Amazon fined for 'excessive' surveillance of workers
MPs speak out Amazon's 'climate of distrust'
Protecting information about workers’ health
Surveillance software being used on tech workers
HSE must combat AI spying at work
Food giants use smartwatch app to monitor workers
PCS slams Cabinet Office computer surveillance
Work surveillance is hurting mental health
Rules needed on intrusive worker surveillance
New protections needed to stop work surveillance

Workplace privacy campaign Unions NSW, Australia


Stop snooping

You'll never work alone
- Workforce monitoring
- Medical screening
- Drugs and alcohol tests
- Genetic tests
Private concerns
- Snooping council pays out
- Goose cooked for peeking dicks
Civil liberties
Electronic surveillance
- Health effects
Why bug workers?
- Big Brother is all eyes and ears
- Project Orwell
- Video nasty
Bad for business
- I object - electronic monitoring
- Stress down the line
TUC news release
Risks 147




Hazards, issue 85, January - March 2004 contents [pdf]


Hazards 85 centrepagesWe have always been under close scrutiny at work -from hawk-eyed supervisors to the company doc. And new technology, from body part scanners to spy technology to lab tests, means the boss can now monitor us constantly and secretly for supposed defects or aberrant behaviour, from what we say to what our genes say. But a new workplace privacy code may soon change all that, reports Hazards editor Rory O'Neill.

There are simple solutions to workplace safety problems - proper systems, risk assessments, asking the workforce how the job can be made safer. They usually require management to remedy management shortcomings.

Many companies have opted instead for bugging, harassing and monitoring their workers. Drug and alcohol tests are becoming more common. Keystroke rates, web usage and emails are monitored, telephone conversations eavesdropped. Smart cards have introduced the workplace equivalent of electronic tagging. The boss may know you are reading this.

The justifications are varied - increasing productivity, reducing sick leave, weeding out bad habits, stopping theft and fraudulent compensation claims, workplace security, identifying troublemakers - and, frequently, workplace health and safety.

You'll never work alone

Employers will go to extraordinary lengths to monitor their workforce - and the results can be dangerous and degrading.

    Workforce monitoring: Studies show productivity drops when workers are monitored and worker health can be adversely affected. A US study found monitored workers suffered more depression, extreme anxiety, severe fatigue or exhaustion, strain injuries and neck problems than unmonitored workers. And it is not just hi-tech monitoring that's a problem — some employers think policing their workers toilet breaks is perfectly acceptable [1].

 Medical screening: Employers should look to fit the job to the worker, but frequently do the opposite, attempting to winnow out the weak, the injured or the ill. Europe under strain, a 1999 report from the European trade union safety think tank TUTB, commented that "workers are not there to provide the flexibility in the system, through contorting and stressing their bodies and brains to cope with poorly designed equipment or systems of work, or through increasing their work rate to accommodate production demands, or because the workforce is too stretched, too cowed or too insecure to complain" [2].

 Drugs testing: Tests are frequently unreliable, do not assess ability or otherwise to do the job and testing does not address the risks factors, including work stress, that can cause or exacerbate substance misuse problems. Testing times, a November 2003 report from Hazards magazine noted: "Drink and drug use can be a problem for workers — but that is no justification for workplace testing. In fact, supportive approaches are far more effective" [3].

 Genetic tests: Screening for "hypersusceptible" workers is "likely to present a new threat in the future," according to the London-based Institute of Employment Rights [4]. Gene machine, a November 2003 report from Hazards magazine warns that studies have shown the tests to be of limited scientific validity and little relevance to work situations. They could also lead in practice to the exclusion of black workers or other minorities from certain jobs [5].

Hazards drugs and alcohol webpages
Hazards genetic screening webpages
Electronic monitoring
Stress down the line

Private concerns

Employers are keeping a close eye on your behaviour inside and outside work. But monitoring the workforce can be bad for productivity and very bad for health.

Surveillance and privacy at work, a February 1999 report from the UK Institute of Employment Rights [4], notes that old-fashioned supervision and medical tests and new surveillance techniques including video surveillance, smart cards, telephone evesdropping and computer productivity or work quality monitoring represent "an alarming threat to the privacy and autonomy of workers" and "can actually damage workers' health."

Lack of autonomy at work is accepted as a major cause of work-related stress and strains, heart disease and sickness [6]. Research published last year showed that workers doing meaningless work with little opportunity for input were more likely to die young.

Specific European privacy laws, supported by Europe's unions and opposed by employers, are in the pipeline. The European Commission is consulting on a new law on the protection of workers' personal data [7]. The proposed framework will cover data about employees, including personal health records, emails and internet use, and issues of consent, drug and genetic testing and monitoring and surveillance. Key concerns are that workplace reps are adequately informed and consulted.

Among the reasons for the legislative move by the European Commission was concern at the increasing use by employers of electronic surveillance and cheaper and easier drug and genetic tests. The EC hopes to publish a draft of the planned EU wide law in 2004 or 2005.

Snooping council pays out after assault on worker

A social worker has received more than £200,000 in compensation after enduring a vicious assault "which could have been avoided." The victim's union, UNISON, condemned Swansea City and County Council after the worker and her family were videotaped by private detectives checking out her injuries.

The social worker, who was in her 30s, was attacked by a client in a Swansea social services office in June 1998, resulting in serious injuries and psychological trauma which meant the social worker was not able to work again. Despite having been previously threatened by the client - a fact known to social services management - the UNISON member was told to meet the assailant alone and was subjected to a terrifying physical attack.

