Sur­veil­lance in the Workplace

In Brief

New South Wales is one of the few Aus­tralian states which has ded­i­cat­ed leg­is­la­tion address­ing sur­veil­lance in the work­place. The Work­place Sur­veil­lance Act 2005 (NSW) (the Act) deals with cam­era, com­put­er and track­ing sur­veil­lance. The Act pro­vides that in some cir­cum­stances employ­ers can sur­veil employ­ees with their knowl­edge (overt sur­veil­lance) and in oth­ers, with­out their knowl­edge (covert surveillance).

Overt Surveillance

The Act requires that employ­ees be noti­fied of any overt sur­veil­lance at least 14 days pri­or to the sur­veil­lance com­menc­ing. The Act spec­i­fies that the notice of sur­veil­lance must outline:

  • the type of sur­veil­lance to be car­ried out (cam­era, com­put­er, or tracking);
  • how the sur­veil­lance will be car­ried out;
  • when the sur­veil­lance will start;
  • whether the sur­veil­lance will be con­tin­u­ous or inter­mit­tent; and
  • whether the sur­veil­lance will be for a spec­i­fied lim­it­ed peri­od or ongoing.

This require­ment of noti­fi­ca­tion has meant that employ­ment con­tracts and enter­prise agree­ments now fre­quent­ly con­tain work­place sur­veil­lance claus­es noti­fy­ing employ­ees of sur­veil­lance in their workplace.

Spe­cif­ic Require­ments for Dif­fer­ent Types of Surveillance

Cam­era surveillance 
Cam­era Sur­veil­lance is sur­veil­lance by means of a cam­era that mon­i­tors or records visu­al images of activ­i­ties on premis­es or in any oth­er place. The Act pro­vides that employ­ers must ensure sur­veil­lance cam­eras and oth­er equip­ment asso­ci­at­ed with the cam­eras are clear­ly vis­i­ble and that there are signs noti­fy­ing peo­ple that they may be under sur­veil­lance vis­i­ble at the entrance to the place the sub­ject of cam­era sur­veil­lance.

Com­put­er surveillance 
Com­put­er Sur­veil­lance is sur­veil­lance by means of soft­ware or oth­er equip­ment that mon­i­tors or records the infor­ma­tion input or out­put, or oth­er use, of a com­put­er includ­ing, the send­ing and receipt of emails and the access­ing of inter­net websites.
Under the Act there are two require­ments for the car­ry­ing out of com­put­er surveillance:

  • Com­put­er sur­veil­lance of an employ­ee can only be car­ried out in accor­dance with a pol­i­cy of the employ­er on com­put­er sur­veil­lance of employ­ees at work; and
  • The employ­ee must be noti­fied in advance of the pol­i­cy in a way which makes it rea­son­able to assume the employ­ee is aware of and under­stands the policy.

The Act pro­vides that employ­ers must not car­ry out sur­veil­lance on an employ­ee who is not at work unless the sur­veil­lance is com­put­er sur­veil­lance of an employ­ee’s use of equip­ment or resources pro­vid­ed by or at the expense of the employer.
Pro­vi­sions also exist which require an employ­er not to pre­vent deliv­ery of emails sent to or by an employ­ee, or access to an inter­net site, unless act­ing in accor­dance with a pol­i­cy on these mat­ters pre­vi­ous­ly noti­fied to the employ­ee. Employ­ers are gen­er­al­ly also required to pro­vide employ­ees with pre­vent­ed deliv­ery notices” where email deliv­ery has been pre­vent­ed (although this is sub­ject to some excep­tions).

Track­ing surveillance 
Track­ing sur­veil­lance is sur­veil­lance by means of an elec­tron­ic device the pri­ma­ry pur­pose of which is to mon­i­tor or record geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion or move­ment (such as a Glob­al Posi­tion­ing Sys­tem track­ing device). The Act states that to track an employ­ee in a vehi­cle using track­ing sur­veil­lance, an employ­er must ensure a notice is clear­ly vis­i­ble on the vehi­cle indi­cat­ing the vehi­cle is sub­ject to track­ing surveillance.

Covert Surveillance

Covert sur­veil­lance may take place where an employ­er sus­pects unlaw­ful activ­i­ty and first obtains a covert sur­veil­lance author­i­ty from a Mag­is­trate autho­ris­ing the sur­veil­lance of an employ­ee. A covert sur­veil­lance author­i­ty will only be grant­ed if:

  • The Mag­is­trate is sat­is­fied the appli­ca­tion shows that rea­son­able grounds exist to jus­ti­fy issu­ing an authority.
  • The seri­ous­ness of the unlaw­ful activ­i­ty with which the appli­ca­tion is con­cerned will be used to deter­mine whether there are rea­son­able grounds.
  • If the Mag­is­trate is con­sid­er­ing whether to issue an author­i­ty autho­ris­ing covert sur­veil­lance of a recre­ation room, meal room or any oth­er area at a work­place where employ­ees are not direct­ly engaged in work, they must con­sid­er the affect­ed employ­ees’ height­ened expec­ta­tion of pri­va­cy when in such an area.

The Mag­is­trate must also con­sid­er whether the covert sur­veil­lance might undu­ly intrude on employ­ees or any oth­er per­son­’s privacy.

What does this mean?
  • Employ­ers must ensure their cur­rent sur­veil­lance arrange­ments are in line with their statu­to­ry require­ments above.
  • If Employ­ers wish to sur­veil the com­put­ers of their staff they will need to ensure that they have an appro­pri­ate pol­i­cy and have giv­en the required notice.
  • Fail­ure to com­ply with the leg­is­la­tion will not only result in a breach the leg­is­la­tion, but may also com­pro­mise the abil­i­ty to rely upon as evi­dence, mate­r­i­al obtained through com­put­er surveillance.
  • Fail­ure to have appro­pri­ate com­put­er sur­veil­lance poli­cies and sys­tems in place may well impede an employ­er’s abil­i­ty to, amongst oth­er things: appro­pri­ate­ly mon­i­tor employ­ees’ activ­i­ties for cyber bul­ly­ing, mis­use of con­fi­den­tial employ­er infor­ma­tion and access­ing and for­ward­ing of inap­pro­pri­ate web­sites and material.
  • Employ­ers should be aware that if they sus­pect an employ­ee is engaged in unlaw­ful activ­i­ty at work then a covert sur­veil­lance author­i­ty may be sought.
  • Employ­ers should audit their work­places to ensure that there is appro­pri­ate sig­nage in place and that cam­eras and equip­ment are visible.

If you would like any fur­ther infor­ma­tion please do not hes­i­tate to contact: