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Laws concerning the use of Surveillance Cameras in the workplace in NSW


Although it is quite obvious that the Australian population is quite entertained with the concept of “Big Brother” in television programs, this simply cannot be applied in the workplace. We are all so interested in finding out how reality television shows record a person’s day to day activities but when it comes to our own daily activities, we start to complain and assert our right to privacy. This is especially true in the workplace.


There have been a lot of concerns expressed by industrial experts and researchers that intrusive monitoring and surveillance in the workplace can result to a lot of problems. Experts say that the presence of Surveillance Cameras in the workplace will only bring about insecurity, self-consciousness, pressure, loss of trust and even dissatisfaction. People are likely to feel self-conscious when they know that they are being observed while working. In relation to this, call centers where strict monitoring and surveillance is implemented produce workers higher levels of depression, anxiety, tension and low productivity.             


Most employees are against the use of security surveillance cameras because it inhibits them from doing personal or private activities such as adjusting their clothing, flirting, sleeping and other thing they consider to be too personal. However, employers have every right to manage the workplace and at the same time keep an eye on any unlawful or illegal activities that are happening at work. So as to address both competing interests, in 1998, the NSW Government implemented a new law called the Workplace Video Surveillance Act, designed primarily to restrict and control the use of surveillance camera systems at work.


Other states in Australia do not have any specific laws and regulations involving the use of Surveillance Cameras in the workplace. This is because there are certain laws that automatically relate to the restriction of surveillance and monitoring for certain situations. For example, there are laws that protect people from being filmed when doing private activities such as bathing, changing clothes and the like.
The NSW Workplace Video Surveillance Act came into effect on February of 1999. This Act provides a clear distinction between what is considered open surveillance and covert surveillance. The employer is guilty of breaching the Act if he has carried out open video surveillance without doing the following first:


FOR OPEN SURVEILLANCENotifying the employees 14 days prior to the surveillanceGetting the majority of the employees to agree to the video surveillancePlacing warning signs indicating that video surveillance cameras are in use in certain areas at work.Placing the cameras in plain view for everyone to seeFOR COVERT SURVEILLANCE


Employers must receive permission from a magistrate before they can use covert or hidden surveillance cameras. The cameras must be used only for the purpose of establishing whether an employee is conducting any kind of illegal activity at work or not. The employer must provide reasonable grounds to support the notion of using the cameras to monitor illegal activities. The magistrate must also be satisfied with the grounds presented by the employer.The operation of the Surveillance Cameras must be supervised by a licensed and qualified security provider. Recorded videos and tapes that do not have any significant value or use must be destroyed in 3 months.


Correctional facilities, casinos and law enforcement offices are exempt from this Act.The Workplace Video Surveillance Act specifically discourages the use of video surveillance in the restroom or toilet as this does not have anything to do with a worker’s performance at work. Just recently, there have been quite a number of cases wherein breaches of the Act has resulted to a lot of public outrage. Some of these instances are as follows:
ACI Glass Packaging Penrith was fined for secretly installing a hidden camera inside a room where employees changed their clothes frequently. The company was fined $500 plus court costs.


Robert Harper, a Sydney lawyer, also breached the act by installing hidden cameras inside the female toilet in his law firm under the pretence of monitoring them for suspected drug use.


Besides cases involving infringement of personal space and privacy, there are also issues concerning the use of footage from surveillance cameras for business as evidence in unfair employee dismissals. There was this particular instance when a Casino fired an employee for allegedly removing money from the till. When charges were brought against the employee, it was not proven and she was acquitted. This gave the employee enough grounds to file for an unfair dismissal in the Australian Relations Commission.     


This case simply demonstrated how footages from video surveillance camera systems are not always sufficient to give just cause for termination of employment. Furthermore, even when employees are caught doing illegal activities on tape, the employer should make sure that the employee is still treated fairly during the investigation.


Although there have been a lot of flak for using Surveillance Cameras, especially when it involves privacy and moral issues, they have been proven effective in helping employers determine whether or not their employees are doing their job right, are not involved in any suspicious or illegal activities and are safe while performing their tasks. There is simply nothing wrong with using security cameras at work; it all boils down on how it is being used. If it is used for the right reasons and if it does not infringe a person’s right to privacy and such, then there is simply no reason to go against using it.Surveillance Cameras are not only useful in monitoring the activities at work. It also helps employees guarantee the safety and security of their employees and clients. In addition to that, these cameras are found to be extremely effective in crime prevention. Criminals are less likely to attack an establishment especially if it is equipped with surveillance and monitoring equipment. They know their chance of getting caught will be greater if they go on with their plans.
To sum it up, every employer must be educated on the proper use of Surveillance Cameras in the workplace so as not to earn the ire of employees and the authorities.

 

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