Paul Elliott, UNISON head of local government for Cymru/Wales, said: "What is worse is that this could have easily have been avoided." He added: "The use of private detectives with video cameras to test the worker's claim of injury questioned the integrity of a loyal employee."

Video snooping on compensation claimants was condemned last year by lord chief justice Lord Woolf in an appeal court judgment.

Risks 144, 21 February 2004

Goose cooked for peeking dicks
Health service bosses in Sydney, Australia, sacrificed staff and patient safety in a "Keystone Cops" effort to entrap workers whose jobs it wanted to privatise. Bosses had engaged private eyes to trail, photograph and videotape the guards illegally, before they were sacked for nipping out to buy Chinese takeaways during 12 hour shifts.
Risks 148, 20 March 2004

Civil liberties

Whether you consider workplace surveillance a good thing or a bad thing, it is a fact that technology is being used in a way inside the workplace that would lead to outrage or even criminal charges outside of it.

Electronic tagging, technology only now being trialled, contentiously, on convicted criminals is available over the counter to keep electronic tabs on staff. The security forces need a warrant from a High Court judge to tap a phone, employers need to buy a gizmo.

Recent cases include:

• A social worker who received more than £200,000 in compensation after enduring a vicious assault by a client "which could have been avoided". The victim's union, UNISON, condemned Swansea City and County Council after the worker, who was not able to work again, and her family were videotaped by private detectives checking out her injuries.

• At Guys Hospital the local trade union officials discovered hidden cameras in the staff locker room and post room. The management claimed that the police had advised them to install cameras to investigate alleged mail tampering. However the police denied giving any such advice and the cameras were removed.

• In another case, unions found that cameras had been installed in a locker room used by female staff to change. The employer, Securicor said the cameras had been installed in the wrong room.

Across the Atlantic, where similar techniques are used, the American Civil Liberties Union says "even criminals have more privacy rights than employees. If the FBI wants to tap the telephone of someone who is spying against the country, they must get a court order... Only in the workplace can surveillance be conducted without safeguards."

According to Michelle Jankanish, co-author of Workers' privacy: Monitoring and surveillance in the workplace, a heavyweight International Labour Office report [8]: "Workers' rights to privacy should be treated as a fundamental human rights issue, but the new technology can pose dangers to privacy, even as it is improving all our lives... Just because you cross the door into the employer's office, it doesn't mean you give up all your rights."

In June 2003, TUC welcomed the publication by the UK government's Information Commissioner of a Monitoring at work code of practice [9] advising employers on the legal limits of snooping on staff. Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: "The code clears up much of the legal confusion around bosses monitoring employees. It makes clear to staff that they must be told if, how and why their email, phone calls, internet use and other behaviour is being monitored. Employees and unions are now better equipped to ensure the right to privacy at work is respected."

In December 2003, Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said the next phase of the consultation on the Employment Practices Data Protection Code - the consultation closes on 27 February 2004 - will cover information about workers' health, and could curtail workplace drug and alcohol tests, genetic screening and snooping into personal medical histories [9]. Although the code will be guidance and not regulation, breaches of the code are likely to be cited in employment tribunals.

The draft code says drug and alcohol testing should be limited to workers in jobs that pose particular safety risks. It says it will be deemed "intrusive" to obtain information about workers' health," and adds: "Workers have legitimate expectations that they can keep their personal health information private and that employers will respect this privacy." The code also makes clear that companies must not use genetic testing to make predictions about workers' future general health.

Employers should gather information about staff health only if they can satisfy a "sensitive data condition," most likely for health and safety reasons, to prevent discrimination on the grounds of disability, or if a worker has given consent.

Europe's law makers are so concerned they felt that European Union member states should have laws to protect people at work from oppressive scrutiny [7].

But for now the monitoring continues. And some of it, despite evidence it is bad for your health, is justified on safety grounds.

In the background notes to the European Commission's Second stage consultation of social partners on the protection of workers' personal data, it notes: "Collection of personal data takes place even before the beginning of the employment relationship for the purposes of recruitment; it continues throughout employment and may extend even after its termination. It is legitimised through a number of specific purposes such as compliance with law, ensuring health, safety and security, assisting selection, training and promotion, assessing performance, controlling quality and customer service, verifying entitlement to certain benefits etc."

Electronic surveillance

At the June 2003 launch of a TUC online guide to monitoring and surveillance at work, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "With advances in monitoring technology, some workplaces have come to resemble TV's Big Brother, only without the prizes. Workers do have rights to privacy, but they need to be aware of them in order to stand up for them. Staff, unions, and employers need to arrive at a solution which balances business needs with the right to individual privacy."

These concerns are real enough, and they are not new. In the press blurb accompanying the 1994 US launch of the ILO workers' privacy report the stark warning of Canada's Privacy Commissioner was given some prominence. "With each new form of surveillance, we become less like individuals and more like automatons, monitored for defects and aberrant behaviour that will consign us to the reject pile or mark us for 'corrective' measures."

ILO's report, based on evidence collated from 19 industrialised nations, concluded Big Brother looms large in the workplace — and workers health and welfare is being damaged as a result. Scrutinised by computers, cameras and assorted bugs, workers are steadily losing privacy at work as technological advances "allow employers to monitor nearly every facet of time on the job," the report says.

Michelle Jankanish, co-author of the ILO workplace privacy report, commented on its launch: "It doesn't matter whether you work in a factory, in an office or as a highly paid engineer or professional — you are very likely under observation, with or without your permission, in some way by computers or machines controlled by your boss."

