Lobbing a computer monitor over a fence is the latest employee misdemeanour to be caught on video Sky News, First for Breaking News, Latest News and Video News from the UK and around the World, as a FedEx delivery man is filmed on CCTV showing the same care and attention to the goods entrusted to him as is normally expected from two-year-olds and home removal teams.
The FedEx employee is certainly not alone in risking his employment due to private covert surveillance. Remember the CCTV footage of Mary Bale dropping a tabby cat into a bin? The public outcry following her actions led to her resigning as a RBS customer services assistant, which certainly saved RBS the tricky decision as to whether or not to continue to employ an individual in a public-facing capacity when its own customers were baying for her dismissal.
However, now that government and corporate CCTV has been heavily reinforced by private camera-phones, more and more people are being caught in action – Emma West (the “race rant” woman on the tram) for instance is reported to have also lost her job after her (non-workplace) actions were videoed on a mobile phone and instantly whipped onto YouTube for the world to view.
But how does that translate to workplace practices?
The Information Commissioner’s Office Employment Practices Code (http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/data_protection/topic_guides/employment.aspx) makes it clear that covert monitoring at work by the employer is only justified in exceptional circumstances, due to the intrusion into privacy that the practice necessarily entails.
However, what action is open to an employer if its employees, without authority, take mobile phone footage or other recordings of their colleagues’ misbehaviour? For example, we dealt recently with a case where an employee subject to a disciplinary process for bullying, complained that the evidence against him had been taken in breach of his rights to privacy, as his victim had, without his authority, recorded his abusive telephone call on her mobile phone.
It appears quite right that such evidence can nonetheless be used against the employee in disciplinary proceedings – the fact that the employee was recorded covertly does not detract from his inappropriate behaviour, just as the FedEx employee cannot realistically complain that he should not be disciplined as he did not know he was being filmed. Nonetheless, at risk of sounding rather ivory tower here, the employer would be best advised to issue a written reminder to all staff that covert videoing or recording of other employees is not permitted, so as to be seen to have taken action to deal with this. The potential loss of evidence of employee misbehaviour is mitigated substantially by the certain knowledge that none of their staff will take any notice anyway.