Surveillance of employees working from home, violations that are difficult to prove

Is my boss secretly watching me when I work remotely? Technology allows the manager to spy on his workers, which is not very common because it is regulated by law, but unions are on the lookout.

There are many ways to tell if Teams is running, from the “connected” indicator in work email to spyware. When the latter are installed on employees’ computers, nothing can escape them thanks to tricks such as recording keystrokes or even screenshots sent to the boss every five minutes.

Quarantine measures have stepped up the activities of companies specializing in this area around the world. One of them, the American Hubstaff, claims almost 600,000 active customers worldwide on its website. And in France? This software is illegal because it does not comply with data protection regulations (GDPR).

With regard to GDPR compliant devices, “The employer is obliged to inform the employees” during their installation,” recalls Xavier Delport, director of research for the National Commission for Information Technology and Freedoms (Cnil). As well as “it’s all about balance” in their use.

Among these devices, for example, “filtering access to certain websites for security reasons should not deviate from the systematic checking of websites visited by an employee”– says Mr. Delport.

CNIL indicates that “complaints about remote computer monitoring tools are rare”. In 2021 “less than ten” Complaints about this were filed by employees to the personal data constable.

Most of the complaints recorded by Cnil (over 80%) are about “classic video surveillance” in the workplace, rather than the malicious use of spyware or a surreptitiously turned on webcam, says Xavier Delporte. And among the remaining 20%, part concerns the geolocation of the company’s cars.

However, the unions keep an eye on the secrecy of spyware designed in such a way that employees cannot detect it. “These funds are so intrusive and discreet that some will never know they are being followed.”notes Sophie Binet, General Secretary of the CGT for Executives (Ugict-CGT).

It also triggers more traditional methods of surveillance, such as untimely calls from a boss or chiding employees when they don’t show up “on call” during work hours.

For Bertrand Mahe, the national confederation’s delegate to the CFE-CGC, the “temptation” to spy on his teams reflects, above all, the failure of the leadership. “There are certainly abuses by employees, but they are just as rare as those from management”He says.

The trade unionist relativizes the degree “culture of observation”more common, in his opinion, in smaller companies, given the small size of the workforce and lack of knowledge of the law.

Be that as it may, all methods to ensure that an employee is focused on his task are misleading, according to Bertrand Mahe, who emphasizes that “the connection between hours of presence and efficiency is far from proven.”

“Control over employees is counterproductive and, above all, fraught with the transfer of stress from the manager to his teams”he assures. For him, this is a practice that goes against the “productivity increase” of employees, as proposed by spyware developers.