An August 2003 European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) report [10] on the privacy implications of new technology at work notes "as far as workers and their representatives are concerned, the main danger lies in the new capacity that exists for monitoring and surveillance."

It adds: "New technology may allow employees' work and productivity to be monitored, and also aspects of their personal lives, while their use of the internet and e-mail can be subject to monitoring (not least because of the traces any such use leaves). This raises questions of both privacy and the relationship of control at the workplace. These dangers can be even greater, and the surveillance technology even more advanced, in situations where there is a physical distance between the worker and the employer."

Health effects

And it is not just privacy that is at stake — electronic monitoring is bad for workers' health. "The consequences of monitoring and surveillance on the health and welfare of employees are of particular concern," concluded the ILO workplace privacy report.

Drawing on research including reports from US government agencies the Office of Technological Assessment [11] and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, it concludes: "Not only does electronic monitoring have the 'potential' to adversely influence working conditions which have been shown to cause stress, but it may actually create these adverse working conditions, such as paced work, lack of involvement, reduced task variety and clarity, reduced peer social support, reduced supervisory support, fear of job loss, routinised work activities and lack of control over tasks."

One NIOSH study quoted in the report showed that for data-entry workers who were struggling to meet performance targets "the use of electronic performance monitoring elicits a pattern of psychological distress and physical discomfort. The group which was monitored had higher self-ratings of mood disturbances (irritation, time urgency, work dissatisfaction and musculoskeletal discomfort (hand and neck discomfort)."

Why bug workers?

An employer's motives in introducing surveillance, or a worker's perception of the employer's motives, could define ideal circumstances for these symptoms of physical and psychological stress to be created or exacerbated. Against a backdrop of corporate "downsizing" and growing job insecurity across the industrial world, it is understandable that many workers might consider an electronic spy no ally.

In her 1993 evidence to the US Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources CWA's Barbara Easterling gave a string of examples of abuse of workplace monitoring, including:

• A middle-aged man whose work was subject to telephone service observation was admitted to hospital after taking a drug overdose. He said that he needed one more "upper" to face the start of another day;
• A young woman employed as a travel reservation agent was threatened with discipline after monitoring revealed she was not meeting the office productivity standard. She explained that she had been trying to cope with morning sickness (her first pregnancy) and the sudden death of her mother. This explanation was not acceptable to management;
• A computer operator discovered several months after she was hired that a computer was keeping track of her workday activities, including her time in the toilet;
• Nurses in a hospital discovered that management had installed a concealed camera in their locker room. The camera was monitored by male security guards who watched the nurses change clothes into their hospital uniforms. The nurses were kept in the dark about this "peeping Tom" invasion of their privacy.

Bad companies, bad managers, have always abused their power and their employees' rights. But electronic surveillance is a strikingly powerful new tool in the bad employer's armoury. And even good employers may not be fully aware of the cost in terms of lost motivation, stress and general resentment that may accompany its introduction.

The ILO report makes reference to the industrial version of electronic tagging. "Many workers have complained about systems that keep track of their location within the workplace. For example, an identification card system used by some railway companies based in St Louis, Missouri, records the location and length of time that employees spend in each area of the building by flashing the card across an electronic sensor. A computer recorded whether they were in the lavatory, another workstation, the pay phone area, the smoking lounge, and the like. Employees have been disciplined on the basis of these figures, which the employees maintain are irrelevant to job performance. Workers in Austria have lodged similar complaints."

Big Brother is all eyes and ears

Technology makes it possible to electronically monitor any worker, anywhere. Commonly used techniques include:

Smart cards: Used in buildings security can also track workers' movements, monitor rest breaks, and hold personnel and occupational health records.

Biometric data: Fast food giant McDonalds this year introduced hand and thumb scanners into some of its Canadian outlets. Biometric devices - machines that identify fingerprints, hands, eyes or faces - are getting cheaper and attracting interest from major North American firms.

Computers: Software can measure work rate and error rate of keyboard workers, web usage or emails — in fact, any electronic work you do. "Black box" and "works manager" devices can monitor and distribute work to offsite employees, and know what you do and where. Checkout workers and some warehouse staff have their every work action policed by stocktaking software. GPS devices use satellites to track vehicles, from delivery trucks to snow ploughs.

Remote listening: Eavesdropping on telephone calls is commonplace, particularly in call centres and telephone exchanges.

Video surveillance: Closed circuit television (CCTV) used in security systems can be used for other purposes — ILO notes that one US company set up its cameras to spy on union activists. Guy's hospital in London was criticised for using hidden cameras in rest rooms. The permanent positioning of cameras in the toilets of a drug testing facility in Mount Isa Mines was condemned by Australian union AMWU in 2002 as "a gross invasion of privacy and an example of drug testing policy gone mad" [12]. And they are not restricting the spying to inside the workplace. UK unions have found compensation claims for genuine work-related injuries contested after insurers acting for employers presented secretly filmed video "evidence".

Bar codes: Scanners are used to monitor workers — postal workers in the UK have been required to scan a bar code at each letter box they empty.

Project Orwell

Members of the UK Communication Workers Union (CWU) were surprised to discover British Telecom, one of Britain's largest companies, had its own internal security force, Sec-ID. Few had suspected the company of setting up, harassing, slandering and finally disciplining its own employees, all with the aid of squad of private detectives.

But CWU union reps at the union's 1999 conference found out that the company was guilty on all counts. And the name BT gave to its underhand, under cover activities? Project Orwell. BT's project name was inspired by George Orwell's dark novel, 1984, catchphrase "Big brother is watching you."

