Privacy at work

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You have a right to privacy at work within certain limits. These are explained in this section.   

Can my employer use close circuit television (CCTV) at work?

Monitoring employees using CCTV without a good reason could be an invasion of privacy. However, there may be good reasons for using CCTV in a workplace, such as preventing theft or protecting employees (for example from a threat of physical harm). 

 It is best practice if employers and employees reach an agreement about the use of CCTV before it is put in place, including whether there are any alternatives. Employers can only use CCTV footage for the reason for which it was installed. For example, if they installed CCTV to monitor for theft but instead use it to monitor attendance times, that would not be acceptable. 

 An employer who uses CCTV and records the images must make sure that this is done according to data protection law. Employers should consider the following points:

  • What will they use the CCTV system for?
  • Is there another way to achieve the same purpose that does not affect employees’ privacy?
  • Will they tell employees the purpose of the CCTV before it is set up?
  • Are there clear signs in the areas that are monitored by CCTV?
  • Is there a system in place to give copies of the images to an employee who asks for them?

 It would not be right to set up CCTV in areas where an employee would expect to have privacy, such as a cloakroom or changing area.

 If you have concerns or questions about CCTV in your workplace, you can contact one of the organisations listed at the end of this pack.

Can my employer search me?

You have the right to bodily integrity. This includes the right not to have anyone touch your body without your permission. Body searches should only be used as a last resort and with good reason. Generally, a Garda is the only person who can carry out a body search and only if he or she has a reasonable suspicion that you were involved in a crime.  In all other situations, including at work, you can only be searched if you agree to it. 

 Your employer may ask you to agree to a body search. However, your consent must be real. This means that your employer must not treat you any differently if you do not agree to a body search.

 Body searches may be included in the terms and conditions of your employment, for example in your employment contract or staff handbook. If this is the case, your employer can only search you in the way described in your contract or staff handbook.

 If your employer has said that you must agree to a body search, or if you have concerns or questions about body searches, you can contact one of the organisations or people listed at the end of this pack.

Can my employer check my phone calls, internet access or emails?

Your employer can monitor your phone calls, emails and internet access (for example, your use of social networking sites) if it is for a specific reason and your employer can justify this. For example, you employer can monitor your communications if they believe that you have been breaking confidentiality agreements and can only prove this by monitoring. 

 However, your employer must tell you beforehand that your calls, internet access or emails are being monitored. One way your employer could do this is by introducing an ‘acceptable use’ policy.  It is important that checking phone calls, emails or internet use is the only way in which your employer can achieve the purpose. 

 If you have concerns or questions about the monitoring of your phone calls or internet use, you can contact one of the organisations listed at the end of this pack.

Can my employer use a fingerprint system to record attendance?

You must give your consent before your employer can take your fingerprints.  Your consent must be real. This means that your employer must not treat you any differently if you do not agree to have your fingerprints taken.

Your employer should assess whether fingerprinting is necessary, as there may be simpler ways to get the same results. 

Any fingerprint system must obey data protection law. If you have any questions or concerns about the introduction of a fingerprinting system, you can contact the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner or any of the organisations or people listed at the end of this pack.

Can my employer use GPS or vehicle tracking systems? 

Vehicle tracking systems record the location of a vehicle at a particular time.  An employer must show a good business reason for using a tracking system and must tell the drivers about the tracking and why it is needed. 

Employers should only use a tracking device to check where the vehicle is during working hours. If an employee is allowed to use a vehicle for personal use, it should be possible to disable the tracking system outside of working hours.

If you have concerns or questions about the use of vehicle tracking systems in your workplace, you can contact one of the organisations or people listed at the end of this pack.

Can my employer make me carry an identity (ID) card?

Yes, your employer can require you to carry a card containing your picture and other details, if it is for a valid reason such as security. If you have any concerns or questions about carrying an ID card, you should contact the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (see contact details at the end of this pack).

Can my employer ask me to submit to a retina scan?

An employer has the right to protect their business against theft, fraud, disciplinary or security breaches.  However, the employer would have to justify the need for retina scanning. For example, retina scanning may be acceptable in an organisation that works on secretive or highly classified issues, such as the Defence Forces or certain parts of a pharmaceutical company. 

As an employee, you can, at all times, refuse to submit to retina scanning, but this may affect the areas of the workplace to which you can go.

If you have any questions or concerns about the introduction of a retina scanning system in your workplace, you can contact the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner or any of the other organisations listed at the end of this pack.

What about other forms of checking identity such as DNA testing?

DNA is highly sensitive personal information not only about you but also your entire family.  It is highly unlikely that an employer could justify DNA testing. 

The Data Protection Commissioner must approve the use of DNA tests in the workplace and you should ask your employer if the Data Protection Commissioner has given approval.  If you have any concerns or questions, you can contact the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (see contact details at the end of this pack).

Do I have to agree to a drug test if my employer asks for one?  

Under the law, you must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs in such a way that your health and safety or that of another person in the workplace would be threatened. 

An employer can require you to submit to alcohol and drug tests to make sure that you are not a health and safety risk at work. However, the tests must relate to your actual job. For example, if you operate machinery or work in a high-risk job, alcohol and drug tests may be acceptable. But if your job does not threaten your or other people’s health and safety, then alcohol or drug testing may not be acceptable. Your employer could instead deal with the problem in other ways such as a discussion with your manager or a performance review.

All testing for drugs or alcohol in the workplace must meet the European Guidelines for Workplace Drug Testing.

What can I do if I feel my privacy at work has been threatened?

You should check whether the testing or monitoring is part of your employment contract or the terms and conditions of your employment.

 

Your employer should discuss any monitoring or testing system with you either:

  • when you take up the job; or
  • when a system is introduced in your workplace.

 

If you are not comfortable with a request from your employer, you can contact one of the following organisations or people:

  • National Employment Rights Authority (NERA);
  • Data Protection Commissioner;
  • a lawyer; or
  • your union representative, if you have one (it is possible that privacy issues may be covered by a collective agreement between your employer and union).

 

You will find contact details for NERA and the Data Protection Commissioner at the end of this pack.


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