Company. With the rise of telecommuting, employees are increasingly monitored

This has become one of the main focuses of the CNIL (National Commission for Informatics and Freedoms): surveillance at work has increased significantly in recent years, marked by the Covid-19 pandemic and the development of telecommuting.

So much so that it is the third reason for a complaint to the CNIL. The guardian of the privacy of internet users in France devotes part of its annual activity report, published on Wednesday 11 May, to it.

In 2020 and 2021, successive incarcerations and health restrictions have prompted many French people to telecommute. Last year, one in five employees teleworked weekly, according to INSEE. And now that the worst of the crisis is over, remote working is tending to become permanent.

key loggers and webcam permanent

A phenomenon that has led employers to introduce specific tools to expose shirkers. Some do not hesitate to impose particularly intrusive surveillance tools such as geolocation and video surveillance of their employees. In 2021, 83% of the complaints received by the Cnil related to employee surveillance, i.e. related to video surveillance equipment at work.

In the context of telecommuting, the Cnil refers in particular to employers who ask their employees to activate their webcam throughout their working hours to ensure their presence. The authority also warns against “permanent screen sharing” and the use of keyloggers, or software that records all keystrokes. Some companies may also require employees to “click on an application every X minutes or take pictures regularly”.

According to the CNIL, all these practices should be avoided. And are even worrying: “In the professional context (…) surveillance, whose methods increasingly also cover the non-professional, private or even intimate sphere, is no longer the simple verification of the performance of tasks. As a control mechanism for individuals as persons,” the authority wrote in April 2021.

Finding the right balance

If the employer has “the authority to supervise and supervise the performance of the duties entrusted to its employee,” “this authority cannot be exercised excessively,” she explains on its site. Any surveillance device – both in the office and in telecommuting – should therefore be “proportionate” and “not unduly disrupt respect for rights and freedoms, especially respect for privacy”.

How can this “equitable balance between private life at work and legitimate control over workers’ activity” be found? First of all, the Cnil reminds that employees cannot be placed under permanent supervision. An employee who works from home can have his camera activated by his supervisor, but only “in special cases” (“HR interview”, meeting with external customers, presentation of newcomers, etc.).

Activating the webcam should “be left to the discretion of the employees to the extent that participation via the microphone is sufficient in most cases”, says de Cnil. Ideally, employees should have video conferencing software with blurring capability so they don’t reveal private information.

In addition, if an employer discovers an infringement by one of its employees thanks to a control system, it will not be able to use it. “The courts have repeatedly reminded that the evidence obtained with such devices cannot, in principle, be relied upon to justify a sanction,” notes the Cnil.

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