A female worker at a dental lab left her job in distress after she discovered that a secret camera had been placed by her employer in a smart lever arch-folder to snoop on her.
Now, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ruled that the dental technician was entitled to resign and claim constructive dismissal and has ordered the dental lab, run by a husband and wife team, to pay the worker €5,000 for unfair dismissal.
The dental technician told the hearing that she was extremely upset and concerned to discover the concealed camera especially in light of the fact that she had previously received inappropriate messages via WhatsApp from the husband.
In her ruling and upholding the woman’s claim for unfair dismissal, WRC Adjudication Officer, Máire Mulcahy rejected the employer’s argument that the camera was installed to protect the worker.
Ms Mulcahy said that no adequate reason had been put forward as to why the device was concealed.
She said: “I cannot accept that it was merely there to protect the complainant.”
Ms Mulcahy said that the installation of the camera was a breach of trust and confidence resulting in a fundamental breach of contract that entitled the worker to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
Ms Mulcahy stated: “I find that the employer’s actions, though a once off, were sufficiently damaging to the relationship of trust to which both parties are entitled.”
Ms Mulcahy stated that the Whats App messages stray somewhat off course from the professional employer- employee relationship.
Ms Mulcahy asked: “If the camera was to protect her from intruders or unwelcome visitors, why did it need to be hidden? That is the most puzzling aspect of this. Why was it not positioned on a wall like most security devices? A device does not need to be covert to record unwelcome visitors or offer protection.”
In the case, the dental technician said that on her return from leave in September 2017, she discovered the hidden camera, called a 'Clever Dog Smart Camera', in a smart lever arch folder placed at the reception desk.
The covert camera was taped to the wall, and pointed in the direction of her desk with an intermittent flashing light.
She detected that the lens was positioned behind a hole in the folder.
The technician - who commenced work for the couple in June 2016 - confronted her employers over the installation of the camera and her employer told her that the camera was installed so that they wanted to see couriers and patients coming in and out.
The dental technician told the hearing that this seemed illogical to her as the camera was pointed at her desk and not at the entrance to the office.
The employee said that her male boss called her “a stupid idiot” for getting upset about the camera. Her female boss disclaimed all knowledge of the installation of the camera.
The employee said that she was shocked at her employer’s reaction and the absence of an explanation as to why the camera was concealed.
The dental technician worked for the remainder of the day quite upset, stressed and shocked by the events.
On returning home and consulting with her family, the dental technician reflected and felt she could not return to work the following day to work.
She felt belittled by being called stupid and was not comfortable continuing to work with her employers and concluded that her relationship with them was beyond repair.
The woman’s doctor certified that she was suffering from work related stress and she went on sick leave.
The woman said that the relationship of trust and confidence with her employers had been irreparably damaged and she handed her notice to her employers on September 22nd 2017 on advice from her GP and family.
On March 2018, the woman lodged a complaint with the Data Protection Commissioner.
The woman was claiming a loss of €6,000 and confirmed that she secured alternative work with a higher salary in March 2018.
In response, the employer told the hearing that the camera was installed to monitor the comings and goings of unidentified strangers as the employee would be by herself when they were away.
The employer stated that it had become concerned about the security of the premises as the only other tenant had vacated its premises.
The husband told the hearing that he trusts the dental technician, was very happy with her work performance, left her on her own to run the business while his wife and himself were abroad and had lent her their own Spanish apartment to her.
He stated that he regretted that he did not advise her of the installation and apologised to her.
He offered many times to meet the worker, to engage a third party to see how she could continue to work with them.
He stated that the camera never functioned while he was on leave and he understand that the flashing red light meant it was on standby. He stated that no images were captured of the complainant.