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Work from home: When your boss is allowed to watch you

Your boss can legally watch you while you work from home, but there are limits.

A man talking on the phone as he works from home.
Aussie bosses can legally monitor you as you work from home. (Source: Getty)

The pandemic brought around many changes to how we live and work but one thing that is here to stay is working from home. However, something many Aussies might not know is that they may be being watched.

Recently this problem came to light when former Insurance Australia Group consultant Suzie Cheikho lost her job after her company tracked her keystrokes and determined she wasn't working when she should while at home.

If organisations provide adequate legal notice to employees, they may monitor employees through cameras, audio, keystrokes, and mouse movements - even in remote-work settings - the University of New South Wales (UNSW) found.

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Have you been tracked at work? Contact reporter at eliza.bavin@yahooinc.com.

“Some employers do not think about the legality of workplace surveillance, let alone which surveillance activities are reasonable,” UNSW Business School professor of practice for the schools of management & governance and information systems & technology management Peter Leonard said.

Recent analysis found well over 500 related technology “bossware” products were available on the market for companies to track their employees.

So, is it legal?

When it comes to what’s legal (and what’s not) Leonard said there was no simple answer. The legality of monitoring employees who are working remotely varies from state to state in Australia.

“Surveillance is broadly illegal except where the law expressly permits it,” Leonard said.

“The Workplace Surveillance Act NSW mandates that companies provide employees with a 14-day notice if they intend to use surveillance in the workplace. This includes activities such as monitoring computer keystrokes, recording conversations, and optical surveillance.

“Only notice is required. Employers are not required to get prior consent from affected employees.”

Section 16 of the Act addresses situations in which employees are working remotely. The Act allows surveillance of such employees who are using work devices when they are not at their workplace.

"If you are working from home and you are using equipment or online services provided at the expense of the employer, then, with prior notice, the employer can undertake surveillance,” Leonard said.

How do I know if I'm being monitored?

“Hybrid workers should start by thinking about how they use resources and equipment provided by their employer,” Leonard said.

“If employees are concerned about workplace surveillance practices, they should ask their employer for a full description of those practices and associated policies."

Leonard said that Aussies who were unhappy with workplace surveillance policies and practices should think about their choice of devices for personal activities.

He said the assumption is that if you are using a work device or work-paid resource, then your employer may be monitoring your use.

Why does my boss want to watch me work?

The main concern for businesses is employee productivity. So, if your boss doesn't think you're doing the work you should, they may want to start monitoring it - but employees are justifiably worried.

“There is understandable concern among employees about employers spying on their activities. There are many examples where employers are demonstrably intrusive and disrespectful in their monitoring practices,” Leonard said.

“In some limited circumstances, an employee’s legitimate expectations of privacy may need to give way to concerns and legal responsibilities of employers to protect workplace safety, information security or commercial confidentiality.

“For instance, assume that I log in to a work-provided service from an uncustomary overseas location. My employer might use geo-locating features to query whether it was me logging in. To ensure information security, some employers also use keystroke technology, analysing patterns of keystroking that may indicate a person typing is not the individual entitled to use a particular user account.”

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