Smile! You're on Camera

Human resources, IT must team up on workplace surveillance


Human resources and talent management has always been an evolving industry sector. Today, word is our baby boomers are finally leaving the workplace while Generation X and the millennials are taking over.


Yet, at the same time, there are just as many baby boomers who are either staying or returning to the workplace.

The dilemma for HR professionals is how to manage the personal and professional interests of all these generations.

Technological advances have also significantly changed the way we work and how we manage. In fact, without technology, we shut down.

We recruit our candidates through websites and social media. We train our employees through online portals and assess them through online 360-degree feedback. We easily participate in team meetings with colleagues in foreign countries.

Technology has also enabled management to become strategic partners in business planning as we now use data and analytics to discover organizational trends, determine areas for improvement and project future HR needs. Technology has increased our ability to supervise, manage and protect employees. For instance, security cameras are now widely used to protect both workplaces and employees. As well, management can now monitor work through examining an employee's keystrokes, observing and tracking their online activity and capturing an individual's email and text messages. On some occasions, although not well received, employees have received their termination notices through email.

The onslaught of technology changes has also created the constant need for upgrading HR policies and developing new ones that meet the newest challenge. At first, we thought all we needed were policies governing the use of technology within the workplace. Next came the implications of privacy legislation and back again we went to revise our policies. Then came the need to develop policies for "off-work" computer use such as cyber-bullying, and overseeing potential challenges with personal content on social media sites. Frankly, it's a struggle to keep up with all the changes.

The most recent change was announced last month. With the rising use of surveillance cameras in public places such as transit and school buses, universities, schools and libraries, as well as legislative buildings, the Manitoba ombudsman determined new rules and regulations needed to be established. While there is a valid and lawful reason for recording the comings and goings of people in public places, it must be recognized most recordings will be of innocent people going about their private business. Therefore, one of the issues with surveillance is once an organization collects this information, it is also wholly responsible for saving and protecting it while, at the same time, ensuring privacy rights are not violated.

As can be expected, new policies and procedures will need to be developed. Policies will need to deal with the rationale and authority for the surveillance system, how information will be used, where it will be stored and who will be in charge and permitted to view the data. Policies will need to deal with control and responsibility of the information, and if an outside vendor is contracted to monitor the system, then agreements must be in place. The policies must also include procedures for dealing with a breach of privacy, as well as the training of staff on all elements of the system. Finally, policies must also be developed for using, disclosing, retaining or destroying surveillance records.

It is well known private-sector organizations have been using surveillance for some time. However, employees and employers must know they, too, are covered by legislation. In this case, private-sector organizations are covered by federal legislation, namely the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

At the same time, many employees don't understand why management needs to collect personal information. When your employment relationship is being created, the employer will most often conduct a background check. Good human-resource practice suggests the employee be informed as to the purpose and how the information will be used. The employee will be asked to consent to conduct the check. Note that checks on things such as driving records are not appropriate when driving is not part of your job. In addition, employers need information so they can administer your payroll, comply with tax requirements and ensure your details for health-benefit plans are accurate.

As well, employers will need to investigate and collect information with respect to workplace accidents, injury claims, off-duty conduct, harassment, bullying, discrimination, employee discipline and customer complaints. At the same time, management has the right to ensure their trade secrets, intellectual property and proprietary information is not disclosed through improper use of IT systems.

In the case of private-sector organizations, legislation requires employers collect, use and disclose personal information with either written or oral employee consent. Usually, this includes sharing banking information, and other data needed to process payroll and taxes. Health-information data, however, typically requires what is known as "expressive" consent in order for an organization to collect, use, or disclose personal information. At the same time, employees have the right to access their personal information and the right to request corrections.

As with public-sector organizations, private-sector companies must establish a process for dealing with a breach of privacy. Typically, companies work with their human-resource professionals to develop an internal dispute-resolution process. If an individual works in a unionized environment, there will also be avenues to lay a complaint.

The province of Manitoba passed the Personal Information Protection and Identity Theft Prevention Act in September 2013. Therefore, the ombudsman's new video-surveillance guidelines are thus an important step in moving the public sector forward in terms of privacy.

The field of human-resource and talent management is an evolving industry sector. Change in technology, legislation, labour resources and employee needs reach out to professionals and organizations at a furious pace. Therefore, it is absolutely critical all parties stay current about the trends and issues in this field.

-- source: Manitoba Ombudsman releases Video Surveillance Guidelines, Ombudsman website, 2015, Workplace Privacy, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, 2007.

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