Media reports are now circulating that a Toronto city bus carrying a number of passengers was left abandoned by a driver for more than 30 minutes. It appears the bus was left running during a break or shift change and the driver failed to wait for a relief driver before leaving the vehicle.
Similar incidents in recent years have involved reports of employees caught sleeping or using their cellphones while operating transit vehicles. And just weeks ago, a pair of airline baggage handlers were seen throwing and dropping luggage in plain view of the travelling public.
What do these incidents have in common? They were all caught on camera and reported to the employer by a member of the public, rather than another coworker or a member of management.
Public reports of worker misconduct are not new, but with nearly every cellphone now being equipped with some type of camera, not to mention the prevalence of a plethora of social media platforms facilitating wide and rapid distribution, the game has changed significantly. Employers must not only manage their workforce, but must take more active steps to manage public perceptions of their workforce.
When photographs and video footage depicting workers engaged in misconduct in the public eye are brought to an employer’s attention, the natural and appropriate response is to conduct an investigation. But what of the fact that the photograph or video was taken by a member of the public? What privacy issues come into play? Is this any different than an employer hiring a private investigator to conduct surreptitious surveillance of workers suspected of lying about physical limitations or reasons for missing work?
If the information comes from an anonymous public source, how does the employer balance its legitimate business interests against the worker’s rights to due process? What happens if the employer imposes discipline or termination and the employee mounts a challenge? Who do you call as a witness at the hearing?
The answers to these (and many other) questions will depend on the facts of each case, but must be considered carefully whenever an employer looks to respond to public reports of worker misconduct.