Home > Privacy Law > Privacy Laws at Work

Privacy Laws at Work

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 18 May 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Act Laws Privacy Information Rights Data

There are various laws in the United Kingdom that affect your entitlement to privacy in the workplace. This article gives a brief summary of the most important ones. More detailed discussion about these laws is available elsewhere on this website.

Human Rights

The European Convention on Human Rights was drawn up to defend the fundamental liberties of the population of Europe. There is specific provision regarding the right to respect for privacy, which is given in Article 8.

In the United Kingdom, this has been brought into law by the Human Rights Act 1998. If you feel that your right to privacy has been infringed at work, and your employer does not or cannot rectify the situation, then you may have a right to make a legal claim under this legislation.

Data Protection

The Data Protection Act 1998 is a law designed to control how organisations use details about living people. It is overseen by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who supply useful guidance that businesses can use to ensure their policies comply with the law.

This legislation puts in place responsibilities relating to the collection, storage, processing and disposal of personal details, as well as allowing access to the subjects about whom particulars are held.

Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows people or companies to access facts about public bodies.

This law should only be of concern if you have given your details to a public authority – either directly or as a result of records passed on by a third party – which is then disclosed in a response to a request under the Act. Note that this should not happen because the public authority has a duty to safeguard your private credentials under the Data Protection Act, but this legislation does make an accident of this type more likely.

Health and Safety

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 demand that employers conduct formal risk assessments relating to the safety of the employees in their charge. There may be concerns when these assessments require the collection of personal records from an employee, such as a test to detect drug or alcohol use.

Employees in the transportation industries are subject to specific laws relating to intoxicating substances: The Transport and Works Act 1992 and the Railway and Transport Safety Act 2003, which builds upon it.

A Summary of the Law

The Human Rights Act is important because it establishes that a private life is a fundamental human right that must be defended. It states your right to privacy both from other individuals and from public bodies.

The Data Protection Act makes specific provisions for ensuring that organisations handle your personal details with respect, and gives you the ability to view and correct them if you choose.

Freedom of information is important only in that it makes it more likely that personal details about you could accidentally be leaked.

Finally, there are various laws relating to health and safety that could compromise the confidentiality of your private actions, particularly regarding employers’ entitlement to administer tests for the presence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
Aby - Your Question:
I am a manager of a small high street store. Because I was made admin for the shops Facebook page it is unfortunately attached to my own personal Facebook. While trying to rectify this and remove it from my Facebook a colleague and myself used the work laptop. I was unable to remove the work Facebook from my personal account and I made it clear to the company social media expert that I didn't think this was appropriate. A few weeks later and I had four days off for my birthday. While I was off my trainee manager whom I thought I had a great relationship with has opened up my Facebook page on the laptop and gone through my personal messages!! She has then made a complaint about another colleague ( a close friend that works with us but had previously had a strained relationship with the trainee) basically the trainee had gone through my private messages on messenger and seen things she didn't like! Private conversations that occasionally were about her. But apart from that there is a million other private messages! Between myself and my husband, children, family friends etc. I feel violated by this intrusion and don't understand why she did this? What was she looking for?? Is this legal?