CWU rep Kate Hankey said the company had "blatantly set up" employees and was guilty of "deliberate entrapment." Members were harangued by supposed customers — in fact the private detectives — who harassed workers to the point where some broke the company's official procedures [13].

Video nasty

After suffering a disabling back injury at work, British Telecom (BT) engineer Steve Crawley was horrified when shown three video clips by a union solicitor. The videos of Steve and his family had been taken secretly over a seven week period by private detectives working for BT.

The spying was a last ditch attempt to try and avoid paying compensation for Steve's injuries. Despite the video "evidence", the company eventually caved in and agreed an out-of-court settlement of almost £300,000.

Steve commented: "The pressure started to get to me. I thought I was cracking up. I felt like a criminal."
(Hazards 53).

These undercover operations are not approved of by the courts. In 2003 insurance companies were told to think twice before sending private investigators incognito into the homes of workplace compensation claimants, after a company was castigated by the lord chief justice Lord Woolf in an appeal court judgment (Hazards 82).

Insurer Zurich hired a private investigator to impersonate a market researcher, gain access to a claimant's house and secretly video tape her. Lord Woolf said this was "improper and not justified," adding the insurer's motivation to achieve a just result "does not justify either the commission of trespass or the contravention of the claimant's privacy which took place."

To discourage such tactics, now widely used by insurers trying to discredit compensation claims, Lord Woolf ordered the company to pay the costs of the application.

A spokesperson for Zurich said the company now realised the practice was unacceptable and required its agents to sign up to a voluntary code of conduct agreeing not to use it.

It seems there is no hiding place from snooping bosses. The same March 2004 day TUC warned that Big Brother employers are jeopardising both productivity and their workers' health, Royal Mail managers were warned about spying on striking workers.

Risks 97, 15 March 2003

Risks 148, 20 March 2004

Bad for business

Whether it is unhealthy or not, regulated or not, does electronic surveillance of the workforce actually work?

A fair body of evidence suggests not — it may, however, create stress and demotivation, and foster distrust between workers and management.

According to Michelle Jankanish, co-author of the ILO's workers' privacy report: "Companies like to engage in such monitoring, even though many admit that the practice elicits little or no useful information." She points to a survey of 393 firms in Canada, Europe and the United States in which firms were asked about the use and effectiveness of various surveillance practices. More than two-thirds of all firms said that searches and electronic monitoring are ineffective or counterproductive."

Even where monitoring is introduced with the best of motives, the effect can be negative, says the ILO report, quoting the example of Japan. "The surveillance is aimed mainly at ensuring safety and health at the workplace, and quality of service. Quality of service means, however, that individual performance may be subject to scrutiny."

Workers do not appear to appreciate or perform well under this scrutiny. One study quoted in the ILO report was undertaken to examine the influence of electronic performance monitoring (EPM) of work on stress and performance in data entry operators. "EPM work management led to significant increases in data entry speed, but were accompanied by significant increases in data entry errors," says the report.

"The results, according to the researchers, suggest that when performance goals or standards which emphasise speed over accuracy are applied in work settings where EPM is used to manage work, speed increments may be offset by decreases in work quality."

In evidence to the US Select Committee, CWA's Barbara Easterling went further, including a section in her submission headed "the false claim that monitoring ensures service quality," with several examples where increases in surveillance were followed by a fall in productivity and vice versa.

On one example she said: "Twelve years ago, legislation that prohibited secret telephone monitoring was signed into law in West Virginia by then-Governor Jay Rockefeller. Despite the absence of such surveillance, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company of West Virginia ranked first in America among Bell System companies in six of 12 'customer satisfaction' categories..."

I object — problems with electronic monitoring

ILO summarises the objections of workers or workers' organisations to obtrusive computer monitoring in the workplace as:

• Their use is a violation of basic human rights and dignity, and is often carried out without adequate consideration for such interests;
• Computer data banks and telephone and video monitoring make prying into the private lives of workers easier to perform and more difficult to detect than ever before;
• Monitoring and surveillance give employees the feeling that they are not to be trusted, fostering a divisive mentality which is destructive to both workers and employers;
• Such practices can be used to discriminate or retaliate against workers, which may be difficult for workers to discover;
• Monitoring and surveillance involve both issues of exercising control over workers and control over data relating to specific workers.

Back to main story

Stress down the line

In the late 1980s, concern among members of the US trade union Communications Workers of America (CWA) about the health effects of electronic surveillance reached such a level the union commissioned its own research, "the first major investigation into the relationship between health symptoms and telephone workers who are monitored electronically."

A questionnaire survey was sent to employees of telecommunication companies — AT&T and the seven regional Bell operating companies — representative of each region in the United States. Questionnaires were sent to 2,900 employees and 745 useable responses were received.

According to ILO, the study, conducted by CWA and the University of Wisconsin, "confirmed earlier studies that implicated electronic monitoring as a major stress factor in the workplace, which is linked, in part, to the sense of powerlessness that monitored employees feel."

In June 1993, in testimony to the US Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources during its deliberations on a proposed Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act, CWA Secretary-Treasurer Barbara J Easterling presented the research findings [14], commenting: "The study revealed that workers employed by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) and the seven regional Bell operating companies in jobs that were monitored electronically experienced higher levels of psychological and physical problems than did workers employed by those eight companies in jobs that were not monitored electronically.

ILO concluded: "The findings showed that the electronic monitoring of employee performance adversely affected employee perceptions of their working conditions. Monitored workers reported more musculoskeletal problems and headaches than those who were not monitored."

