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When’s the right time to use surveillance?

Investigation 16th July 2019

An increase in digital working means there are more data trails than ever before on employee activities. CCTV in workplaces has become commonplace.

Now, a new European Court of Justice ruling means employers also have to show they’re collecting data to make sure staff are taking breaks and not exceeding the 48-hour working week maximum.It’s the kind of drift to a monitoring culture that’s at odds with a top HR priority: making all employees feel empowered, trusted, and grown-up.

At the same time, surveillance is an important tool for use in exceptional circumstances. That’s the thing, there needs to be a specific, substantial reason for it. An abnormal event in the workplace that demands a professional response as part of a formal investigation – as part of preparing for an Employment Tribunal, or to avoid one, for example.

“The kinds of cases we take on are usually relating to evidence of theft or fraud,” says Nicole Reid, MD at Corporate Investigations UK. “Or there can be reports of a member of staff who’s been on long-term sick leave who’s actually been working somewhere else.”

Focused surveillance, prompted by reasonable evidence, is important for HR in building a watertight case as part of a formal investigation – meaning the ability to prevent or limit unnecessary costs.

“We are able to make sure there’s concrete evidence – images of what’s been happening with a time and date stamp – that will be incontrovertible in a hearing, tribunal or criminal investigation.”

Firms make use of former police and military officers – both women and men – to carry out surveillance in a responsible and professional way.

Trust is still the key to a good workplace, not monitoring. What we’ve seen in our work is that when employers are more active in supporting and encouraging better conversations, more open conversations, then there’s a build-up of trust. And there’s no need to snoop in the first place, because issues of performance, all those kinds of niggling factors that affect relationships and honesty, and limit productivity and innovation, are swept out of the way.

When it’s used properly, as a very limited part of efforts to develop an open culture, surveillance is part of the back-up to help to build trust, knowing that an employer will choose the most appropriate tactic for each circumstance, whatever that might be.

Arran Heal, Managing Director, CMP Solutions, www.cmpsolutions.com