Our Response:
In the first instance you should complain to your employer about your colleagues actions in order to try to resolve the issue. If you are not satisfied with your employer's response, you will have the option to raise a grievance, please see link here.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 18-May-17 @ 2:30 PM
I am a manager of a small high street store. Because I was made admin for the shops Facebook page it is unfortunately attached to my own personal Facebook. While trying to rectify this and remove it from my Facebook a colleague and myself used the work laptop. I was unable to remove the work Facebook from my personal account and I made it clear to the company social media expert that I didn't think this was appropriate. A few weeks later and I had four days off for my birthday. While I was off my trainee manager whom I thought I had a great relationship with has opened up my Facebook page on the laptop and gone through my personal messages!! She has then made a complaint about another colleague ( a close friend that works with us but had previously had a strained relationship with the trainee)basically the trainee had gone through my private messages on messenger and seen things she didn't like! Private conversations that occasionally were about her. But apart from that there is a million other private messages! Between myself and my husband, children, family friends etc. I feel violated by this intrusion and don't understand why she did this? What was she looking for?? Is this legal?
Aby - 18-May-17 @ 1:24 PM
Hi, My company has various 'Key Productivity Indicators' for member of the Service Teams only. The KPI is used to assess Annual Performance Reviews & Salary Increases for Service Personnel only (Management, Admin, Sales, etc not included in this KPI system unique to Service Personnel). These KPI include sickness / work absences; where both Sickness & Authorised Absences reduce your KPI score. The KPI league tables are distributed throughout Management, Admin & Service Personnel Colleagues and includes Personnel Name & number of sick / absence days. Is the publication of private absence days to colleagues an infringement of Privacy At Work & or Data Protection Laws in UK? Also; is this a fair assessment of Service Personnel; when other colleagues in other departments do not have the 'Absence' black-marked against them in 'UN-PUBLISHED' and UN-CIRCULATED' KPI results? Any help or advice greatly appreciated.
DaintyRae - 26-Apr-17 @ 7:35 PM
My Director of the company lives abroad and manages the IT. I got an email yesterday regarding an article my business will be publishing in a large publication. I replied with changes. I have just had an email from the director replying to the email that was never went to him telling me of feedback to this article.He has obviously snopped my emails and picked it up!!! He is a sleeping partner of business and only helps with IT and server issues. No other duty.Is this against the Human Rights Act? Before I realise an issue. Thanks!!
Gemgem - 24-Mar-17 @ 6:50 AM
I told my boss at work that I was pregnant due to working in a hot kitchen and the complications I was having with it. I have now told my friends and it is now public knowledge but i have since found out that before I'd told them my boss had told a mutual friend of ours about my pregnancy. Who doesn't work with us. when I asked my bosswhy he told someone without my permission and I told him how angry I was he "oh sorry I just had to "and disappeared. Is this a breach of confidently and what can I do about it.
Charley - 18-Mar-17 @ 6:50 PM
Hi,could you please explain what are my rights against my employers that asks me to produce a doctor letter to give me a permit for a doc appointment ? I am ok to show a proof of appointment but this doc is a consultant and I do not want my employer to know what is the problem I am going to the doctor for.I think this is illegal! Coul you please advise me?
Baby - 3-Mar-17 @ 1:48 PM
A colleague of mine gave out all of my personal details including working hours and start of employment etc to a stranger who walked into our place of employment. She did not ask for ID of who this person was. She told them and signed a paper then. I did not know about this and did not consent. What are my rights?
Quickname - 9-Feb-17 @ 5:50 PM
Hi I have been offered a job with the council and has been going through their long pre-employment procedure since last year. I declared on my application form and during my interview that I had a cation for Affray and showed my latest DBS which was new. As you know this is a non filterable offence which I have been working with as Practitioner,Teaching Assistant andSupport workersince I received it 11 years ago. Finally my DBS came through and i was called to be asked to do a self disclosure because they dont know what happened. I am livid as this offence does not state that I am barred or a threat to children and they will attach my wording to my file. This is the only offence ever that i have committed. It would have been better if I was a thief, at least that goes away but Affray is a life sentence without bars. I owned up told the truth and was released without court action or a fine. I feel this is an infringement on my privacy as it not their business to know what happened. This is a very distressing task that they are asking me to do, as it involves my late partner who was killed when I was expecting his child.His case is still open because he was unlawfully killed. Where do i stand in telling them details which is no concern of theirs, do they have the right to ask me to disclose my private life? I would really appreciate some help as I can find nothing concerning this privacy issue apart from the Human Rights act. Thank you JC
CJ - 2-Feb-17 @ 8:42 PM
Hi I have been offered a job with the council and has been going through their long pre-employment procedure since last year. I declared on my application form and during my interview that I had a cation for Affray and showed my latest DBS which was new. As you know this is a non filterable offence which I have been working with as Practitioner,Teaching Assistant andSupport workersince I received it 11 years ago. Finally my DBS came through and i was called to be asked to do a self disclosure because they dont know what happened. I am livid as this offence does not state that I am barred or a threat to children and they will attach my wording to my file. This is the only offence ever that i have committed. It would have been better if I was a thief, at least that goes away but Affray is a life sentence without bars. I owned up told the truth and was released without court action or a fine. I feel this is an infringement on my privacy as it not their business to know what happened. This is a very distressing task that they are asking me to do, as it involves my late partner who was killed when I was expecting his child.His case is still open because he was unlawfully killed. Where do i stand in telling them details which is no concern of theirs, do they have the right to ask me to disclose my private life? I would really appreciate some help as I can find nothing concerning this privacy issue apart from the Human Rights act. Thank you JC
CJ - 2-Feb-17 @ 6:38 PM
Charles - Your Question:
My friend gave in her notice while off sick for a week signed off by dr. The manager has then told the whole of the work place about this. Is this aloud? I assumed it was her own choice to tell her co-workers or not

