New protections needed to stop employer surveillance of remote workers

5 November 2021

New polling from Prospect has found that one in three (32%) workers are now being monitored at work- up from a quarter (24%) just 6 months ago in April.

This includes a doubling of the use of camera monitoring in people’s homes, with 13% of home workers currently being monitored by cameras compared to 5% 6 months ago.

The polling, which was conducted by respected pollster Opinium, also found that 80% of workers thought that the use of webcams to monitor remote workers should either be banned (52%) or heavily regulated (28%) with only 8% of workers thinking that employers should be allowed to decide unilaterally when to use cameras to monitor people working in their own homes. The findings extend to supporters of all political parties, with 74% of Conservative voters agreeing that the use of webcam monitoring in people’s homes should be banned or heavily regulated.

The finding comes as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is reviewing guidance to employers on the use of new technologies such as monitoring.

Younger workers (18-34) are particularly at risk with a significantly higher rate of monitoring than their older colleagues. Overall 48% of younger workers report being monitored at work, including 20% being monitored using cameras.

Prospect are concerned that these intrusive monitoring is particularly affecting workers in sectors with higher levels of remote working, larger proportions of younger workers, and low levels of trade union membership- such as the tech sector.

The union is today launching a new sector for tech workers and is putting the issue of surveillance front and centre in the drive to unionise the sector, alongside other issues such as discrimination at work, long hours culture, and pay.

Prospect’s findings show that union members are twice as likely as non-union members to be consulted on the introduction of new technologies into their workplaces.

Prospect is calling for a range of measures to protect employees for intrusive monitoring. They have called on the ICO to toughen the regulation on the introduction of new monitoring technology in workplaces, ensuring that employees are always consulted as part of this technology and there is full transparency on how this tech is used. The union has also called for the government to consider explicitly banning the use of camera monitoring in people’s homes, making it illegal for employers to use webcams to check up on workers outside of meetings and calls.

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said:

“We are used to the idea of employers checking up on workers, but when people are working in their own homes this assumes a whole new dimension.

“New technology allows employers to have a constant window into their employees homes, and the use of the technology is largely unregulated by government.

“We think that we need to upgrade the law to protect the privacy of workers and set reasonable limits on the use of this snooping technology, and the public overwhelmingly agree with us.

“Prospect’s new tech workers sector will be campaigning on this issue and other issues affecting tech workers, and I encourage any workers who are worried about monitoring to join Prospect and support our campaign.”

Chi Onwurah MP, Labour’s Shadow Digital Minister, added:

“This deeply worrying research shows just how anxious many people are about the use of invasive surveillance whilst they work.

“Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home.

“The bottom line is that workers should not be subject to digital surveillance without their informed consent, and there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers.”

Commenting on the findings Anna Thomas, Director of the Institute for the Future of Work think tank said:

“IFOW research suggests COVID has driven a significant acceleration in technology adoption by businesses, leading to fundamental changes to the terms, conditions and quality of work.

“Speaking to both remote workers staying at home and key workers who travelled to workplaces through the pandemic, we found that increased surveillance is driving an intensification, and in many cases ‘gigification’ of jobs.

“Action from government is essential to protect good work.”


Information Technology & Telecoms

Prospect represents more than 16,000 people working in Information Technology and Telecoms – one of the UK’s fastest moving industries.

Union for tech workers

For a better, healthier and fairer tech industry.