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Let's Discuss Workplace Surveillance
By Sonya Buck, Australia


You might have noticed some changes in your workplace and it may feel a lot like 'Big Brother' is watching you.

A recent news item showed tradesmen who are being tracked by GPS and timed for all their stops.

As Australian law struggles to keep pace with digital technology, there are many gaps which make it legal to monitor employees while they are working. In fact, only New South Wales and the A.C.T. have specific workplace surveillance laws.

There are two different types of surveillance to be aware of:


  1. Overt Surveillance - Where employees need to be advised at least 14 days before the surveillance begins.

  2. Covert Surveillance – Where employees are unaware of the surveillance. The Workplace Surveillance act in NSW prohibits covert surveillance unless a Magistrate authorises it to monitor unlawful activity.


With GPS surveillance (such as that for our Tradies) a notice must be clearly visible on the vehicle and of course, employees must be aware of this monitoring.

So what about your workplace computer? Monitoring can't take place unless:


  • There is an existing policy on computer surveillance in the workplace; and
  • Notice has been given to the employee in advance; and
  • The employee is aware of and understands the policy.


CCTV is just about everywhere taking into account the above advice to employees about surveillance, it goes without saying that in change rooms, toilets, showers or bathing facilities this is prohibited.

As far as workplace emails and internet monitoring, this is allowed as long as your employer has policies in place and you are made aware of them.

What about listening? Reference should be made to the relevant state or territory, or federal legislation to determine the lawful use of any recording device.

Surveillance is such a complex area which includes State and Federal Governments and in some circumstances, the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs).

How do employees feel about the introduction of surveillance? Cameras for security purposes and computer monitoring for offensive or inappropriate conduct are generally accepted. If you are used to workplace surveillance, like those in a secure environment like banks, it has been going on for so long that employees may not be phased by it. Don't forget the appropriate notices or consent that is required for all staff beforehand.

You can find out what applies to you by contacting the Attorney General's Department in your State or Territory. As an employee seek out and ensure you read your companies policies. Employers ensure your policies follow relevant legislation and are kept up to date.

This information is general in nature only and you should seek out the appropriate legal advice.