Our Response:
There is nothing wrong with the employer telling the workforce your friend intends to leave, once notice is given.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 20-Jan-17 @ 2:16 PM
My friend gave in her notice while off sick for a week signed off by dr. The manager has then told the whole of the work place about this. Is this aloud? I assumed it was her own choice to tell her co-workers or not
Charles - 19-Jan-17 @ 10:06 PM
Can employers legally access ex-employees drop box on their work emails or should they delete that email account straight away?
Leo - 18-Jan-17 @ 4:31 PM
I left my place of work less than 3 weeks ago today, and have found out today that they have not only opened but EMPTIED my locker (to which I still hold the key) and threw away all the contents, and anything that wasn't thrown away was left out for pickings by other employees. Contents included but not limited to: Personal belongings, personal stationary, bank statement, film memorabilia (my property) (the place of work is a cinema). I was not informed at any point that this was pending or had even been done, a (former) colleague messaged me today about it. No permission was asked from me for this to be done. No request to come and empty the locker myself so they can use it. Is there any legal action I can take? The place has always had a habit of acting as if the law doesn't apply there. The main concern is the memorabilia that I had, as I had kept it for a reason, and the bank statement as I know for certain that they would not have destroyed it, only threw it in the bin.
Zeemex - 24-Nov-16 @ 3:21 PM
55 of us were told yesterday that we may all be made redundant - and this morning paperwork adrressed to each employee was left openly on display on all desks - not in an envelope. marked 'strictly private and confidential' it clearly showed a standard letter - but also each employees full address .. surely this is a breach of data protection ?i did not ask foir my details to effectively be put on view. any advice would be gratefully appreciated.
mr dog - 17-Nov-16 @ 4:43 PM
i recently had an disciplinary and the files of it were left in view of all staff I contacted the boss and told him and he said he would remove them in the morning.(I put them in a secret place he told me to put them). when I came in the next day they were still in the same place and it looked like someone had found them as they weren't as I put them. surely this is not on.
petal - 27-Oct-16 @ 7:08 PM
Jord - Your Question:
I would like info on when working away for home. is it against your human weights to be made to share a room in the hotel. Or should you have your own.

