How to tell if your boss is spying on you

Most people have sent a private email from a work account

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that your boss has the right to spy on you at work. 

Europe’s top human rights court ordered the handover of transcripts of private conversations by a Romanian worker on Yahoo Messenger. In this case, the employer had warned staff in its company policy that their devices were only to be used for work.

They argued: “It proved that he had used the company’s computer for his own private purposes during working hours.”

But lawyers told the Independent that your employer doesn't have to give you warning before monitoring your private correspondence. "Within the UK you can conduct monitoring without employee consent," said Paula Barrett, partner, head of privacy, at Eversheds.

Stephen Helliwell, director of SGH and Associates Limited, commercial investigators for the corporate sector, said employees have no real way of knowing whether they are being watched or not. 

"We would say to people not to have any of these applications on their work computer, because you never know who in the building might have access to this," Helliwell said. 

"The technology is so advanced now that you would never know."

Given that most people have sent a private email from a work account, or slipped into private messages to talk to a colleague about something other than their job, it helps to be aware of some warning signs:

1.    Check your contract

According to Citizen’s Advice, your employer has the right to monitor you if the monitoring is about work or if the equipment has been provided by work. But they must make “all reasonable efforts to inform you that your communications will be monitored. So check your company handbook.

2.    Ask your IT department.

Anything that you send via a work computer can be seen by IT workers at your company using remote access tools. But unless they are looking for it, it’s extremely unlikely that they will see it. If you’re unsure, you can ask your IT department about whether they have been asked to monitor you and what they can see.

3.    Assume they are.

Under UK law, your boss does not need your consent to monitor your activities.

Paula Barrett, partner, head of privacy at Eversheds says: “People forget when they are using these systems that they are corporate systems and they probably are already being watched.”

Don’t do anything on your work computer that you wouldn’t be happy for your boss to see.

4.    Be aware of fair usage.

Many employers allow some degree of personal activity on their devices. Clarify how much you are allowed. In the case that just went through the courts, the individual had been told not to use his devices for personal messages and lost his job when he did.

5.    Use a private device

But be aware that it can’t help you if you get a court order telling you to hand over your phone because of something that has happened at work.

“There could be scenarios where you are required to produce your private phone, but to access for your corporate account,” Barrett said.