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No. 129 – My boss watches CCTV footage of me without reason. Can I say something?

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18 October 2023

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: feelings of discomfort about CCTV footage, the unpredictability of sick days and a job that’s feeling a little too easy.

Is it ethical for my manager to be looking through our retail store camera, even if there hasn’t been any theft or stock damage? My manager recently looked through camera footage without giving any notice or reasoning, which has made me feel quite uncomfortable. What do you think?

The laws are different depending on what state you work in but generally speaking, it is legal for an employer to monitor the workplace, provided it is not in private areas – like bathrooms and change rooms – and you have been provided notice. In NSW, for example, the notice period is 14 days.

I asked Paul Zahra, chief executive at the Australian Retailers Association, for a bit more context on usage of CCTV in retail environments.

“Operating within privacy laws and ethical protocols is a top priority for most retailers, who usually try to do more than required to maintain the privacy of staff and customers. Footage from CCTV cameras isn’t just used to monitor breakage and theft. It’s also used to ensure the safety of team members and customers, mainly in the deterrence of violent and criminal actions. We don’t know enough about the exact circumstances here, but most employment agreements would give the retailer the right to review CCTV footage, provided there was a valid business reason to do so.”

It might be worth speaking to your boss to understand what is prompting them to feel they need to review the footage. Ask about notice in future and see whether there is a way you can work through this as a team, together.

In our employee handbook, there’s a clause that states if a staff member takes a third, non-consecutive day off sick in a 12-month period, our employer can insist on seeing a medical certificate. So, if I take a day in January because my son decided to swing off the clothes line and break a bone, then a day in June because of a cold, followed by gastro in September, I have to get a medical certificate. Is this legal? Or is it an overbearing requirement?

This is legal and employers can ask for a medical certificate for as little as one day off, let alone three, as your employer is doing. It sounds as though your employer is covering the situation where someone is “gaming the system” and wants to make clear if you keep taking single days off, you will need to justify them. However, it would be worth seeing whether your employer always requires a medical certificate to be obtained after the third non-consecutive day or whether they “may” ask for one. I am going to hazard a guess the handbook says your employer may require a medical certificate – not that you must produce a medical certificate – and so if you are unlucky enough for your son to convince himself he’s Superman, you struggle with a head cold and are then hit with a bout of gastro, you will be fine.

I recently accepted a position in a large company as a data entry clerk. Soon after I started, I was asked to supervise the data clerks due to my experience. There is no job description and the clerks have been used to working with minimal supervision, so my job is relatively easy, and I have loads of spare time to fill. Beyond asking for a job description, what else would you suggest I do?

It sounds like you have been given a fabulous opportunity to stretch your skills, but now you are in the role, you are wondering exactly what it is you need to supervise. It also sounds like you have a highly skilled and capable team to work with. These are all good problems to have.

I would speak with your manager and let them know you want to stretch yourself, and your team, so you don’t grow complacent. Ask your manager what other projects you might be able to assist with, or professional development you can undertake. In terms of your team, even if they are self-reliant and working well, carve out time for each person one-on-one and ask them the same questions you are asking your manager – ask them what they need from you to stretch their capabilities. Find out what their career goals and aspirations might be, then help them achieve them.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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