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Big Brother Bosses Bad for Business

July 1 2004 - 'Stop snooping', a report in a recent edition of the TUC backed Hazards magazine, says that new technologies and the lack of privacy rights at work mean bosses can monitor employees constantly and secretly, which is bad for their productivity and health.

'Stop snooping' reports companies in the UK and abroad eavesdropping telephone calls, measuring toilet breaks, monitoring emails, internet use and computer work and using CCTV, hidden cameras, smart cards and tracking devices to keep an eye on other work activities.

Further, the largely unregulated rise in drug, alcohol and health testing of employees, and the real threat of genetic screening being used to 'weed-out' unsuitable staff or applicants, has led the Information Commissioner to propose a Code to protect the privacy of information about workers' health.

Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, said:

'Big Brother bosses do not get the best out of employees. Staff who are being snooped on are less productive and less healthy.

'There has been an unregulated boom in the intrusive and ineffective drug, drink and health testing of employees. The positive step to tackle this needs to be toughened up to make sure tests are only used when absolutely necessary.'

According to Hazards Editor, Rory O'Neil:

'Snooping isn't just taking liberties, it's pure folly. Productivity goes down, accidents, ill-health and sick leave go up and the workforce feel more like felons than valued employees.

'If employers want to know what their staff are doing they should ask them. Consultation and participation are not dirty words, they are the key to a productive workplace.'

'Stop snooping' draws on a US study showing that monitored workers suffered more work dissatisfaction, depression, extreme anxiety, exhaustion, strain injuries and neck problems than unmonitored workers. It also includes research showing that a lack of autonomy at work is a major cause of work-related stress and strains, heart diseases and sickness.

Examples of Big Brother bosses in 'Stop snooping'

A social worker received more than 200,000 in compensation after enduring a vicious assault by a client "which could have been avoided". The victim's union, UNISON, condemned Swansea City and County Council after the worker, who was not able to work again, and her family were videotaped by private detectives checking out her injuries.

At Guys Hospital the local trade union officials discovered hidden cameras in the staff locker room and post room. The management claimed that the police had advised them to install cameras to investigate alleged mail tampering. However the police denied giving any such advice and the cameras were removed.

In another case, unions found that cameras had been installed in a locker room used by female staff to change. The employer, Securicor said the cameras had been installed in the wrong room.

TUC recommendations to toughen up the Code covering drug, drink, medical and genetic testing (Employment Practices Data Protection Code (part 4) ):

Testing should only be used when absolutely necessary or if there is a risk to the health and safety of the employee, other staff, customers or the public, rather than merely when the employer can show a business benefit.

Genetic testing of employees should not be allowed in UK workplaces. Testing should only be used to assess an employee's current ability to carry out their job safely and not to assess whether at some indeterminate point in the future they may be unable to work.

Employers should only be permitted to test staff where legislation requires or allows it, i.e. under health and safety law. The fact that a worker signs a consent form is not sufficient to authorise testing, as an employee can never be given a genuine free choice.

Testing should be governed by a clear workplace policy agreed by trade unions and any tests should be carried out by a qualified professional.

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