Is it legal for an employer to monitor the behaviour of employees by installing hidden surveillance equipment, such as video recording cameras, recording their telephone conversations and intercepting their private electronic communications? Many businesses have had to confront the problem of theft in one form or another: office equipment disappearing at an alarming rate, employees sharing client lists, trade secrets and other sensitive information with external parties and competitors. These actions can bring a company to its knees and must be stopped. But what are your rights as an employer?
Sean Snyman, founding member of LabourNet Holdings, says it is entirely legal, provided you follow a few simple rules.
- Surveillance Equipment: If you wish to install hidden surveillance equipment, you are obliged to display notices in the workplace stating that that the premises are monitored. You do not have to say where the cameras are or when they are used.
- Telephone Bugging: The law states that you cannot record any telephone conversation to which you are not party. However, provided you state it upfront and inform all employees, you are within your rights to declare that all telephone conversations that take place will be viewed as business conversations and that the company therefore has the right to monitor any or all of them. This means that employees who make private calls have to accept that their private conversations may be recorded.
- Electronic Communication: The same principle applies to electronic communication such as email. Provided you state upfront that all Internet and email use will be viewed as business communication only and that, as such, it is the property of the business, you are fully within your rights to intercept this communication. On their part, employees have to accept that while they may send private emails, any communication that makes use of company equipment and infrastructure belongs to the company.
Can an employee be dismissed based on evidence obtained from surveillance or interception of communications? The employer is fully entitled to discipline and dismiss an employee on the basis of this evidence. It can actually provide some of the most compelling evidence available in the case of theft.
Sean Snyman, director, LabourNet Tel: +27 11 532 8801, www.labournet.co.za