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Intrusive surveillance systems for security purposes: the line Big Brother must not cross

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Technological developments and the need for employers to monitor employees’ activities and to minimize accidents and hazards require constant adjustments in order to respect the right to privacy. While it may be tempting for employers to replace old surveillance methods with new technologies capable of watching their personnel’s every move, the inclination to use easier and more reliable ways of supervising employees must nonetheless not violate employees’ right to privacy, which, while being more limited in a work context, nevertheless exists.

In a recent Quebec arbitration ruling, Sysco, a food delivery company, had decided to install a DriveCam® safety program inside the drivers’ cabins of its trucks in Quebec. The Union disagreed with the introduction of this new surveillance measure and filed a grievance to have said cameras removed, alleging that they were not only violating the truck drivers’ rights to privacy and dignity, but that they were also leading to unfair and unreasonable working conditions.  In addition, the Union claimed that Sysco had failed to establish serious motives which would justify its resort to the use of such invasive surveillance, especially considering the existence of a no‑fault system in Quebec.  On its end, Sysco claimed that it was justified to install the cameras as they were meant to (i) be used as a training tool for the drivers, (ii) increase and encourage safe driving and (iii) assist with liability determination or exoneration in case of accident.

In ruling that Sysco was not justified in installing those cameras and ordering that they be removed, the Arbitrator used a two-fold analysis. First, did Sysco have a specific problem that needed to be addressed with these cameras?  Second, were these cameras the only way to fix the alleged problem, or was there a less intrusive way to achieve similar results?

On the first part of the analysis, the Arbitrator found that Sysco had failed to establish that it had an existing problematic situation that needed to be fixed. The employer’s concern for prevention regarding safe driving and liability determination or exoneration did not constitute strong motives for which the surveillance would be warranted.  Considerable risks revealing an existing problem would have been enough to establish the presence of a problem, but Sysco had not established such a problem. For example, a widespread problem having to do with alcohol or drug consumption during working hours would have constituted a great risk in the matter of safe driving.

With respect to the second aspect of the analysis, Sysco’s concern could easily have been addressed by other less intrusive means, such as training, random safety spot-checks, or cameras installed outside of the trucks rather than inside the cabins. In fact, cameras constantly filming the drivers inside the trucks’ cabins had even proven to be distracting for the drivers, thus potentially creating a greater risk from a safety perspective.

Employers who may be tempted to install such surveillance systems on their fleet will need to remember that any such violation of their employees’ right to privacy will only be justified by identifying an existing specific problem that cannot be fixed by a less intrusive means than the surveillance system the employer wishes to install.

The decision can be found here: Syndicat des travailleurs et travailleuses de Sysco-Québec-CSN et Sysco Services alimentaires du Québec, 2016 QCTA 455.

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