Digital surveillance


There are many reasons why an employer may want to implement a workplace surveillance system. They may want to ensure that employees are not spending their workday on private Internet sites, abusing the company phone, or working in a satisfactory manner.

Data protection

When an employer sets up an employee monitoring system, it collects a lot of personal data such as the websites visited or the content of e-mails.

Employee surveillance can seriously infringe on the privacy and personality of employees. In addition, employees can quickly feel spied on or pressured, which can affect their mental health.

The employer is obliged to respect strict conditions and procedures before implementing such a system. It is imperative that the employer issues a regulation on electronic surveillance that complies in all respects with the requirements set out by the Federal Data Protection Commissioner. In particular, the employee must be informed about the electronic surveillance.


The surveillance system must meet an objective need of the employer, such as the security of company data or the control of the quality of the employee's work. On the other hand, surveillance set up to monitor the behavior of employees at their workstations is strictly prohibited.


Installation of a GPS that tracks the employee's movements in the work vehicle or spyware on the computer that allows the employer to see all the websites consulted: some surveillance systems seriously infringe on the employee's privacy. The employer must have an important objective reason to justify such surveillance of the employee. Otherwise, the system will be disproportionate and the surveillance unlawful.


For reasons of quality control or training, especially in customer service, the employer is tempted to set up a telephone tap. Such monitoring is delicate. In any case, phone tapping without the employee's knowledge is strictly prohibited.

When an employee's cell phone serves as both a business and private phone, the employer often wants access to it to distinguish between the employee's business and private charges. This is a surveillance that cannot be put in place in all circumstances.

Computers and computer systems

Employees who regularly use computers, company computer systems and the Internet for their work are becoming increasingly common. Between employees who spend time on private websites during work, those who consult pornographic or even illegal websites and employees who insult the employer on social networks: the employer's fears are real.

Employers will be able to set up electronic surveillance if they comply with a number of conditions and a strict procedure defined by the Federal Data Protection Commissioner. For example, it will not be possible to monitor employees' individual Internet use from the outset.


Out of sight, out of mind? When an employee works from home, the employer's ability to monitor the employee's work and schedule is more limited. Before using invasive electronic surveillance systems, such as webcam video surveillance or spyware installation, the employer should use systems that are less invasive of the employee's privacy.

Personal Data

In all situations, the employer must ensure that the personal data of his/her employees is protected. The employer must take appropriate measures to ensure the confidentiality of data such as video recordings or the employee's business movements. The employer must destroy this data after a certain period of time.


When electronic surveillance reveals infractions or abuses on the part of an employee, the employer may take sanctions against him or her, provided that the surveillance is lawful. These sanctions can range from a simple warning to termination with immediate effect.

In all cases, it is recommended that the employer issue a written directive on workplace supervision. 

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1 Mar, 2010 byMarianne Favre Moreillon