The UK information commissioner has set guidelines for workplace monitoring, such as the interception of worker's e-mail and telephone messages, recommending that employees must be clearly informed of the purpose and nature of the surveillance.
Employers are expected to follow the recommended guidelines and those who fail to comply could find themselves in court if they infringe on workers' privacy rights.
The guidelines are not laws and companies could follow different procedures, assistant commissioner David Smith said.
However, Smith believed that companies would take the recommendations seriously, adding that the employers already consider privacy as an important issue.
"We've had a lot of inquiries on this issue because it has a real impact on individuals," Smith said.
While the codes did not completely rule out covert employee surveillance, they said that there are few circumstances in which secretive monitoring is justified.
"Monitoring is a recognised component of the employee relationship," the guidelines state, however, "monitoring may, to varying degrees, have an adverse impact on workers".
The full guidelines can be found online on the UK Information Commissioner site at www.dataprotection.gov.uk/dpr/dpdoc.nsf
Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service