Monitoring at work

Can your employer read your emails and monitor your phone calls? Read our guide to workplace monitoring before you slate your boss, by email, Twitter, or Facebook.

Girl on a computer at work

Do you feel like your boss is watching you?

Is my boss allowed to check up on me at work?

Sorry, the answer is yes. The legal ways you can be monitored at work include:

  • Opening your post or emails
  • Checking your internet history
  • Checking logs of phone calls made, or recording calls
  • Recording footage on CCTV cameras
  • Requesting information from credit reference agencies

Should they tell me first?

Yes. “Employers have a duty to tell you if they’re monitoring staff,” says TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. “Covert monitoring is only permitted in very limited cases, e.g. if an employer suspects someone is committing a criminal offence.”

Whatever a company decides to do, they have to follow data protection laws. So you should know what information they have on you and what they do with it. But even though they have to tell you, they still don’t need your consent. As long as they’re doing it for legitimate reasons, you can’t say no.

Can I use Facebook at work?

It depends on your boss. They’re allowed to block it – or any other website – if they think it will stop you from working. And even if it’s not blocked, they can monitor how much you use it.

Many workplaces provide a written policy – including rules about use of email and the internet. This will usually form part of your contract of employment, so breaking it could land you in trouble. This is what happened to Claire, 25, when she spent too long online at her city council job.

“We were allowed up to two hours online a day, but I clocked up five,” she says. “The IT department emailed my line managers asking them to give me a warning. I felt really awkward as it happened in my first month.” Her advice? “Check your employer’s policy before going online at work.”

Can my boss look at my Facebook or Twitter?

This depends on your privacy settings. Be careful what you say as a casual status or tweet; ‘visible to everyone’ could get you fired for gross misconduct – or even sued. And use privacy settings to stop the public (or even colleagues) from seeing sensitive things on your profile.

Paul, 20, discovered this the hard way after joining a Facebook group criticising the high street retailer he worked for. “The store manager had looked through these groups and spotted me. I received a warning and left the group after that,” he says. “My advice is not to say anything online that you wouldn’t say to your boss’s face.”

Some employers check up on applicants for jobs too, so even though this is bad practice, it’s worth keeping your Twitter feed respectable.

I’m worried about monitoring at my workplace, who can I talk to?

Chat to your employer, or ask your trade union if you belong to one. Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has guides to resolving disputes at work for England, Scotland and Wales, or dealing with grievances, dismissal and disciplinary action if you’re in Northern Ireland.

If you’re worried your employer’s monitoring practices are breaking the law, or you just want some advice about them, you can talk to someone at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and CAB.

What about my privacy?

You have a right to privacy, but because work computers, email accounts and phones aren’t your private property, you have to be careful about how you use them.

One of Claire’s colleagues was reprimanded after her boss checked her emails and saw some remarks insulting a co-worker. “She hadn’t realised that deleted items go into a trash folder, rather than being deleted forever,” says Claire.

Next Steps

  • Find your local Citizens Advice here, for free and independent legal advice. Or call their helpline. 03454 04 05 06
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.


work rules

By Anne Wollenberg

Updated on 29-Sep-2015