Our Response:
If your accommodation is being paid for by your employers, it depends on what you have signed and agreed to within the terms of your contract.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 20-Oct-16 @ 2:52 PM
I would like info on when working away for home. is it against your human weights to be made to share a room in the hotel . Or should you have your own .
Jord - 20-Oct-16 @ 6:56 AM
Hi, my colleague accessed my private Whatsapp conversation with my former colleague where we spoke about her and our manager. I discussed how my manager is trying to get rid of her and that he is a p**** because she has breached her contract on more than one occasion with no disciplinary action taken against her. She obtained this without my knowledge or consent and took it to my manager. He then used this against me to terminate my employment using the reason "Probationary not completed to a satisfactory level". I completely feel as this is unfair dismissal and surely what she has done is in somewhat way illegal as it was a breach of my privacy. I would like to know if there is anything I can do in regards to this situation? Or if I have a leg to stand on?
Anda - 14-Oct-16 @ 8:31 PM
My company has recently installed 2 cameras in the canteen and I feel like it'sinvading my privacy while I eat and drink. Are they allowed to do this? And I think they are adding a 3rd camera soon
G - 5-Oct-16 @ 6:45 AM
Hi, I recently had time off work sick,whilst I was off I received text messages from a number of colleagues asking if I had taken the spare key to my office(they keep a spare key but misplaced it),one male colleague asking for it said in their text that they were on their way to my house to collect it,since I was quite ill and asleep I did not read the message for a few hours but when I replied they had found their key and one replied to me saying"hope you enjoyed your long weekend"I was upset with this comment but did not give it any further thought as I got on with this colleague.When I returned to work a dif colleague told me that they had been to my house &my husbands van was not there & that because of this they thought I was surfing with my husband &they were going to text me and tell me they had been to my home &saw the van not there.this is my husbands company vehicle that he uses everyday for work,this is upsetting as i do not understand how they can reason that I was not there when my car was.Later on in the day the director calls me up to his office where I find my line manager also.They talk to me about my sickness &asked if I was okay(I've had 12days off in 9months but hardly any days the years before).They then tell me that some colleagues are saying that I was not sick &that I was "pulling the lead" &that someone has said to them something about me regarding this but my manager told me he stepped in &said to them that they don't know anything for a fact.they told me that this is not what they think but as it is a small company they wanted to nip it in the Budd so it does not escalate.The director said that this is not a warning but he has to say for legal purposes that it is sackable to take time off when you are not Ill.but left it that if I am sick again to go to my doctors &get a sick note.They were both nice to me but this then led them to talk to me about my punctuality(I have been 5mins late a couple of times the week before)which I said I would improve on.I feel really upset about this &it has given me sleepless nights.I am upset that not only is someone coming to my house invading my privacy,that if I am ever to be off work on another occasion I don't want to have a male colleague coming to my home when I am female on my own,I don't feel safe or comfortable with that but I also feel extremely upset that someone has accused me of taking time off when I am not sick with no facts or evidence causing me to be brought into a meeting which made me very stressed.I feel that everyone has been talking about it as we are a small company &even though I have done nothing wrong It is upsetting that someone can stir up lies about me that are not true which could jeopardise my job &they could do it again in the future.The director &my line manager did not say who it was that had accused me I am worried about asking,should I ask?i am naturally going to try &avoid taking any more time off when I am sick & to try and not give cause for a
Anonymous - 27-Sep-16 @ 8:33 PM
anonamus - Your Question:
My company is introducing a lone working device that is to be monitored by an independent company, however my employer has access to this and can monitor our precise location at anytime of the day or night & has the ability to listen to conversations via the device, Is it legal for him to use it as a tracking device as he is effectively tracking an individual and not a company vehicle.

