Absenteeism Monitoring

BY Matthew Brown

Does GDPR allow us to manage absent colleagues’ email and workflow?

In simple terms yes. It is perfectly reasonable and allowed under the regulations to monitor an employee’s emails during their absence either due to illness or annual leave or some other matter?

We believe that in certain cases doing so would amount to a reasonable adjustment where that absenteeism was disability related and doing so mitigated workload pressures. It is a legitimate reason therefore to identify and action those urgent emails that would have otherwise been left until the employee and colleague returns to the office, where the delay would prejudice the smooth running of the business.

Since as an organisation you are engaging in monitoring an employee’s emails during their absence either due to illness or some other absence, this will inevitably involve the processing of that employee’s personal data at some point. This isn’t a situation where you either need to or would wish to rely on consent either explicit or implicit but rather you should rely on “legitimate interests”, i.e. it is in the interests of the organisation in its daily business to identify and action urgent email requests.

“This is one of the best examples whereby the business interests outweigh an employee’s interests in securing emails in their work account private.“

We strongly advise that you ensure that you take those necessary steps to ensure that your monitoring goes strictly no further than is necessary and proportionate to actioning only those emails work related and to ensure you avoid reading personal emails. Employees should be advised to have a specific folder entitled private and confidential.

Provided the monitoring is proportionate to the intended purpose and doesn’t capture personal information then the monitoring is justifiable, i.e. it’s ensuring that the employee is doing the work that they are supposed to do within the normal working hours fulfilling the employment contract. There are also arguments to suggest that the monitoring will ensure the welfare of employees and prevent excessive hours. It is preferable therefore that because the software needs to be installed, the employee should be issued with a work laptop, properly secured.


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