Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Know Your Rights: Privacy at work

You have the right to privacy at your workplace, but there are legitimate circumstances where your privacy may be limited by your employer. Your employer is obliged to make you aware of any infringements of your right to privacy, for example, within your terms of employment or in your staff handbook. Any encroachment on your right to privacy must be for a legitimate and reasonable purpose, be clearly explained and respect data protection law.

For example, an employer is entitled to use closed circuit television (CCTV) in the workplace. However, there must be good reasons for its use, such as preventing theft or protecting staff from harm, and it cannot be placed in areas where a person would expect total privacy, such as changing rooms or toilets.

These reasons must be made clear to staff and it is best practice for employers to reach agreement with staff on the use of CCTV before installation. Once installed, CCTV can only be used for its stated purpose. For example, if it was officially installed to monitor theft, it cannot be used for monitoring attendance. In addition, your employer is obliged by data protection law to ensure the images taken are not inappropriately accessed, and that there is a system in place for you to access images on request.

These principles apply to other areas of privacy, such as searches, telephone and internet monitoring, and
recording attendance. If you feel your privacy in work has been threatened, you should consider these

What is the proposed system required for and is it justified?
Is there an equally effective system that does not affect privacy?
Have employees been properly informed about the new system before it is put in place?
Was the system, and its purpose, clearly communicated to new employees and reflected in their contract and staff handbook?
Does the system comply with data protection law, including the safe keeping of information about employees?
Is the system actually being used for its stated purpose?

For more information on protecting your privacy, and other information on human rights, visit the Irish Council for Civil Liberties Know Your Rights page http://www.knowyourrights.ie/

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