On this page:
An introduction to privacy
Privacy in the workplace
Laws designed to protect your privacy
The Data Protection Act
The Human Rights Act
How UNISON can help
Next steps for UNISON reps
Branches and their members' information
We all have the right to privacy, at home, at work and everywhere else. But it’s becoming harder and harder to protect that right as technology makes it easier to monitor activities and collect information.
Employers have many ways of observing workers, including computer monitoring, CCTV, using secret customers, intercepting phone calls and emails and even drug testing and the collection of information about life outside the workplace.
Your employer has a lot of information about you – including everything you told them when you first applied for a job, all the financial information they need to pay you, and your sickness and disciplinary records.
The 1998 Data Protection Act and the 1998 Human Rights Act are the main pieces of legislation that protect your privacy, but there are grey areas around both acts that are best dealt with by negotiating with employers in each place of work.
This important act states that information gathered about employees must be:
- fairly and lawfully processed;
- processed for limited purposes;
- adequate, relevant and not excessive;
- not kept for longer than is necessary;
- processed in line with employees' and members' rights;
- not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
The Human Rights Act gives you the power to defend your rights in the courts and sets out rules that public organisations must treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect. This includes the right to privacy in the workplace.
UNISON can help you defend your privacy at work, however it is threatened. The issue could be CCTV, telephone, internet or email monitoring, the way sensitive personal information is gathered or used, or your employer’s reluctance to share the information they have about you.
An important part of our work is agreeing policies with employers so they are clear and easy to understand.
This is a notoriously difficult subject thanks to the numerous grey areas under the law, so it's important to negotiate local agreements with employers. Make sure you're familiar with UNISON's guidance on bargaining over privacy.
Familiarise yourself with the Information Commissioner's employment practice code (opens in PDF).
Branches and branch officers must exercise care and respect for all data and files about, or kept on behalf of, a member or potential member. Key points for branches to note are:
- branches are free to ensure that every rep has a list of members in her/his constituency;
- membership records should not be disclosed to third parties;
- data on RMS, or data received or obtained for recruitment and organising purposes, must be obtained from a legitimate source and must be kept accurate;
- branch computers or files must be secure from unauthorised access;
- there should be no need to print a member’s complete record from RMS;
- written or electronic documents containing information or opinions about an individual may be viewed by that individual at some stage under DPA rules;
- branches must pass any requests for information under the DPA to the regional office as quickly as possible, and should not send any information to the individual unless requested to do so by the region or data protection officer.