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Memo to employees: The public is, probably, filming you

Want it or not, everybody is getting 15 minutes of fame
The moment anything interesting happens, the smartphones from bystanders inevitably come out.

By Todd Humber

At the cottage last weekend, a neighbour approached the teenagers among our group and said: “What the heck are you taking pictures of now?”

My partner’s 18-year-old daughter responded, matter of factly, “My feet.”

It elicited an eye-roll from the 50-something curmudgeon, who went on to tell me he was fairly certain she’d taken more pictures in one day than he had in his entire life. It was funny, but it also underscored how ubiquitous recording devices have become and how easy it is to record every little minutia of daily life.

That includes dock time at the cottage, but it also impedes into more serious workplace issues. Canadian Tire’s HR and PR departments were kept hopping after a worker at a store in Regina was filmed pushing a customer he accused of shoplifting a chainsaw.

The customer, Kamao Cappo, posted the ugly encounter to social media which led to the employee being terminated.

A spokesperson for Canadian Tire said the employee “has not been working in the store since the time of the incident and he is no longer with (the company).”

You never have to look far anymore to find stories like this — more people are filming and snapping photos, especially when something goes wrong. A sea of outstretched hands, with iPhones in hand, seems to surround any event these days.

The prevalence of smartphones has raised more questions than answers when it comes to what is and isn’t allowed.

Over the weekend, news broke that doctors have been told to expect patients to record them — with or without their permission. The Canadian Medical Protective Association has advised doctors to “consider setting recording policies for their clinics,” according to the CBC.

Few people like having a camera turned on them, especially when they’re just trying to do their job. But under Canadian law, it is permissible. You don’t need to consent to film or record another person.

But that doesn’t mean employers should view it as a green light to start installing cameras willy nilly. Brian Johnston, a partner with Stewart McKelvey in Halifax, tackled the question of installing cameras in the workplace in a column he wrote for Canadian Employment Law Today late last year.

“As a general proposition, there is no free-standing prohibition against an employer implementing overt video surveillance in common areas,” said Johnston.

But the picture gets hazy when it comes to private spaces, such as an office or workspace — even if it is well known the camera has been placed there.

Not only would courts and arbitrators take a dim view, but think about the practical reality of surveillance — being constantly under a camera is going to take a toll.

“This form of video surveillance has been said to potentially lead to high levels of psychological stress and fear that such surveillance would be relied on by managers in performance evaluations or for disciplinary reasons,” said Johnston.

In short, surveillance of employees — and particularly in the workstation or individual office — should be a “last resort, time-sensitive decision aimed at investigating a sufficiently serious safety or security concern,” said Johnston, adding that it also needs to be permitted by the collective agreement or workplace video surveillance policy. And, of course, the onus will be on the employer to provide it was reasonable.

But while Big Brother doesn’t have a green light, the general public — and your customers — do. It should be a given, and made clear to all staff, that any interactions could very well be recorded by the other person or a bystander.

The days of counting every photo — and making sure every frame on that film roll of 24 exposures is a gem — are long gone. We can snap lakeside photos of our feet ad nauseam, or we can film a uniformed store employee roughing us up.

The people on your payroll, representing your company, always need to take the high road. If they don’t, you could find yourself in Canadian Tire’s unenviable shoes.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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