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Ask a Specialist – Can I Snoop on Employees at Work?

Published August 10, 2018 (last updated November 19, 2020) -

Ask Our Specialist

The question of monitoring employees at work is a tricky one: on one hand you have to protect employees from injury and your business from theft, on the other those same employees have rights to privacy you must meet. Let’s take a closer look at ‘snooping’ on employees at work through video surveillance.

Are there any situations where it’s ok to snoop on employees at work?

Generally, employers can’t eavesdrop on ‘water cooler’ conversations, install video surveillance in lockers or restrooms and – with some exceptions – they may not be able to examine the contents in an employee’s bag while they are out to lunch.

However, in some instances, workplace surveillance is necessary – for example protecting employee’s safety and security, protecting IP or data loss, or preventing theft.

What do I need to consider before installing any kind of video surveillance?

If you’re thinking about installing video surveillance, here are some helpful tips to follow for best practice:

  • Develop a draft policy setting out why you are doing this, and when you will monitor (eg on a regular basis, only on suspicion that something untoward has happened etc). Employsure’s Advisers can help you with this.
  • Make sure the policy complies with the Employment Relations Act 2000 and any associated legislation
  • Circulate the draft policy to your employees and discuss it with them
  • Clearly explain your expectations of staff in the workplace and their responsibility for upholding the organisation’s privacy obligations
  • Ensure all cameras are clearly visible and place signs at every entrance to let staff and customers know of the surveillance
  • Make sure you don’t install cameras in private areas such as fitting rooms, shower areas, toilets or change rooms

Are there any privacy issues I need to consider?

Employers should respect reasonable limits and not unnecessarily intrude into the private lives of employees. Intrusion into an employee’s privacy creates a suspicious atmosphere, lowers morale and can cause pressure and stress.

It’s a careful balancing act: employees and employers must work hand-in-hand to protect each other. We all want better protection for ourselves and our workplaces, but monitoring in the workplace has some clear and important privacy implications.

Get professional advice

If you have questions about your business’s surveillance policy or what to do if you suspect misconduct in your business, you might want to consult with one of Employsure’s Employment Relations Advisers first, before you act on 0800 568 012.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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