Contact centre giant Teleperformance, whose clients include Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, VW, Dell, HP and Philips, has been flayed over plans to snoop on staff working from home, amid claims the firm will check workers have their noses to the grindstone rather than their feet up.
The company, which employs 380,000 people in 34 countries, has told some staff that specialist webcams will be fitted to check for home-working “infractions”.
While these will also be used for team meetings and training, the cameras are connected to an artificial intelligence system that will randomly scan for breaches of work rules during a shift. If one is detected, a still photo will be sent to a manager and stored for up to 20 days, according to documents sent to staff and seen by The Guardian – which ironically is also a Teleperformance client.
If workers need to leave their desks, for example to have a drink, they will have to click “break mode” in an app to explain why – for example, “getting water” – to avoid being reported for a breach.
Meanwhile, eating while working is also banned, staff are told. “If the system detects no keyboard stroke and mouse click, it will show you as idle for that particular duration, and it will be reported to your supervisor. So please avoid hampering your productivity.”
A training video about the webcam system, seen by The Guardian, says it “monitors and tracks real-time employee behaviour and detects any violations to pre-set business rules, and sends real-time alerts to managers to take corrective actions immediately”.
Some of Teleperformance’s 10,000 UK staff were told that cameras would be installed next month for staff continuing to work from home; the company has since said the remote scans will not be used in this country.
It insists that webcams for UK staff cannot be operated remotely and would only be used for meetings and training, and for scheduled video calls when supervisors would check desks for devices not allowed for data security reasons, such as mobile phones.
Howard Beckett, assistant general secretary of Unite, told The Guardian that the union would “fight legally and industrially to prevent any push to normalise home surveillance”.
Earlier this year, the Information Commissioner’s Office was forced to bow to pressure over the rise of workforce snooping by confirming that it will update its Employment Practices Code to develop new guidance.
This move followed calls by the Labour Party and trade union bosses for stronger regulation of the technology, amid claims that firms are using coronavirus as a cover to snoop on workers and unfairly punish those deemed to be slacking.
The TUC has cited research which shows that one in five companies has admitted that they have either installed the technology to snoop on staff already or are planning to.
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