Date: July 2, 2012
A MAJOR transport company is using private investigators to follow staff that takes leave to recover from workplace injuries.
The Toll Group will be taken to the national industrial umpire today by a worker who says she was unfairly dismissed after the company had her followed in February this year.
It is the first of two unfair dismissal claims against Toll this week involving the use of private investigators to look into workplace injuries.
While WorkSafe and its insurance companies, along with government agencies like Centrelink, often use private investigators to look into injury or welfare claims, it is less common for individual companies to spy on their employees.
Toll is understood to be carrying out dozens of investigations on employees who sustain workplace injuries each year.
In the case at Fair Work Australia today, Toll’s head of human resources authorised investigators Asia Pacific Security to follow employee Rosa Diehm while she was on sick leave in February.
Ms Diehm was in the process of lodging a WorkCover claim over a back injury she said she sustained while working at Toll’s Truganina warehouse, sorting packages for Kmart. Toll had Ms Diehm followed for a day in February, from 7.30am to 4.30pm.
Ms Diehm was filmed from outside her house by an investigator, and later, using a concealed camera, at a supermarket for 13 minutes.
She was sacked three days later, after failing to mention the supermarket trip when quizzed by managers about her movements that day.
Ms Diehm said the surveillance by a private investigator had left her paranoid and angry. ”Every day I’m thinking someone is watching me,” she said.
A spokesman for Toll said that employers were permitted to carry out reasonable inquiries to ensure an employee was entitled to an employment benefit being claimed.
”Like other organisations with this responsibility, Toll investigates claims of personal injury at work to ensure any payments being made are able to be justified. Those inquiries may include surveillance of an employee,” he said, noting that this was done in accordance with all legal obligations.
Ms Diehm is being represented by the National Union of Workers at today’s hearing, and its Victorian secretary, Tim Kennedy, said his union had grave concerns about the use of private investigators to follow workers from their homes and out of hours.
Mr Kennedy said he was well aware of the practice by insurance companies, but that when companies like Toll started using investigators it became underhand and gave up fundamental notions of procedural fairness.
”It’s not a nice way to live to be always having to look over your shoulder,” he said.
Employment law expert Andrew Stewart, from Adelaide University, said this kind of surveillance was legal and ”not unknown – though it’s more commonly used to resist a workers compensation claim”.
”There’s nothing unlawful about it, so long as the investigators don’t engage in trespass, secretly tape conversations [or] tap phones,” Professor Stewart said.
Article source: smh.com.au