University of Wisconsin Telecommunications research

Monitored %
Not monitored %
Extreme anxiety
Severe fatigue or exhaustion
Neck problems

Back to main story



1. Give us a break! Hazards 81, pages 18-19, January-March 2003.

2. Rory O'Neill. Europe under strain: A report on trade union initiatives to combat workplace musculoskeletal disorders, TUTB, 1999. ISBN 2-930003-29-4.

3. Testing times. Hazards 84, pages 4-5, October-December 2003.

4. Michael Ford. Surveillance and privacy at work, Institute of Employment Rights, 1999. IER news release

5. Gene machine. Hazards 84, pages 16-17, October-December 2003.

6. Drop dead! Hazards 83, pages 16-17, July-September 2003.

7. Commission issues second stage consultation on data protection, EIRO, November 2002.

8. Workers' privacy. Part II: Monitoring and surveillance in the workplace. Conditions of Work Digest, Vol.12, No.1, 1993. ILO. ISBN 92-2-108740-9.
Also see: ILO meeting adopts draft code of practice on protection of workers' data, ILO news release, 7 October 1996.

9. Employment Practices Data Protection Code - Monitoring at Work, Information Commission, June 2003. The Employment Practices Data Protection Code Part 4: Information about workers health, ICO, 2004. moreGood Practice Recommendations

10. New technology and respect for privacy at the workplace, EIRO, August 2003.

11. United States Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (OTA): The electronic supervisor: New technology, new tensions, OTA-CIT-333. Washington DC, US Government Printing Office, September 1987.

12. Union objects to cameras in toilets. Workers Online, Australia, 11 February 2002.

13. You'll never work alone. Hazards 66, page 3, April-June 1999

14. MJ Smith et al. Electronic performance monitoring and job stress in telecommunications jobs. University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Industrial Engineering and the Communications Workers of America, 5 October 1990. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1513 University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Hazards genetic screening online resource

Hazards drug and alcohol online resource

Hazards toilet breaks online resource

Hazards work-life balance online resource

Hazards worked to death online resource

TUC WorkSMART monitoring and internet policies guide

Big Brother is watching you, so join a union. Amicus MSF news release, 12 November 1999

Who's watching you at work? Labour Council of New South Wales

International Labour Organisation workers' privacy webpage and technical and ethical guidelines for workers' health surveillance

Liberty privacy/surveillance webpage

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Workers' privacy webpage

Privacy International

Electronic monitoring: You'll never work alone, Workers' Health International Newsletter, no.45/46, Winter 1995/96 [pdf].

National Work Rights Institute, Electronic monitoring webpage

Introduction to the Data Protection Act []

TUC Surveillance at Work: Sensible Solutions

UNISON Bargaining on Privacy


France: Amazon fined for 'excessive' surveillance of workers
Amazon France has been fined €32m (£27m) in France for "excessive" surveillance of its workers, including measures the data watchdog CNIL found to be illegal.  The CNIL said Amazon France Logistique, which manages warehouses, recorded data captured by workers' handheld scanners andtracked activity so precisely, it led to workers having to potentially justify each break.
BBC News Online.
Hazards news, 23 January 2024

Britain: MPs speak out Amazon's 'climate of distrust'
A committee of MPs has warned that workplace surveillance by global retailer Amazon is stressing out its workers. The cross-party House of Commons' BEIS Committee's report on UK labour markets warns that Amazon's “surveillance practices (for whatever intention they are deployed) are leading to distrust, micromanagement and, in some cases, disciplinary action against its workers.”
Post-pandemic economic growth: UK labour markets, BEIS committee tenth report, 21 April 2023.
Hazards news, 26 April 2023

Britain: Protecting information about workers’ health
Health information is some of the most sensitive personal information that might be processed about workers and must be protected, the TUC has said. Responding to an Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) consultation, the union body warned the draft guidance would not adequately support all the groups who might seek to use it, adding it needs more explicit recognition of the important role played by unions and equalities groups.
TUC update and TUC response to ICO on ‘Employment practices information about workers’ health’.
Hazards news, 7 March 2023

Britain: Surveillance software being used on tech workers
One in five tech workers are subject to employee monitoring or gathering technologies, according to a new Prospect survey of members and non-members in tech jobs. Only 11 per cent of respondents reported being very sure what data their employer collects about them and why.
Prospect news release.
Hazards news, 3 November 2022

Britain: HSE must combat AI spying at work
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must be empowered to combat the creeping use of artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor staff in the workplace, MPs have been told. Dr Matthew Cole from the Fairwork, which promotes better working practices for app-based employees, said:“HSE should play a greater role in the regulation of AI systems, to uphold standards of employment,” adding “excessive monitoring” can lead to “increased stress and anxiety and we know they can have significant negative impact on health.”
Connected tech: smart or sinister?, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee investigation, 1 November 2022 oral hearings and video of evidence session. Fairwork. Morning Star.
Hazards news, 3 November 2022

USA: Food giants use smartwatch app to monitor workers
Two of America’s largest meat companies - JBS and Tyson Foods - have invested in a smartwatch application that allows managers to monitor workers’ movements. The start-up behind the application, Mentore, claims to improve worker productivity while reducing injuries, however experts said the use of digital technologies and artificial intelligence to manage workers can have negative effects, such as increased stress and injuries, particularly when companies use the technology to make disciplinary decisions.
Missouri Independent.
Hazards news, 21 October 2022

