Considerations when implementing surveillance in the workplace

In an age where surveillance is becoming increasingly normalised, it is not uncommon for the modern workplace to monitor employees with surveillance technology.

Many employers want to monitor their staff for transparency and the prevention of things like internal theft, lack of productivity, security and safety issues. While workplace surveillance may provide better employee insights, there are a number of rights and responsibilities that should be considered when thinking about implementing a monitoring system.

When using surveillance cameras to monitor employees, employers should have a legitimate business reason to do so and ensure that they adhere to the lawful regulations specified by the state. There are limits to the extent of how much video surveillance can monitor, for example, employers are generally not allowed to track union activity or private spaces such as breakrooms, bathrooms or locker rooms. A surveillance policy can be put in place so that staff understand their surveillance rights and obligations.

Using surveillance devices that record audio is generally not permitted as this would be a breach of federal wiretapping laws. For this reason, surveillance cameras usually don’t have a function that records sound.

Employers are required to inform employees before installing surveillance technology. The Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 (NSW) states that written notice must be given to employees at least 14 days before monitoring activities are implemented. Employees should be aware of any specific rooms that are being monitored. The illegal surveillance of employees can result in corporate fines of up to $55,000 per breach, imprisonment, and reputational damage.

The wellbeing of employees should also be considered when thinking about installing surveillance technologies. There have been worker reports of increased stress due to being constantly monitored, and a perceived lack of trust and privacy between the employer and employee. For this reason, many workplaces decide against workplace surveillance.

With there being both benefits and disadvantages to having surveillance technologies, it is up to the employer to decide whether they would be appropriate for the workplace. The most important thing is that employees are informed of any monitoring devices, and any legal regulations are understood.

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