Intrusive workplace surveillance is a growing workplace phenomenon and a psychosocial hazard. If left unchecked, has the potential to lead to widespread discrimination, work intensification, unfair treatment and resultant stress. Examples of intrusive surveillance can include:
- Monitoring of emails and files
- Webcams on work computers
- Tracking of when and how much a worker is typing
- Tracking of calls made and movements made by the worker
- Using CCTV and trackable devices
This surveillance exacerbates other hazards such as poor workplace relationships and low job control and creates a culture where employees feel undervalued, policed and lacking in autonomy. Additionally, a report by the center for democracy and technology found that intrusive workplace surveillance can harm workers' health and safety by:
- Discouraging and even penalizing lawful, health-enhancing employee conduct, including taking breaks to rest when needed to avoid fatigue or to use toilet facilities.
- Enforce a faster work pace and reduce downtime, which increases the risk of physical injuries, particularly those stemming from repetitive motion.
- Increase risk of psychological harm and mental health problems for workers — particularly due to the effects of job strain, which occurs when workers face high job demands but have little control over their work.
Additionally, already vulnerable workers in insecure work in industries such as call centres, the gig economy and delivery drives are more likely to be subject to intrusive workplace surveillance. In many call centres for example, toilet breaks are timed to the second, while some warehouse workers have their movements tracked and are penalised for failing to achieve rigid and punitive KPI's that do not allow sufficient time for bathroom breaks. For example, workers at Amazon have their handheld package scanners monitored to determine the amount of time spent off task while working - this includes going to the bathroom and chatting with co-workers - and are penalised when this exceeds 30 minutes per 8 hour shift.
Insecure work combined with intrusive workplace surveillance can have devastating impacts on workers psychological health. Although WorkSafe has yet to recognise intrusive workplace surveillance as a workplace hazard, the union movement is calling for intrusive workplace surveillance to be included in the new psychological health regulations.
For more information on intrusive workplace surveillance see:
- EU Research on the impacts of intrusive workplace surveillance
- American research from the center for democracy and technology on the impacts of intrusive workplace surveillance
- News on intrusive workplace surveillance from the Washington Post, The Guardian, and Maurice Blackburn