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Ensuring Physical Privacy for Employees

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 22 Nov 2017 | comments*Discuss
Privacy Employee Worker Personal

Employee privacy extends beyond concerns about the information that the human resources department holds on them. There is a physical element, too. People feel uncomfortable if they think they are constantly being watched, if they lack personal space or if they cannot guarantee the security of their personal belongings in the workplace.


Some degree of privacy can be obtained even in open-plan workspaces by using partitions between desks. Angling the seating arrangement so that individuals are not directly facing each other, or looking over one another’s shoulders, can also help people to be able to perform confidential work in private. It is also important to allow people a reasonable space in which to work, so they are not crammed up against their colleagues, each continually invading another’s personal space.

The traditional approach to privacy is to give people separate offices in which to work, particularly for managerial roles. In recent years, the trend has been away from this, encouraging managers to share a large room with their subordinates. Even if this is the case, it can be useful to have a separate office shared by the team, which anyone can use when they are working on a confidential task (such as staff appraisals) or just wish to work for a period without interruption.


If staff are permanently being viewed or recorded on closed-circuit television (CCTV) then they may feel distrusted and that their privacy is being compromised. If such a system is necessary, for example to prevent shoplifting, it is useful for workers to have a private area that is free from cameras. In environments such as this, provision of a staffroom is a definite benefit.


It is good for morale to provide a private area for staff to relax during their breaks. If they can leave their desks for a few minutes and go instead to a quite area, they are likely to return to the job refreshed and more focused.

Employees attempting to take a break at their desks may be interrupted by telephone calls or by their colleagues, and cannot be said to have privacy to unwind in this situation.


Employers should ensure that their workers have somewhere secure to store their personal belongings while they are at work. Office workers can have lockable drawers in their desks, which give them privacy and help to prevent petty theft. Employees who are not based at a desk can be provided with lockers in which to store their possessions.

It could be an invasion of privacy to search an employee’s possessions, even if they are present at the time. This is a delicate issue and must be handled with care. Physically searching members of staff without their consent could count as assault. Such physical searches should be conducted in accordance with a written policy, by a member of the same sex as the person being searched, and with a witness present.

Privacy and Productivity

Physical privacy is important to morale, which in turn helps to maintain productivity at a high level. Workers should be treated with respect and dignity, and trusted sufficiently that they can go about their jobs without feeling intimidated by constant surveillance. If people feel safe and respected, they will be in a good frame of mind to do productive work, and this can only be good for the business.

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Hi My employer is revamping their website and insists that every member of staff has their photo professionally taken and displayed on the public website along with contact details and office locations etc I am uncomfortable with this. Particularly because my role is not customer facing and the service I perform would never be used by customers directly. Furthermore I travel, alone, all over the UK for work and this makes me a lone worker already in a more vulnerable position than other staff. What rights, if any, to my likeness does my employer have? Thanks for any advice you can offer
X11BHC - 22-Nov-17 @ 7:31 AM
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