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Private Telephone Calls at Work

By: Matthew Strawbridge - Updated: 9 Nov 2017 | comments*Discuss
Phone Telephone Private Personal Record

Employees with telephones may be expected to use them for private calls sometimes, unless such use has been expressly prohibited by their employer. Employees making confidential calls have a right to privacy. This article discusses the issues of balancing these rights with the needs of the business.

Overhearing Calls

If employees choose to make personal calls at work, using their employer’s phone line, then it is their responsibility to talk softly enough that they cannot be overheard by other nearby members of staff. If what they have to say is confidential – such as booking a doctor’s appointment or using a telephone banking service – then they should be advised not to make the call from their desks.

Recording Calls

Sometimes it is appropriate to tape or monitor inbound calls. This is likely to be a reasonable approach for staff in sales and customer services, where such data may be useful evidence in case of a complaint from a customer, or for training purposes. It is also common practice in the financial services sector.

The caller should be told right at the start, either by a taped message or by the person who answers, that the call will be monitored. Staff must also be made aware that these conversations will be archived.

Capturing of outbound calls is harder to justify. In any case, Ofcom have published guidance advising companies and organisations that monitor calls that they must provide their staff with a way to make calls that are not subject to this treatment, such as a separate phone on the premises. Failure to comply may be in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which covers people’s right to privacy.

Furthermore, snooping on a call is a major invasion of privacy. Staff on reception or in the IT Department may have special access to the telephone system that would allow them to listen in on other people’s calls. It is important that they receive proper training in their responsibilities, to make sure they do not make use of such facilities.

Mobile Phones

Staff members issued with company mobile phones may be allowed to make a reasonable number of personal calls and send texts, particularly if there is no extra cost involved because of the call plan (for example, if a fixed number of minutes and texts are included with the contract and they don’t roll over at the end of each month).

It is usual for mobile bills to be itemised. Staff members with company mobiles should be made aware that other employees will be able to see which numbers they have called and texted, and that files may be kept permanently.

Employers may wish to provide business mobiles but to charge employees for any personal calls they make. Of course, workers need to be made aware of this approach before it is introduced; in practice, such a scheme is likely to cost more to administer than it saves, unless staff are routinely running up huge bills on private calls (in which case, this should probably be addressed as a disciplinary matter).

Responsibilities of the Employer

Most employers allow their staff to make a reasonable level of use of their telephone system for personal calls. Employees have a right to privacy. If their calls are to be monitored or recorded – whether this means data about the call, such as the number and duration, or the voice content of the call itself – then they need to be made aware of this in advance. If calls are to be recorded as a matter of course, companies must provide a separate means for their employees to make unrecorded calls in private, thereby balancing the needs of the business with the privacy rights of the individual worker.

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Today 2 of my colleagues and I discovered that another member of staff had set their phone to video mode and was recording the office whilst she was out of it. Does anyone know if knowingly recording colleagues in secret is illegal and would it count as gross misconduct? I no longer feel comfortable working with them. My concern is that if I raise with management and this person denies it and had deleted the videos what would the next step be?!?
Infuriated - 9-Nov-17 @ 6:45 PM
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