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New tricks for video surveillance.

ALTHOUGH THE existence of video cameras in the workplace may summon up -images of George Orwell's novel 1984, many companies rely on video surveillance in their security operations. Employers routinely use surveillance cameras as a security measure in underground garages, lobbies, hallways and parking lots to protect their businesses from intruders. Video surveillance is also used in certain office or plant "sting" operations, when employers suspect that some of their workers are using drugs, embezzling funds or stealing merchandise. Other employers utilize video to investigate suspicious workers' compensation claims.

An employer's use of video surveillance is by no means evidence of paranoia; in fact, considering the high number of thefts - whether from external or internal sources - an effective video surveillance program is a necessity for many employers. Internal theft has evolved as a particularly acute problem. According to Pat Rivers, a spokesperson for the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), internal thefts account for 80 percent of crimes committed against businesses and cause 30 percent of all business failures. According to findings ASIS presented to Congress, "Annual losses to the private sector from business crimes exceed $50 billion. The cost of these crimes is ultimately borne by the public in the form of higher prices for goods and services as well as higher taxes." In light of these dire statistics, it is no wonder that many employers are devising security strategies to combat employee theft and fraud.

Video surveillance can be a very effective security and investigative tool. However, risk managers and their employers who are thinking of conducting surveillance of their workers need to ensure that they do so correctly and for the right reasons. A haphazardly conceived video surveillance program can not only fail, but can also expose an employer to litigation.

General and Point-Specific "THERE ARE TWO basic uses for video in the workplace," says Bob Adkisson, a certified protection professional (CPP) and security management and operations specialist for Creative Services Inc., a security consulting and investigative firm in Mansfield, Massachusetts. "The first use is for general protection and surveillance, such as having cameras watch employees who handle money, or as a security measure in retail stores. The second is for 'point-specific' uses; this is for cases such as watching to see if certain employees are using drugs, or to observe the behavior of workers who are under suspicion of theft." For general surveillance, cameras would typically be installed at strategic locations throughout the building and could either be in plain view or hidden; for point-specific purposes, cameras would be concealed. Concealed cameras would be installed to view the area where the alleged wrongdoing would most probably occur. In addition to being installed on the company premises, cameras might be placed in other areas or in non-traditional locations, such as in a carried briefcase or on a moving surveillance vehicle.

Mr. Adkisson suggests that if a company is contemplating using video for either general surveillance or a point-specific reason, the first step is to get professional recommendations on how to set up a surveillance program. "You should hire an outside security consultant to write out a set of specifications. This will determine what type of cameras you'll need. It's important, however, that the consultant not be a representative of a firm that sells camera equipment; a sales rep may try to sell you expensive equipment that doesn't fit your needs. These recommendations should include camera selection criteria such as type, number, performance parameters and quality of equipment needed by the company." Mr. Adkisson also mentions that a good consultant will have up-to-date knowledge of privacy issues in the state where the surveillance will take place.

Harry Butcher, vice president of business development for Pinkerton Security and Investigation, recommends that video surveillance should only be used in point-specific circumstances when "there is a specific instance of wrongdoing, such as drug use or theft. In a surveillance job such as a drug investigation, we often use an undercover person to buy drugs from an employee suspected of being a dealer. It's standard procedure to work with local law enforcement in these situations, first because it's a law enforcement issue, and second because many companies like a police presence because it announces to employees that they aren't going to tolerate criminal behavior."

Video surveillance cameras come in a surprising variety of types, each created for particular uses. Some examples of specialty cameras include low light cameras, which can film activities in extremely dark surroundings, and infrared cameras, which operate at the infrared spectrum of light and record the differing levels of body heat in subjects. Says Mr. Adkisson, "There's a tiny camera that's attached to an adjustable sixfoot long cable. It can be put into any out-of-the-way place for detection purposes, such as to inspect gas tanks for contraband. Other interesting devices include a camera disguised as a tie clip and a tiny lens that can be planted in a keyboard and aimed right at the person typing without his or her even knowing."

Privacy Act

ALTHOUGH THERE IS little existing legislation on electronic monitoring in the workplace, the Privacy ];or Workers and Consumers Act (H.R. 121 8 and S 516 ), which is currently under review by the U.S. Congress, would limit employers' ability to use surveillance on their employees. The bill would require employers to notify their workers in writing when they are being monitored, the equipment to be used in the monitoring process and a statement saying that any information gleaned from surveillance cannot be used as the sole basis for action against employees. ASIS charges that these requirements would hamper employers' ability to monitor workers suspected of wrongdoing. However, it remains to be seen when and if the law will be passed; according to attorney August Bequai, the legislation "probably won't go anywhere this year, but maybe next year."

