Last reviewed 4 March 2022

The majority of workers claim to have experienced surveillance in the past year, according to a survey carried out by the TUC.

Arguing that the Post Office scandal must be a turning point on uncritical use of worker monitoring technology, the union body says that there is overwhelming support for stronger regulation to protect workers from punitive use of AI and surveillance.

Left unchecked, the TUC believes that these technologies could lead to widespread discrimination, work intensification and unfair treatment.

Its polling reveals that 60% of workers believe they have been subject to some form of surveillance and monitoring at their current or most recent job.

Surveillance can include monitoring of emails and files, webcams on work computers, tracking of when and how much a worker is typing, calls made and movements made by the worker (using CCTV and trackable devices).

The TUC believes that the use of such techniques increased during the pandemic as employers transferred to more remote forms of work.

More workers are reporting monitoring of staff devices (24% up from 20% ) and monitoring of phone calls (14% up from 11%) compared to 2020.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Worker surveillance tech has taken off during this pandemic — and now risks spiralling out of control. Employers are delegating serious decisions to algorithms — such as recruitment, promotions and sometimes even sackings.”

Workers and unions must be properly consulted on the use of AI, she concluded.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

Organisations that wish to introduce surveillance and monitoring systems should ensure their staff are aware that these are in place.

Failure to inform employees of such systems may, in some cases, lead to employers being in breach of data protection regulations. Similarly, if employees don’t know they are being monitored, any information or evidence gathered through surveillance processes may not be able to be used when dealing with disciplinary or other issues.

Covert monitoring may also negatively impact employee relations and lead to individuals feeling as though the implied term of trust and confidence had been breached by the employer. Such instances pose the risk of successful constructive dismissal claims being raised.