Britain: PCS slams Cabinet Office computer surveillance
The union PCS has raised concerns about a worrying Big Brother-style development which could be used to victimise home-working civil servants. The Cabinet Office says it has introduced surveillance in a bid to boost efficiency following a fall in office occupancy, despite thousands of civil servants working from home since 2020 and successfully delivering services to the public.
PCS news release. Morning Star. Risks 1059.
Hazards news, 15 September 2022

Britain: Work surveillance is hurting mental health
One in three workers feel technological surveillance by bosses has a negative impact on their mental health, new GMB research has found. Artificial intelligence should be used to make working life easier for people, not trap them in an “Orwellian nightmare,” the union warned.
Morning Star.
Hazards news, 14 June 2022

Britain: Rules needed on intrusive worker surveillance
Intrusive worker surveillance tech and AI risks “spiralling out of control” without stronger regulation to protect workers, the TUC has warned. Left unchecked, the union body says that these technologies could lead to widespread discrimination, work intensification and unfair treatment.
TUC news release, TUC AI manifesto and examples of surveillance and monitoring of workers. Financial Times. People Management. Risks 1034.
Hazards news, 2 March 2022

Britain: New protections needed to stop work surveillance
Almost one in three (32 per cent) workers are now being monitored at work - up from a quarter (24 per cent) just six months ago in April, research for the union Prospect has found. This work surveillance includes a doubling of the use of camera monitoring in people’s homes, with 13 per cent of home workers currently being monitored by cameras compared to 5 per cent six months ago.
Prospect news release and release on new tech sector. Union News. Risks 1021.
Hazards news, 10 November 2021

Britain: Stress fuelled by rise in worker surveillance in Wales
The rapid changes in work brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a sharp rise in the level of surveillance of people’s activities and performance at work and related stress, new Wales TUC research has revealed. The study found a quarter (25 per cent) of workers reported they have been subjected to closer surveillance since March 2020 and only 1 in 4 said that they feel comfortable objecting to such changes.
Wales TUC news release. Sarah Murphy MS comments. Risks 1005.
Hazards news, 14 July 2021

Britain: RMT condemns outsourced Mitie over tracking app
Rail union RMT has demanded the withdrawal of a stress-inducing app that giant outsourcing outfit Mitie is attempting to force on staff and which would track their movements. Mitie is insisting staff download the app to their own personal phones, but RMT has condemned the imposition of the app without any consultation and is taking legal advice.
RMT news release. Risks 994.
Hazards news, 28 April 2021

Britain: Unite warns safeguards needed on hi-tech work monitoring
Safeguards need to be fully implemented in the workplace to protect workers from the ‘unintended consequences’ of hi-tech monitoring, Unite has warned. The union was speaking out as more hi-tech monitoring equipment for construction workers was put on the market.
Unite news release. Technology managing people – the legal implications, Robin Allen QC and Dee MastersCloisters. A report from the TUC by the AI Law Consultancy, March 2021. The TUC AI manifesto. Risks 992.
Hazards news, 14 April 2021

Britain: ‘Big Brother’ fears over Teleperformance webcam plan
Working from home call centre workers say the installation of cameras to monitor remote workers is a “Big Brother” tactic and have said they fear the technology could be open to abuse. Webcams are being sent out this week to thousands of Scottish staff who work for Teleperformance –the largest contact centre company in the world.
Teleperformance news release. Call Centre Collective. Daily Record. Risks 992.
Hazards news, 14 April 2021

Britain: Warning on ‘huge gaps’ in the law over AI at work
The TUC and legal experts have warned that “huge gaps” in British law over the use of artificial intelligence (AI) at work could lead to “widespread” discrimination and unfair treatment at work. A new report - carried out for the TUC by leading employment rights lawyers Robin Allen QC and Dee Masters from the AI Law Consultancy – says that employment law is failing to keep pace with the rapid expansion of AI at work. 
TUC news release and AI manifesto. Technology managing people – the legal implications, Robin Allen QC and Dee MastersCloisters. A report from the TUC by the AI Law Consultancy, March 2021. Prospect news release. UNISON news release. Computer Weekly. Personnel Today. Risks 991.
Hazards news, 31 March 2021

Britain: Homeworking call centre staff to be monitored by webcam
Thousands of staff at one of the world’s biggest call centre companies face being monitored by webcams to check whether they are eating, looking at their phones or leaving their desks while working from home. Teleperformance – which employs about 380,000 people in 34 countries and counts dozens of major UK companies and government departments among its clients – has told some staff that specialist webcams will be fitted to check for homeworking “infractions”.
The Guardian. Risks 991.
Hazards news, 31 March 2021

Britain: Labour warning on growth in spying at work
Workers must be protected from employers tracking them while they work from home during the pandemic, Labour has said. Online software can log how long it takes people to reply to messages, take camera shots and monitor emails, messages and meeting attendance
Labour Party news release. Morning Star.
Technology managing people: the worker experience, TUC, 30 November 2020. Risks 981.

