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One of my colleagues was recently fired.
When I inquired as to the reason why, my employer told me that he had been working from home on a day that he was supposed to come in to work, and upon reviewing the security camera they found out about it.

I'm not trying to dispute the reason for firing him, I believe that lying to your employer and breaching their trust is a valid reason for not wanting to work with someone. It sure brings into question everything he's told me in the past.

What doesn't sit right with me is the usage of the security footage.
It feels wrong to have this footage used against someone.
More than that, I now know that they check this footage personally, and it makes me somewhat uneasy at times when walking past the cameras.

Is this a common practice, and is this something I should address my employer about?
I'm not entirely sure how to handle this other than to tell them that it doesn't sit well with me.

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    It feels wrong to have this footage used against someone. That's what they're [security cameras] they for (albeit not primarily to check attendance) – hd. May 20 '15 at 13:45
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    Depends on the labor laws of your country – Simon May 20 '15 at 13:45
  • Related - Asked to use CCTV to check fellow employee's hours – David K May 20 '15 at 13:50
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    i honestly see nothing wrong with this -- it's your employers building, their cameras, their money they are paying you to work at their location for x amount of hours per week. They can basically do whatever they want. This is basically equivalent to using punch cards -- although it's even less accurate and not automated. What is the hang up? – easymoden00b May 20 '15 at 13:53
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    Aside from the question, you should not have asked why the person was fired and your boss could be fired for answering. Personnel actions are private and none of the business of anyone not involved in the action. – HLGEM May 20 '15 at 14:59
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I would always operate that what you do at work and with work items (computers, etc) is always 100% known by your employer.

Is this a common practice, and is this something I should address my employer about?

Most places don't actively investigate these sorts of issues until there is reason to suspect foul play.

For example, if you have to badge in/out, you will probably not have that audited -- unless someone suspects you are falsifying timecards. Then they will go back and look into those records and whatever other data is available.

Likely someone in the office said, "hey where's Joe? He was supposed to be here" and then management investigated, found out Joe was lying, and then fired him.

Whether this is legal or what rights you have? This is off-topic here but will vary greatly based on your location.

I'm not entirely sure how to handle this other than to tell them that it doesn't sit well with me.

I wouldn't tell them anything.

Bringing this up will give you no benefit (they won't change their policy). But it might reflect poorly on you, as many people might think, "why do you care? are you planning on doing the same thing and don't want to get caught?"

  • I am somewhat known to be a difficult person already (asking questions about overtime while everyone else takes it for granted). I'm not really afraid of how these questions reflect on me. However, you're right that there is no real possible benefit. I am however inclined to warn my employer of the possible legality mentioned in one of the other answers. – Reaces May 20 '15 at 17:38
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    @Reaces I would strongly avoid that. Most employers would not take likely to one of their employees investigating "why did this person get fired?" and then investigating the legality of it and saying effectively, "by the way, Joe was fired illegally! You guys didn't tell us about it." -- if anything you might try to submit an anonymous suggestion. – enderland May 20 '15 at 17:41
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    I wasn't so much investigating. They mentioned in their mail that "for further details just call". And so I did. Regardless, I see your point. I'll just leave it be for now, despite my own feelings about the matter. – Reaces May 20 '15 at 17:43
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    I agree whole-heartedly with this answer. Even when working from home, I act as if my employer could be watching through my laptop's webcam. I don't dress up, but I make sure I'm at my desk actually working as much as possible. Generally, it's just best to always assume that SOMEONE IS WATCHING. – Omegacron May 20 '15 at 19:25
  • @Raeces It is extremely unprofessional, if not outright illegal, for them to send a mail to other employees stating, "Joe was fired. For details, please call." I don't know the full context, but if I received a mail like this, I would quickly start looking for another job. – Masked Man May 23 '15 at 19:43
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Whether this is legal depends on local legislation. Your profile lists Belgium as your location, so I'll cite applicable law in Belgium (French law, which I'm more used to, is somewhat similar but not identical). In Belgium, the law seeks to balance the usefulness of surveillance to protect the employer and the employees with the employee's right to privacy.

The main applicable law is CCT 68 = CAO 68. Surveillance must be proportionate to the finality that is sought; for example, it the purpose is to protect against trespassers, filming the entrance to the premises would be valid but not filming employees' stations. Employee representatives must be informed before the cameras are installed, and all employees must be informed about the cameras, including where they are located, how long the recordings are kept and what the recordings may be used for.

It is legal for an employer to use cameras to control employees' work, but only on a temporary basis. Permanent camera installations may only be used to watch health and safety concerns, protect company assets and monitor machines. Permanent camera installations to monitor employees are not legal. Furthermore, employers may not evaluate the employee based solely on observations from cameras.

The limitation of this law is that it does not establish any penalties if the employer has violated these regulations. Evidence collected via illegal camera installations, or via cameras whose stated purpose does not include what the employee is being blamed for, is not automatically thrown out: a judge may decide to let it stand. Different areas of the law (e.g. civil law vs labor law) may have different standards as to what evidence is admissible.

In the case of your colleague, firing them for truancy while solely relying on evidence obtained via cameras would be illegal. On the other hand, using observations from temporary camera installations to build up suspicions and then verifying these suspicions by establishing by direct observation that the employee is not on the premises, would be legal. If the camera installations are permanent, then any use to monitor employees is in principle illegal, but if the employer is careful, their use can be hard to prove.

In any case, you are absolutely entitled to be informed about surveillance cameras. In fact, you shouldn't need to ask: your employer should have informed you about them. If this is not the case, contact your personnel representatives.

