Company hires PI to follow staff

by Astrid Wilson02 Jul 2012

Hiring a private investigator to follow employees who are absent from work on suspicious workers’ compensation claims may be the secret desire of many suspicious HR professionals – and at least one company has made no secret of hiring spies.

Major logistics company, Toll, has used trained private eyes to follow staff who take leave to recover from workplace injuries. The Toll Group will appear in front of a Fair Work tribunal today to address an unfair dismissal claim from an employee let go for a dubious workers’ compensation matter.

Former employee Rosa Diehm has claimed she was unfairly dismissed from the company in February this year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Diehm was in the process of lodging a WorkCover claim over a back injury she said she sustained sorting packages at Toll's Truganina warehouse. In turn, Toll hired a PI to monitor Diehm for a day in February, from 7.30am to 4.30pm. The former employee was filmed outside her house, and later using a concealed camera at a supermarket for 13 minutes.

Diehm was subsequently sacked three days later for allegedly neglecting to mention the supermarket trip when reporting to Toll’s management on her movements for that particular day.

It will be heard that the authorisation to follow Diehm came from the head of HR, and that according to a spokesman, the company has acted on advice that employers are permitted to carry out reasonable inquiries to ensure an employee is entitled to an employment benefit they have 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,” the spokesperson told The Herald.

One employment law expert commented that surveillance of this nature was legal and “not unknown – though it's more commonly used to resist a workers’ compensation claim,” Andrew Stewart said. “There's nothing unlawful about it, so long as the investigators don't engage in trespass, secretly tape conversations [or] tap phones,” Stewart added.

While many insurance companies and government agencies like Centrelink typically use private investigators to investigate claims for cash, it is uncommon 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, and the case is the first of two unfair dismissal claims to be held against Toll this week.


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