LRD Booklets February 2012

Social media, monitoring and surveillance at work - a practical guide for trade unionists


Surveillance and monitoring affect everyone in some way. When we shop, travel on public transport, cycle, drive or walk, visit public places and spaces — we are being watched.

There is nothing new about being watched in the workplace and the monitoring of performance and productivity has long been a key management role. But over the last decade, an explosion in the technological range and capacity of monitoring devices in the workplace has presented employers with new and varied opportunities to engage in both overt and covert surveillance of their workforce, encouraged by the tempting carrot of imagined productivity gains.

This trend is set to continue and raises important concerns for reps, including fears over worker wellbeing, stress and job strain, especially with the widespread use of electronic monitoring for performance management. The issue also poses fundamental questions about privacy invasion, and broad concerns about deskilling.

Another worrying development has been a growing number of dismissals (and disciplinaries) involving employees’ use of social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, and the professional networking site Linkedin. The key cases and their implications are reviewed in detail in Chapter 4.

This booklet summarises the key legislation and case law and brings reps up to date with union activity to combat privacy invasion in the workplace, with examples of gains negotiated by reps in a variety of sectors. It does not address employers’ obligations in relation to health records and health surveillance. Guidance on these issues can be found in the LRD booklet Sickness absence and sick pay (2010) and in the annual LRD Health and safety law booklet.

The guide includes:

• an appraisal of the extent of the problem (Chapter 1);

• an updated review of the types of surveillance in operation in the workplace and the risks they present to staff and job applicants (Chapter 2);

• a review of the relevant legislation protecting privacy and controlling an employer’s use of information, including the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998 (Chapter 3);

• a review of the latest case law on dismissals based on use of social media, such as Facebook and Linkedin, together with practical guidance for reps representing individual members (Chapter 4);

• an outline of other recent unfair dismissal cases based on allegations of misconduct linked to the use of monitoring technology (Chapter 4);

• a practical guide to negotiating good policies (Chapter 5); and

• an “at-a-glance” summary of the key elements a policy should cover (Chapter 6).