Employees at Norwegian insurance company DNB are protesting a new surveillance system that alerts managers if they spend too much time away from their desk, including time spent in the restroom, the Telegraph reports.
The computer system was implemented to monitor customer service employees at DNB Liv, the life insurance arm of DNB, Norway's largest financial services group, Norwegian newspaper The Local reports.
Managers are alerted by flashing lights if an employee spends more than eight total minutes per day engaging in personal activities away from their desk.
Both unions and watchdog agencies have condemned the policy as a major violation of workers' rights.
"Surveying staff to limit lavatory visits, cigarette breaks, personal phone calls and other personal needs to a total of eight minutes per day is highly restrictive and intrusive and must be stopped," a spokesman for the Finance Sector Union of Norway told the Telegraph.
Tom Rathke, DNB Liv's administrative director, said the purpose of the technology was not to track individual workers but to monitor the center over time as part of any effort to make sure phones were properly staffed so all calls would be answered, according to The Local.
Rathke also told The Local that, contrary to trade unions' claims, the company does not restrict private activities to eight minutes per day.
"What actually happens when we measure is that we set aside eight percent of the scheduled time for 'rest and relaxation'," Rathke told The Local, adding that some managers have used break measurements to evaluate a worker's performance.
According to the Telegraph, Norwegian companies have a history of imposing harsh restrictions on employees.
One boss in Norway was reported for requiring female employees to wear red bracelets during their menstrual cycles, Norway's Chief Workplace Ombudsman Bjorn Erik Thon said last year, according to the Daily Mail.
In another case, a company made employees sign a restroom "visitors book," while another firm installed an electronic access system on restroom doors that could track employees' trips.
"We receive many complaints about monitoring in the workplace, which is becoming a growing problem as it is so often being used for something other than what it was originally intended for," Thon told the Daily Mail. "We will be carrying out a full review of the rules surrounding employment and privacy over the coming year."