The spy who employed me

A major transport company is facing unfair dismissal action for allegedly using a private investigator to spy on staff members taking leave to recover from workplace injuries.

Action was taken at Fair Work Australia by a worker who said she was dismissed unfairly after private investigators hired by the company followed her in February of this year.

According to a report in The Age, the case is the first of two unfair dismissal claims against the company filed last week which involved spying on workers.

Although WorkSafe and its insurance companies, along with Government agencies like Centrelink, use private investigators to check on injury and welfare claims, it is not common for individual companies to spy on their workers.

The company defended its actions as justifiable as employers can conduct surveillance to make sure employees are really entitled to benefits being claimed.

The worker was in the process of lodging a WorkCover claim for a back injury she sustained while sorting packages at the company’s warehouse. She was followed by investigators for a day in February, being filmed with a concealed camera from outside her house, and at a supermarket for 13 minutes.

She was dismissed from work after three days when she failed to mention her trip to the supermarket to her managers.

The worker was represented by the National Union of Workers, which has grave concerns about the use of private investigators to follow workers from their homes and out of hours.

Employment law expert Andrew Stewart from Adelaide University said that this kind of surveillance is not illegal, as long as investigators don’t engage in trespass, secretly tape conversations or tap phones.

iHR knows that privacy in the workplace is a touchy subject for many employers and employees – as technology improves, battles have flared around worker email, computers and telephones, workplace surveillance cameras and office relationships. While employers generally have extensive rights in this domain, they also have legal and moral responsibilities that require not only a knowledge of the law but sound moral judgment and a sense of how key decisions and actions will impact on employee morale.