Hazards news, 20 January 2021

Britain: Intrusive monitoring on the rise during coronavirus
The TUC has launched a new taskforce to look at the “creeping role” of artificial intelligence (AI) in managing people at work. The taskforce launch comes as a new TUC report, ‘Technology managing people: the worker experience’, reveals that many workers have concerns over the use of AI and technology in the workplace.
TUC news release, blog and report, Technology managing people: the worker experience, 30 November 2020. Risks 976.
Hazards news, 2 December 2020

Britain: Workers concerned about remote monitoring
Workers are ‘deeply uncomfortable’ about the introduction of remote monitoring technology by employers, a Prospect poll has found. Two-thirds of workers are uncomfortable with workplace tech like keystroke and camera monitoring and wearables being used when working remotely, the union said.
Prospect news release. Hazards workplace privacy webpages. Risks 968.
Hazards news, 10 October 2020

Britain: Workers forced to add tracking software to own phones
A union representing security staff has hit out at a ‘big brother’ company for forcing workers to download spying software to their personal mobile phones. GMB says Churchill Security has written to employees saying ‘it is the employee’s responsibility to ensure they have a working mobile phone at all times…disciplinary action may be taken due to an employee failing to comply with mobile phone policies’.
GMB news release. The Guardian. Risks 893.
Hazards news, 13 April 2019

Britain: Spy-in-the-cab is a dozy idea on trains, says union
Plans to introduce monitors in train cabs in a bid to keep drivers awake is a dozy idea while train companies refuse to deal with work-related fatigue, ASLEF has said. The train drivers’ union was commenting after it emerged Britain's rail safety body is considering installing monitoring devices in trains that constantly scan driver's faces and vibrate their chairs if they start to doze off.
LBC News. Seeing Machines. Risks 878.
Hazards news, 8 December 2018

Britain: Microchipping workers is a terrible idea, warns the TUC
The use of technology that allows employers to chip their workers must be discouraged, the TUC has said. Commenting on news that the UK firm BioTeq, which offers the implants to businesses and individuals, has already fitted 150 implants in UK workers.
TUC news release, blog and report on surveillance at work. More on privacy and health and safety. The Observer. Risks 875.
Hazards news, 17 November 2018

Britain: Store staff turn to union after spy cameras shock
Staff at a Glasgow health food store have gone on strike and joined a union after discovering secret cameras in rooms where staff changed, just four weeks after opening. Workers at Harvest Stores, some under 18, were horrified and alerted police after findings the lenses hidden in a network modem and air detector.
Glasgow Evening Times. Better than Zero campaign. Risks 858
Hazards news, 21 July 2018

Britain: Strike threat over power firm’s ‘hypocritical’ worker monitoring
EDF Energy smart meter installers in London have voted ‘overwhelmingly’ for strike action over the imposition of tracker devices in vehicles and oppressive and ‘hypocritical’ monitoring of workers. What particularly irks Unite is that managers have refused to have the tracker devices in their own company cars and are not included in the drink and drug testing regime.
Unite news release. Risks 840
Hazards news, 10 March 2018

Global: New violence and harassment risks in digital technology  
Workers in ‘digitised’ working environments are facing new psychosocial risks and problems with work-related violence and harassment, a study for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has found. University of Leicester business professor Phoebe Moore said: “This includes the ’gig economy’, automation practices and algorithmic management, people analytics, computerisation, wearable tracking. Overall, it’s about the use of big data and quantification to make selective, predictive and prescriptive decisions related to work, workers, and the workplace.”
ILO news release and report, The threat of physical and psychosocial violence and harassment in digitalized work, ILO ACTRAV, February 2018. Risks 836
Hazards news, 10 February 2018

USA: Hitech monitoring is getting under our skin
New technologies are being used to monitor employers’ behaviour at work – and potentially outside the workplace. Contract cleaners working for a property management company in the US are being required to upload a Labor Sync app to their personal mobile phones, which uses GPS to monitor both their whereabouts and working hours.
The Guardian. LaborSync app. Risks 836
Hazards news 10 February 2018

Britain: Sports Direct accused of 'emoji con' on disaffected staff
Sports Direct is asking warehouse staff to press a happy or sad face emoji on a touchpad to tell them how they're feeling when they clock in – allowing management to question them if they are disgruntled, the union Unite has said. Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “It’s nothing short of an emoji con and a bogus exercise to gloss over past failures and some of the problems which still persist in the warehouse.”
Unite news release. The Independent. Risks 816
Hazards news, 9 September 2017

Britain: Snooping at work is an unhealthy intrusion
Unions, human resource experts and employers’ bodies have said that snooping on staff is an unwelcome and sometimes unhealthy intrusion. The organisations were speaking out after Europe's top court ruled a Romanian man whose employer read his messages had not had his rights violated.
TUC news release. IoD news release. CIPD news release. BBC News Online. Hazards magazine workplace privacy webpages. Risks 735.
Hazards news, 23 January 2016

USA: Police spied on sweatshop activists
Suspicions that police routinely infiltrate anti-sweatshop and other labour rights campaign organisations in the US, have been given added credence after an undercover Washington DC police officer was caught masquerading as a campaigner and undermining campaign activities.
In These TimesDemocracy NowRisks 618
Hazards news, 17 August 2013

Britain: Private eye spied on sick worker
A tracking device was fitted secretly to a mum’s car by private investigators brought in by West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service to discover whether she was moonlighting while on sick leave from her job as a 999 call handler. FBU member Anthea Orchard, 35, said she and her family were horrified when she discovered the device.
Yorkshire PostTelegraph and ArgusBBC News OnlineRisks 617
Hazards news, 10 August 2013

Britain: ‘Punitive’ lesson observations target the sick
Teachers in Wales say they are being subjected to ‘punitive’ monitoring and surveillance practices in their classrooms, teaching union NASUWT had said. Online survey responses from over 1,000 members indicated sick workers were being targeted for extra scrutiny.
NASUWT news release and classroom observation surveyRisks 571
Hazards news, 1 September 2012

