• Key facts

    Your privacy rights are protected under two pieces of legislation: the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act.

    • Privacy at work gets more complicated all the time thanks to advances in technology.
    • Because of this complexity, the laws in place to protect your privacy need to be supported by good local agreements with your employer.
    • UNISON is committed to helping build these local agreements – and to fighting for members’ privacy rights when conflicts arise.
  • Your question


    I think my employer is monitoring me at work - what should I do?

    Your employer must tell you exactly how and why they are monitoring you. If you think they are keeping something from you, speak to your UNISON rep straight away.

  • woman sitting at computer. Credit: Chris Taylor

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

An introduction to privacy

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.


Privacy in the workplace

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.


Laws designed to protect your privacy

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. 


The Data Protection Act

This important act states that information gathered about employees must be: 

  • fairly and lawfully processed;
  • processed for limited purposes;
  • adequate, relevant and not excessive;
  • accurate;
  • not kept for longer than is necessary;
  • processed in line with employees' and members' rights;
  • secure;
  • not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.


The Human Rights Act

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.


How UNISON can help

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. 


Next steps for UNISON reps

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.

Read the Thompsons' guides to the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act to make sure you’re up to speed with the law.

Familiarise yourself with the Information Commissioner's employment practice code (opens in PDF).


Branches and their members' information

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.

Need more information?

Request information or make a general enquiry.

Complete the general enquiry form

Help make a difference

Asian woman. Bigstock

Want to do something more?

You can help your colleagues and fellow UNISON members tackle this and other issues by becoming a UNISON rep or workplace contact. 

Get active in UNISON

Legal disclaimer

The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law and is based on the laws of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. While UNISON has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. If you are a UNISON member with a legal problem, please contact your branch or region as soon as possible for advice.