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    While the legality wasn't my primary concern, I very much appreciate this answer, thanks! – Reaces May 20 '15 at 17:35
  • In what countries do those regulations apply? The linked documents are Belgian; are the laws Belgian, European, or something else? – ArtOfCode May 21 '15 at 11:39
  • @ArtOfCode These are Belgian laws. Labor regulations are not unified in the EU, there are only a few minimal standards. As I mention, France has somewhat similar, but not identical, laws and jurisprudence. – Gilles May 21 '15 at 21:49
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    Note that working a day from home when you're technically not allowed is never a legal reason to fire someone on the spot in Belgium. So if they gave him the standard notice (based on time worked) the legality of that reason doesn't matter anyway for the termination (you could start a privacy lawsuit aside from that of course). – KillianDS May 22 '15 at 12:10
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Is this a common practice,

In my experience, in my part of the world, it's pretty common when there is a question about an employee not being where they claim to be for employers to use whatever tools they have at their disposal.

Some have security cameras. In some environments, badge-readers are used in a similar style. In some environments computer logs are used as well.

In my shop, an employee who claimed to be coming in early and staying late every day was found to have lied when the badge-reader logs were checked. (It was already clear to everyone that she wasn't around as claimed, but the logs provided proof.)

and is this something I should address my employer about? I'm not entirely sure how to handle this other than to tell them that it doesn't sit well with me.

That's a personal decision.

Unless you have a contract forbidding this practice, or there are local laws prohibiting it, I'm not sure how you expect your employer to react to the fact that this practice doesn't sit well with you.

If they are operating legally, you don't expect your reaction to prompt them to stop doing this, right?

Now that you know this happens, you could leave and attempt to find a company who doesn't/wouldn't do this. Or you could come to grips with the fact that it happens.

7

This question was kinda interesting so I had a quick look at the regulations in the UK. Apparently they are within their rights to monitor employees in this way to an extent. There are an awful lot of regulations about how you can do it and it isn't meant to be used in a targeted way unless you suspect an employee could be breaking the law or guilty of some form of gross misconduct. I suspect in your friends case they might have suspected he was claiming for being in the office when he wasn't and wanted to build a case for dismissal.

I wouldn't confront your employer about this unless you've read the regulations for your country and feel their policy is in clear breach of them.

4

Different countries and localities have differnt laws on privacy, this is not intended to discuss the legalities.

However, the purpose of a security camera is to be able to investigate possible problems and to possibly deter people from doing bad things because there is an increased likelihood of being caught. This is both to your advantage and not depending on your own actions.

If you are accused of raping a coworker and the cameras can prove that you were nowhere near her at the time she claimed, I'd bet you would be happy to have that footage available to prove your innocence. The same if someone said you weren't working your hours but the cameras proved that you were.

Companies have a vested interest in being able to catch people who are stealing from them (including time fraud) or committing crimes on their property. It is not surprising that many of them choose to have on-site cameras. In some cases like banks, it would be unusual not to have them and they are in part a protection for the employees as they are also reagarded as a deterrent (Think how many more people might rob a bank if they knew there would be no visual record.).

No matter what the legality of the situtation, I would assume that the presence of a security camera means that the tapes can be used in an investigation of any wrong doing. Except for some highly secure environments, it is very unlikely that they have someone scrutinizing every foot of that tape every day to catch people out.

Anytime I have been aware of people using cameras to prove wrong-doing, the suspicion of wrong-doing came first from another source and then the camera footage was used to prove one way or the other. So don't feel like someone is going to see every time you do something silly or notice if your skirt is caught up in your panty hose when leaving the rest room (or whateever teh male equivalent of that would be).

Really, it is expensive to monitor tapes continually, if this is being done, they would have to have several people dedicated full time to that task and the organizations that might need to do this are very rare and are the kind (think very highly secure government contractors for instance who would have to provide proof to the government that their procedures are in place) that would make sure that all the legal requirements including any notification of monitoring are met. Further if they are going monitor to that extent, they would want to be able to have an airtight case for anything found and making sure all applicable local laws are followed is one of the best ways to do that.

So I really wouldn't worry much about the cameras if I were you.

  • My main focus wasn't legality, as I know this is off-topic and generally not useful for anyone reading it. It was more the idea of whether or not this is a common thing, and if voicing concern about it is wise. – Reaces May 20 '15 at 17:42
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I'd like to point out that while you asked about the legality and morality of using the camera, you also said that his working from home was the sole reason for him being fired. Is this truly the case? If one of my employees truly worked from home (as opposed to going fishing) instead of the office, I would not immediately fire them. It seems to me either warning them first or at most docking them a day of vacation would be most appropriate. Is there any chance your former colleague had done other things and this was the last straw?

  • I'm not entirely sure, and I don't want to elaborate much further on what I do know as it'd veer to far off-topic. I'd prefer keeping the conversation about the morality / frequency of using security cameras for monitoring employees. – Reaces May 20 '15 at 19:49
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I guess this is highly dependent on the location and my guess would be Belgium is closer to Germany than to the US in these regards. In Germany I would think it might be illegal to use these tapes under many circumstances. In any case in the place of your colleague I would see a lawyer asap. He will not get his job back, but he might get damages. And I would highly object against working under camera surveillance, that would be a deal breaker for me.

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    Define "working under camera surveillance". I wouldn't work with a camera watching me in the office but a CCTV system covering the entrances to the building is an entirely different proposition. – David Richerby May 21 '15 at 19:51
  • Thats true. I guess that would be acceptable in many circumstances, however if it is admissable for firing someone is a question I would ask a lawyer. – koljaTM May 22 '15 at 7:22

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