Britain: Employers can’t demand Facebook details
The Information Commissioner's Office has warned employers in the UK that it would have “very serious concerns” if they were to ask for Facebook login and password details from existing or would-be employees, following reports of such demands in the US.
There are indications sick workers in the UK could already have their Facebook and other social networking pages scrutinised by employers and insurers.
Facebook news releaseThe GuardianThe TelegraphRisks 549
Hazards news, 31 March 2012

Britain: Romec off track on tracking technology
Hundreds of CWU engineers working for Romec, the company that maintains premises for Royal Mail, Tesco and other major firms, have taken industrial action in a dispute over “misuse” of tracking technology to “harass and victimise” staff. Intrusive electronic surveillance at work has been linked to problems including increased stress, strain injuries and a drop in productivity.
CWU news releaseGuidance for unions on safety and surveillance at workRisks 508
Hazards news, 4 June 2011

Britain: TUC guide to medical confidentiality
The TUC has published an online guide to confidentiality and medical reports. TUC says it “is important that employees know their rights to access to the information contained in any report” and provides guidance on good practice and on dealing effectively with any concerns raised.
TUC briefing documentRisk 435
Hazards news, 5 December 2009

Britain: Job applicants face pavement drug tests
Jobseekers were subjected to “degrading” drug tests in a Scottish street by a top recruitment firm. People who were interviewed for 120 posts with Greenock-based cabling firm Sanmina were left astonished when some were escorted outside Greenock Jobcentre by staff from Pertemps for mouth swabs to be taken - as cars drove past and pedestrians walked by.
Greenock TelegraphSunday PostThe SunMore on the ICO code on workers’ health informationRisks 428
Hazards news, 17 October 2009

Australia: Trackers ‘drive employees over edge’
Employers are fitting out company vehicles with invasive GPS tracking systems despite claims the technology unnecessarily invades staff privacy and contributed to the suicide of a telecommunications engineer last year. One such tracker, the GoFinder Reporter, sends employers detailed daily time sheets showing every stop made, parked time, driving time, distance covered, maximum speed and even an estimate of the amount of fuel used.
Risks 374
Hazards news, 20 September 2008

Britain: Company films toilets on the job
The union UNITE has told a firm it must remove CCTV cameras after they were discovered filming workers in the factory's toilet blocks. ThyssenKrupp Automotive (TKA) Tallent Chassis, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, was accused of a “horrendous breach of employee privacy.”

Northern EchoHazards workplace privacy webpages and toilet breaks webpages
Hazards news, 25 August 2007

Britain: Workers living in fear under 'brutal' Amazon
Amazon workers are living in fear of heavy-handed bosses, a Scottish employment expert has warned. Jim McCourt has spoken out about the random body searches and ongoing drug tests he says are commonplace in the factory which ships out books, CDs and DVDs across Scotland.
Greenock TelegraphHazards news and resources on workplace drug tests and other work privacy issues

Hazards news, 28 July 2007

Britain: Alarm sounds on mobile phone tracking
Campaigners have expressed concern about the possible introduction of new technology that could allow employees to be tracked by their bosses at any time and place during the working day.
Risks 269, 12 August 2006

Britain: Spy row over injured oil worker
A North Sea company has been criticised for hiring a private detective to trail a worker while he was taking sick leave after an injury at work. Ensco Services brought in an investigator who put the worker, recuperating at home with a back injury, under video surveillance – and also spied on his girlfriend.
Risks 245, 25 February 2006

Britain: GMB wants Europe to outlaw tagging at work
The GMB is calling on the European Commission (EC) to outlaw the use of electronic tags to track workers. Reports have linked oppressive workplace monitoring to a range of occupational health problems, including musculoskeletal disorders and stress.
Risks 216, 23 July 2005

Britain: Workers “reduced to robots” by tags
Employees are being “dehumanised” by having to wear electronic tags while working, general union GMB has said. An increasing number working in retail distribution centres, which supply goods to supermarkets, are having to wear tags, usually on their wrists, to help speed up orders.
Risks 210, 11 June 2005

Britain: Code warning for employers on health information
Employers could be breaking the law if they fail to respect workers' privacy on health issues. New guidance on obtaining and handling information about workers' health published by the Information Commissioner's Office puts strict limits on the health information that can be obtained and says in most instances alcohol, drug and genetic testing are an unwarranted intrusion.
Risks 187, 18 December 2004

Britain: Staff monitoring is on the increase
Office workers could face an explosion in workplace monitoring, scrutiny and micro-management, according to a new report. Supply chain technology developed for monitoring goods is now being applied to individuals instead of products, warns research from the London School of Economics (LSE).
Risks 185, 4 December 2004

Australia: Workplace cybersnoopers may need a permit
Some Australian employers may soon have to seek permission from the Privacy Commission before spying on workers, testing them for drugs or monitoring their use of email or the internet.
Risks 163, 3 July 2004

Britain: Spying software watches you work
Spyware has infected almost all companies polled for a survey about web-using habits at work - although most employees are not aware that Big Brother is watching them.
Risks 155, 8 May 2004

Britain: Call centre "Big Brother" health warning
Call centre workers are suffering anxiety and depression as a result of "Big Brother" type monitoring of telephone calls and emails. Call centre union UNISON found more than 70 per cent of respondents to its survey suffered from related anxiety, 17 per cent from depression and 52 per cent of call centre staff stated that they had considered resigning.
Risks 154, 1 May 2004

Australia: Union warning on psycho tests
Australia's top union body has warned against the use of psychometric and other tests as supposed safety measures. ACTU has questioned the motivation for psychometric, drug, alcohol and genetic testing at work, saying personality issues are "a tiny factor" in occupational health and safety.
Risks 149, 27 March 2004