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Employee Surveillance During COVID-19

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Due to COVID-19 many provinces across Canada have declared a state of emergency. Even the Prime Minister has requested that every Canadian try to stay home to help prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, employers have acted in the best interest of their employees. Employers have allowed employees to work from home to try and keep the economy supported during these challenging times. While the majority of employees will take self-isolation seriously, some will not. Some employees will use this time as an excuse to socialize, or even take time off, when they should be working at home. While it is challenging for an employer to ensure all employees finish their work, it is also easy to spot red flags. Ultimately, hiring a private investigator to run surveillance on will help an employer gather the evidence they need to let that risky employee go.

What is Surveillance?

It might help to better understand what surveillance is, and how it can help to identify badly behaving employees. Surveillance, quite simply, means that an individual’s day to day activities and behaviour is monitored from a distance. The reason why an individual might be monitored is to catch him or her in illegal activities. For example, an employer might suspect that an employee is drinking while transporting goods from province to province. Drinking while driving is an extreme risk, one that could cost the employer hundreds of thousands, not to mention affect the employee’s life!

The Different Types of Surveillance

There as several different types of surveillance. Some of these types of surveillance include,

Video Surveillance

Video surveillance requires the evidence to be collected or gathered via an electric video recording. For example, many people set up video surveillance to monitor their front door. Using video surveillance, they can see who approaches their home on a day to day basis. Many convenience stores, retail locations and even apartment buildings also use video surveillance. Cameras are set up around the space or building to help keep track of who enters or exits the premises. If an apartment is broken into, or someone steals clothing or other product, the video surveillance equipment will help to identify the suspect.

Video surveillance is tricky to use as evidence (in some cases). It all depends on whether or not it is legal to use the footage. For example, it’s not legal to set up video surveillance in someone’s home without his or her knowledge. However, it is legal in a retail location if the fact is public knowledge (many locations use signs to inform shoppers they are being recorded). 

Audio Surveillance

Audio surveillance is similar to video surveillance in that equipment needs to be set up to

capture information. However, audio surveillance only captures people speaking or the sounds in the location of the recording. Audio surveillance is often used illegally to record phone conversations or private meetings. It is why this type of surveillance is used sparingly, or with the individual’s consent. It is why so many call centers have a disclaimer at the start of the call. This disclaimer informs the caller that he or she might or will be recorded during the duration of the call. If the caller does not wish to be recorded, he or she can say so, or end the call.

Personal Surveillance

This type of surveillance requires someone to survey an individual (or group of individuals) in person. In some cases, the person can conduct surveillance from his or her vehicle. The vehicle must be non-descript. In other words, it must blend in with its surroundings. If someone parked near a home in a fancy red sports car, it would very likely draw a lot of attention. Using a grey coloured vehicle, for example, with a little wear and tear would work much more effectively. Personal surveillance could also mean that the individual running the surveillance follows someone on foot. For example, let’s say that someone decides to leave his or her home without taking their vehicle. Where is he or she going? What does he or she plan to do? Those questions can only be answered by following on foot at a discreet distance.

Personal surveillance is often the most difficult to pull off. The reason for this is because it is easy to be spotted or for someone to catch the individual in the act of surveillance. It is why it is important to hire someone who knows what he or she is doing in order to get the right information.

Surveillance Cases: Why Hire a Private Investigator?

Not everyone in Canada has the skills it takes to run a successful surveillance operation. Surveillance is actually extremely tricky because it requires the individual to remain unaware that he or she is being observed. For the untrained, trying to follow anyone from a discreet distance without being spotted is extremely challenging.

A private investigator is trained in surveillance techniques. He or she will have practised skills and will know how to observe an individual without notice. Quite often, a private investigator will watch the individual’s home from a car parked nearby, which requires an enormous amount of patience and time. Two things that an employer likely does not have at their disposal. If, for example, an employee leaves his or her home for any reason, the private investigator can easily follow him or her by car or on foot. Again, a private investigator will know the techniques and tricks needed to keep a discreet distance without being spotted.

Monitoring Employees Work From Home

When it comes to COVID-19, a similar approach to surveillance can apply. How? Well, let’s say that because of COVID-19, your employees are working from home. The problem is, one or two don’t seem to be getting his or her job done on time. An employer can conduct surveillance on those employees to see what he or she is really up to during their self-isolation. After all, the

employer is paying the employee to get the job done. If the work can be done from home, and the employee is not ill, then work should carry on as normal.

COVID-19: Employees and Surveillance Cases

It’s important to understand we are not recommending that an employer runs surveillance on all its employees. Again, most employees are happy to work from home. They want to keep working and get the job done to the best of their ability during these strange times. However, if an employer feels that they aren’t getting quality work, or that an employee keeps missing deadlines, hiring a private investigator to determine the facts will help. If the employee is simply having a difficult time, a private investigator will include that in his or her report. If, however, the employee is using their self-isolation time to visit friends during working hours or is heading to the mall for some retail therapy, a private investigator will include this information in his or her report.

Once documented, the private investigator will pass along the facts to the employer. It is then up to the employer to make a decision. Quite often, a discussion with the employee about his or her behaviour will be enough to settle the matter. However, depending on the facts, a private investigator can often make a difficult decision much easier on the employer.

Know Your Rights

As an employer, you should also know your rights at this time. You don’t want to risk offending your employees, especially since the majority will do everything they can to keep your business up and running during these difficult times. Therefore, you will want to tread carefully before accusing an employee of misbehaving.

To all employees: we also want you to know that if you feel that your employer is unfairly monitoring you due to discrimination or other unwarranted factors, you have the right to report them. As private investigator’s it is our job to report the facts and the facts only to our clients. So, if you are doing everything you can to stay safe and continue to work (if you can) with the tools and resources that have been provided, your employer cannot let you go.

Let’s Work Together to Keep Communities Safe

At the moment, the biggest global concern is keeping our communities safe. If we don’t need to leave our homes, we shouldn’t. However, if there’s paid work that can be done from home, we should all do our best to ensure we do everything we can to keep businesses running. Just because you’re finally allowed the ‘freedom’ to work from home, doesn’t mean you can stretch the boundaries of what’s acceptable behaviour. Remember, we are all in this together, which means your actions will have an impact. We all need to make sure we’re taking care of one another, which includes our relationship with our employer.


Do you have questions about surveillance? Do you think one of your employees is taking advantage of their work from home hours? Give us a call today to find out whether a private

investigator’s surveillance services are right for you.

Phone: 888-950-4113 or Email:

About the Author

Whitney Joy Smith

Founder of The Smith Investigation Agency in 2014, Whitney Joy Smith’s extensive background as a private investigator is matched only by her passion for the role. A graduate of several respected institutions, including Northwest Florida State College and George Brown College, her early years in life were spent between Canada and the United States. This education, along with her formative years as a private investigator in various agencies, informed much of her knowledge of private investigative laws, regulations, and operating standards in both countries.

The recipient of numerous industry awards and accolades, including the Consumers Choice Award, Best in Ottawa, and many others, Whitney takes pride in working closely with her ever-growing agency to raise the bar, maintain compliance, and meet the investigative needs of clients. Whitney is active in various membership and supporting roles, including the CPIRC, CBN, CAPI, Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and many others. Her experience-driven, thought-provoking articles have been featured in everything from Readers Digest to Business News Daily, and she strives to continually redefine standards for those in the private investigative and security fields. Learn more about Whitney and the team at The Smith Investigation Agency today.

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