Our Response:
If you consent to this in your contract, and it is part of the working terms, and only used in working hours, then yes.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 13-Sep-16 @ 11:55 AM
my company is introducing a lone working device that is to be monitored by an independent company, however my employer has access to this and can monitor our precise location at anytime of the day or night & has the ability to listen to conversations via the device, Is it legal for him to use it as a tracking device as he is effectively tracking an individual and not a company vehicle.
anonamus - 12-Sep-16 @ 2:31 PM
I have just discovered that all my personal details including previous name,dob,address,phone number and NI number plus lots of other info such as name of my partner and children has been uploaded onto a new system in work in which every other employee has access to. ( I also have access to theirs) Is this legal and more to the point being such sensitive information,is it safe? Really need advice on this one if anyone can help.
Fifi - 7-Sep-16 @ 10:50 PM
CCTV has been installed on my section where I work, and there is a tv showing me working for other members of staff to see? I feel like I'm in a zoo? Is this correcf
Sherry - 13-May-16 @ 12:02 PM
Hi. My employer searched my bag without my consent while i was in hospital getting treatment for an accident that happend at work. I gope there is somethingi can do about it as i see it as an very low thing to do. Thank you
Muie - 1-Apr-16 @ 3:30 AM
My husband was badly bullied/harassed at work (by the Director) for almost a year. He began to keep a note of key incidents (times/dates/description) of incidents of harassment he suffered. He wrote these notes in his own personal notebook (private property which he bought himself) which he kept hidden in a desk drawer in his office. He did not share the office so nobody saw him do this, and he did not tell any colleagues that he was doing this. He was about to lodge a formal grievance when he was suddenly sacked without warning, notice or cause. He asked for a large box to take all his personal property home with him after being sacked. He was told he could not have one but that he could take as many items as he could carry in his hands and they would courier everything else to him the next day. He grabbed what he could carry in his hands from his desk but when he got home he realised his private notebooks had not been in the drawer (this did not occur to him straight away as he was in such a profound state of shock at being sacked for no reason). Clearly the boss must have ransacked his desk and found the notebooks, realised he was compiling details of her harassment of him and decided to take the books and get rid of him before he could raise a grievance. He asked repeatedly (in writing) for the return of the notebooks for the next five weeks, and eventually they were returned to him with the notes all torn out (they were spiral bound books so it was easy to tear pages out). The company's written policy states that if they want to search an employee's personal property they must ask first, and if the employee refuses, then the company has to get the police to do the search. Nobody ever sought his permission, so the Director had no right to go through his stuff, let alone confiscate it. So my question is, what law(s) - if any - did the employer breach by covertly searching his personal property without permission, and what law(s) if any did they breach by retaining his personal property after dismissing him, and what law(s) if any did they breach by tearing out and retaining or destroying pages from his personal, private notebook (obviously they deny doing that, but they would say that, wouldn't they?!).
Dubois - 18-Jun-15 @ 12:24 PM
@Julie - this is a very difficult question to fathom, so I suggest, rather than get the wrong end of the stick and give misleading advice, that you contact Acas directly and talk through your issue. You can contact the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100 for free, confidential advice.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 21-Jan-15 @ 12:46 PM
Employee (Sender) sends email to a single recipient using their privately owned computer and private email address, whilst not on duty Recipient of email is a member of the general public and not employed by same employer as employee. Sender believes they have reasonable expectation of privacy in said communication. Recipient raises concern about the content of the email, not with employer (as they did not know who the employee's employer was), but with the hotel in which the employee was staying. Recipient does not follow up as implied by forwarding copy of offending email to the hotel. Hotel passes email to employer assuming employer could 'deal with it internally'. Employer seeks (and obtains) a copy of employees private correspondence (the email) from the recipient, without first gaining employees permission to do so. Recipient refused to be interviewed by employer, so no witness statement obtained. This refusal came prior to employees first investigatory hearing (as part of disciplinary procedure). Employee sacked by employer for having sent the particular email. Employer had no policy on the use of private emails either using company equipment (which this event did not involve) or private equipment (which this event did involve) neither during work time or in private time. Employer provided some guidance only in respect of social media (which this event did not involve). Did the employer breach the employees privacy in obtaining their private correspondence and, if so, would this be actionable as a contractual claim for punitive damages?
Julie - 20-Jan-15 @ 10:32 PM
@Hev - Information gathered by an employer should be covered by the Data Protection Act and as a rule employers shoudl be told that they are being monitored, whether individually or as a company. However, according to Acas, monitoring should go no further than is necessary and it is only in exceptional circumstances that an employer should use covert monitoring. If you think your employer is monitoring you secretly then it may be worth giving Acas a call on 0300 123 1100, it has a free advice helpline.
EmployeePrivacyRights - 27-Nov-14 @ 12:34 PM
Can my employer access the computer to check the swipe card systems that gives me access to various buildings I work in to check where I am, how log I take etc to do the job etc etc or yet to checkup on me to see where I have been. Can my supervise plant items i n my cleaning storeto check if iI'm doing my job properly or even using the said item.
hev - 26-Nov-14 @ 10:04 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the EmployeePrivacyRights website. Please read our Disclaimer.