improve work practices. There are numerous tools available including Monday.com, Connecteam, Wrike, Jira, and Time Tracker.
This software (or hardware) records users keyboards and monitors all actions on the device. Keylogging is legal but often utilised by hackers to steal passwords or personal financial information. This raises ethical concerns for employers installing the software. The positives are that it enables tighter IT security keeping them ahead of criminal intent and gives a real-time view of how their team is working. Employers can then identify inefficiencies and implement beneficial improvements.
Sneek is software that takes a photo every 5 minutes of all the employees online. Sneek says that the app wasn’t designed for surveillance but to create a productive office culture in the home environment. The app shows a “wall of faces” that stays on throughout the workday. Similar video surveillance software includes ContaCam, iSpy, SecureCam2, and Security Eye.
Employers need to ensure that their staff are using their work time efficiently. Employee monitoring software allows employers to record staff interactions with customers to ensure a high standard of service. Monitoring can be used to measure productivity, assess behaviour, track attendance, ensure security, and provide evidence of hours worked. Examples of this type of software include Hubstaff, Teramind, Controlio, and ActivTrak.
Employee protections under the law
The Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 (NSW) applies to camera, computer, and tracking surveillance. Surveillance of an employee must not commence without giving the employee 14 days’ notice in writing. The employer must also inform the employee of the kind of surveillance being carried out and how and when it will occur – for example, whether it is ongoing, intermittent, or for a specific period. The Act does not apply to surveillance by listening devices.
Employer workplace policies should also identify what monitoring is used in the workplace. The risk with over-monitoring is that employees feel that they are not trusted, and any negative experiences can impact the workplace culture. An employer’s transparency is the key to achieving the balance of consistent workplace productivity and engagement with staff to achieve the best outcomes.
If you are an employer or employee and would like further advice on this topic, please contact Foye Legal.