Someone I know --not me and not in my workplace-- has noticed a number of incidents of vandalism and petty theft in their office and in the offices of colleagues in nearby offices. Given that all offices are locked at night and that the whole area is behind another lock, the obvious suspects are cleaning staff and security staff. For obvious reasons they don't want to bring it up with security. My friend and their colleagues have considered setting up a hidden video camera to find out what is going on. However, it strikes me that there is an ethical and perhaps legal barrier to this. The cleaning staff and security staff are in a sense also in their workplace and entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Is it reasonable to set up a hidden camera in such a circumstance? Would it be reasonable, given the permission of their manager?
Given that serious offences have been committed, it seems a reasonable approach. I suggest the following:
- If this is done, it MUST be done as a company action and not individual employees freelancing.
- The cameras must be removed after the investigation witnessed by employee
If you're a small company without an internal security operation (ie most companies), it might be better to hire a reputable private investigator to do this, as they can protect the chain of evidence required by law.
Of course, dependant on your local legal situation, if it can be proven that the offences where committed by the cleaners/guards, you could just sack the cleaners and guards – this is the case in the UK.
Putting up a hidden camera could be illegal and get you into deep, deep legal trouble. I am almost positive that this would be the case in Germany.
Any recordings may not be admissible in a court of law against the thieves. If you sack someone because of such a recording, you could be sued for wrongful termination.
Ask a lawyer first!
From an ethical and practical point of view, it would seem that bringing it up with the people involved is the most obvious course of action. Presumably, even if you do put up cameras, advertising that fact should be more effective in preventing further incidents (beside potentially being legally required).
You mentioned the fact that your friend does not want to involve security “for obvious reasons” but I don't quite follow what those might be. It would seem that preventing theft and vandalism is their responsibility. Even if some part of the security staff is in fact involved, bringing it up would give a serious warning to everybody and might prompt the guilty party to stop (isn't it precisely what you are trying to achieve?).
Now, if your concern is that you don't trust the manager, security company or whoever is in charge of the security staff to deal with this properly or want to identify the culprits to sack them or press criminal charges then a camera is at best a small part of any solution. What you need is a lawyer or perhaps an audit of some sort that should help you find out the best ways to achieve that goal.
Usually, there are 3 conditions that must be fulfilled:
1) The (written) permission from the property owner/holder (your company).
2) You must put the written warning in the visible place that the area is monitored by the camera (usually on the entry doors) - however, some legal systems may not require that.
3) Placing a camera in that place may not be against the legal system, for example, in most (western) countries placing camera in the toilet would not be acceptable under any circumstances