US Bank Fires ‘Mouse Jiggler” Employees: What Does UK Law Say About Monitoring Keystrokes?

US Bank Fires 'Mouse Jiggler
Photo Credits - Griffin Wooldridge via Unsplash

Wells Fargo, which had been monitoring keystrokes to assess employee activity, has shown several staff members the door. The US bank discovered that these individuals manipulated the monitoring system to falsely appear productive. This incident underscores essential considerations for employers when implementing employee monitoring systems.

Below, we explore the specifics of the Wells Fargo case before shedding light on the rise of ‘mouse jigglers’. Then, we examine the UK law on monitoring employees and what individuals should keep in mind.

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Stealthy Software Prevents Employer Monitoring Keystrokes Precisely

Wells Fargo had been monitoring keystrokes to track employee productivity. However, a recent revelation uncovered that some employees had been abusing the system, simulating their keyboard activity. This meant it appeared as though they were working when, in fact, they weren’t.

READ: Is EY’s Employee Monitoring Method “Too Controlling”?

Consequently, the American multinational financial services company fired over a dozen guilty staff members. They also reported the incident to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in America. In response to these events, a bank spokesperson stated, “Wells Fargo holds employees to the highest standards and does not tolerate unethical behaviour”.

The Rise and Fall of ‘Mouse Jigglers’

As remote working became the norm during lockdown restrictions, new technology emerged to assist employees. One such innovation, known as ‘mouse jigglers’, allows users to keep their computers active, preventing applications like Teams from displaying an “away” status. By simply placing their mouse on the device, it periodically moves it to keep the computer from going idle.

Initially, employees used this technology to avoid ‘productivity paranoia’—the belief that employers didn’t trust remote workers, leading to increased micromanagement. This created anxiety among remote workers about leaving their desks, even briefly, for fear of appearing inactive online.

Monitoring Keystrokes: To Avoid the ‘Productivity Paranoia’ Some Employees Invested in ‘Mouse Jigglers’
Whilst their initial use may have been justifiable, a small minority soon exploited the tech to falsely appear productive whilst at work.

To avoid an “idle” status and take short breaks without fear of consequences, some employees invested in mouse jigglers. While this didn’t affect their productivity, it allowed them to step away from their desks without worry.

Unfortunately, this technology was soon exploited by a small minority of workers. This was the case with Wells Fargo, where some employees manipulated the system to prevent the bank from monitoring keystrokes accurately. 

As a result, although their invention may have been justified initially, their current use is not. In fact, they might be exacerbating the trust issues they were intended to resolve.

Monitoring Keystrokes: Understanding UK Law

Given the revelations regarding the exploitation of mouse jigglers, questions may arise concerning the UK law on monitoring employees. From the outset, it is crucial to establish that employee monitoring is indeed legal in the UK.

Under the Data Protection Act 2018, employee monitoring must:

  • Be fair, transparent and lawful
  • Be undertaken with a legitimate purpose that is clearly specified
  • Collect only personal data that is adequate and relevant
  • Keep all personal information up to date
  • Only store personal data for as long as is necessary
  • Ensure personal information remains confidential

If an employer wants to monitor their employees, they typically must inform the workforce. Additionally, they usually needs to obtain consent from those being monitored and implement a policy. This policy should outline the scope of the monitoring and address any questions employees may have.

READ: ICO Publishes Employee Monitoring Guidance: Key Points For HR

Like in the case involving Wells Fargo, monitoring keystrokes could be used to assess employee productivity. However, this is not the only method employers can use. Other methods include monitoring screens, company phones, and video surveillance.

Key Considerations for Employees

While employers must remain legally compliant when monitoring their workforce, they still have the right to do so. Consequently, employees must be mindful of their conduct at work, whether in an office or working remotely. Failing to meet targets could result in disciplinary action, but exploiting the monitoring system, as seen in the previous example, can also lead to consequences.

Therefore, while employees should ensure that their employer’s monitoring practices are legal, they must also take responsibility for their actions. To avoid issues, employees should not exploit any monitoring systems in place and should strive to meet their assigned targets. Maintaining accountability and transparency in their work habits is crucial.

Need Employment Law Help?

If your employer is monitoring keystrokes and you have any questions, contact Redmans Solicitors now. With years of experience, they can answer your questions. If you have any employment law issues, they may also be able to help navigate you through the legal process. Get in touch with them now to find out more!

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