Although there isn't a great deal of legislation governing video surveillance, employers must honor the privacy rights of their employees, which are protected by both federal and state laws. "A good rule of thumb is that you can't film employees in areas where they have a 'reasonable expectation' of privacy, for example, the bathroom or dressing room. And if you're going to use video for general surveillance purposes, you must post a sign saying that you do it," says Mr. Adkisson. "Surveillance should be looked at as an ethical as well as a legal issue," adds Mr. Butcher.

Some companies, in an effort to reap the security benefits of video without actually undertaking the expense of purchasing and installing it, have taken to using dummy cameras. Mr. Adkisson emphatically warns against doing so. "The use of dummy cameras can get you into real trouble. The fact that cameras - or objects that look like cameras - are prominently displayed presupposes' an improved level of security and could cause a sense of false personal safety. A victim might allege that had the fake cameras not been present, they would have taken additional precautions, or selected a different response to an attack. If the company does not intend to provide a heightened level of security or a security response, then they should not pretend that they do. It is not a responsible or wise decision to use dummy cameras as a modem-day scarecrow."

Claims Investigation VIDEO CAN ALSO be used by employers as a tool in insurance claims investigations. Imagine an employer who is suspicious of one of his workers who was injured on the job, underwent double back surgery, claims to be permanently and totally disabled and wants a $1 million settlement. This employer hears of a surveillance agency that, for a fee, will surreptitiously film the employee at home to verify his claim of disability. The employer, enticed by the possibility that his injured employee's disability claim is a fake, hires the surveillance outfit, then awaits the results. A few days later the company returns to him with a video tape of his injured employee. The employer watches a few minutes of the film and is surprised by what he sees: on the screen, his "permanently" disabled worker is busily at work making repairs on his house, carrying a large and undoubtedly heavy load of wooden shingles up a ladder.

Stories such as this one are not at all uncommon. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, about 10 percent of all property and casualty claims are fraudulent or exaggerated, costing employers and insurance companies about $17.5 billion per year. In many cases, an injured worker can collect total temporary disability (TTD), which can equal all medical costs, 66 2/3 percent of the gross weekly wage and a lump sum. As a result, some companies are hiring investigation firms to determine if some of their employees' injuries are indeed real.

Bill Kizorek, president of InPhoto Surveillance in Naperville, Illinois, says video surveillance is an empowering tool for risk managers. "Some risk managers are frustrated by what they perceive as questionable claims not being pursued as aggressively as they should be," says Mr. Kizorek. "For years, risk managers have been on the passive end of claims management; now, some of them are empowered to try to do something about these claims."

Typically, Kizorek will be contacted by an employer who suspects that a claimant's injury is fraudulent; Mr. Kizorek and his team will then devise a strategy to film in public the subject who, as in the example above, is engaged in activities that are inconsistent with his or her claims of injury. "When you conduct a video surveillance, there are a few general rules you need to follow. First, there has to be an honest, legitimate and justifiable reason for conducting the surveillance. Second, you can't invade the privacy of the person you're filming." For example, Mr. Kizorek says that surveillance crews cannot film a person inside his or her house. "You also can't harass or torment the person you're filming, you can't entrap the person and you can't impersonate certain professionals, such as a federal official or a member of the clergy."

When should a company consider using video surveillance on a claimant? "You should look for certain red flags," says Dan Eidsmoe, a claims attorney for Country Mutual Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois. One example is when a claimant goes to several doctors to get a disability confirmed. Or, in the case of an accident, when there's only minor damage to a vehicle yet the person claims to be badly and permanently injured. Sometimes, anonymous tip-offs will come in from neighbors.

Although a professionally conducted surveillance can take several days, with costs of up to $1,000 per day, a successful investigation can save a company an enormous sum of money that would otherwise be paid out to the claimant. "When a video shows claimant activity that is grossly inconsistent with that person's claim of injury, this will then lead to negotiation with the claimant on a settlement, which can save an employer a great deal of money," Mr. Kizorek states. "Sometimes, a company may think: 'Do we really want to do this to our employees?' fearing that when other workers discover that the company used video surveillance on the employee, there will be an angry reaction. But actually, employees tend to respect a company that inspects suspicious claims because they also feel cheated when a fellow employee fakes an injury. After all, they have to continue working while they see this other guy collecting a paycheck for not working at all!"

Although the surveillance of a claimant can result in a big payoff for a company, Mr. Eidsmoe warns that it is not a sure-fire panacea. "Even when a company has convincing evidence on videotape, the defense attorney has to weigh the option of actually using it in court. This is because the jury may perceive the videotape as being an invasion of the claimant's privacy."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Risk Management Society Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:of employees
Author:Christine, Brian
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Words:1982
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