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Firms which monitor their staff’s communications without consent could face court action, under new government guidelines.

The new rules aim to clamp down on snooping bosses by forcing them to inform employees if they are monitoring phone calls, emails and internet use.

'Big Brother' businesses which fail to comply with the new code of practice could be taken to court by disgruntled employees who feel that their privacy has been unfairly invaded.

The code, drawn up by Richard Thomas, the UK’s Information Commissioner, is designed to give companies a clearer understanding of their obligations under the Data Protection Act. This requires employers to handle personal details fairly and properly.

Currently, many firms monitor their employee’s online activities, in order to stamp out spam, viruses and inappropriate material that may circulate among the workforce.

However, the new code states that looking in on workers’ correspondence can only be justified to prevent malpractice or crime.

Thomas confirmed that there are few occasions where an employer can legitimately monitor their staff’s communications.

"If any monitoring is to take place it must be open and transparent and with the knowledge of the employee.

"Employees are entitled to expect that their personal lives remain private and they have a degree of privacy in the workplace," he said.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, welcomed the publication of the code. The code clears up much of the legal confusion around bosses monitoring staff, he said.

“It makes clear to staff that they must be told if, how and why their email, phone calls, internet use and other behaviour is being monitored.

“Employees and unions are now better equipped to ensure the right to privacy at work is respected,” he said.

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