Case Report – Albertyn articulates standard for use of surreptitious surveillance

In this February 12 arbitration award, Arbitrator Albertyn articulates a novel and forgiving standard for use of surreptitious video surveillance as follows:

The proper context for evaluating the reasonableness of the decision to undertake the surveillance is not the ideal circumstance in which no stone is left unturned. Every aspect of the motivation need not be perfect and yet the decision may be reasonable. The question is one of weight. In every context in which a surveillance decision is made, there will be some things the employer failed to think about, there will be some check or some information which could usefully have been obtained in advance, which the employer failed to obtain. Hindsight and skilful advocacy will show what more could have been done. A gap here or there will not necessarily be fatal, though, to the reasonableness of the decision. Determining the reasonableness requires making a decision as to whether, taken overall with the lack of information that might have been obtained, and with the information that was available and was obtained, was the employer cavalier, capricious, arbitrary or careless in arriving at the decision to initiate surveillance. If, taken overall, despite the flaws in the information the employer had, the employer can show itself to have been bona fide, thoughtful and careful in arriving at the decision, and to have had substantive grounds for suspicion, the surveillance will be reasonable.

The reasonableness standard applies because the mutual respect of management and employees requires that an employee be given the benefit of the doubt until the employee has given some reasonable cause for the employer to believe (possibly erroneously) that the employee is cheating, taking advantage of the situation and obtaining a benefit that is not justified.

In the circumstances, Mr. Albertyn allowed the evidence to be admitted. He said:

I find, despite some deficiencies, that Ms. Peters had reasonable cause for her decision to use surveillance. As Employer counsel submits, Ms. Peters was not acting on a whim. From her perspective, the Grievor had been duplicitous in the past, her attendance record was bad, she appeared not to have needed physiotherapy when she worked previously at PMH, there were no restrictions on what the Grievor could do at work yet the physiotherapy had gone on for many weeks, and, had Ms. Peters asked the Grievor for consent to check on her continuing need for physiotherapy, she thought she might face another harassment complaint. Taken together, there was enough for her to doubt the veracity of the Grievor’s continuing visits to physiotherapy, week after week, and to warrant undertaking a check to see if her suspicions were justified.

Re University Health Network and Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, 2008 CanLII 4546 (ON L.A.).

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