Hidden cameras and mystery-shopper exercises may soon form part of a revamped inspection regime for care homes and domiciliary care in England. New adult social care chief inspector Andrea Sutcliffe has said she wants to explore the role such techniques could play in uncovering abuse and neglect. The move will be considered ahead of the launch of a new system next year.

The potential of secret filming has already been demonstrated by the way the BBC’s Panorama programme exposed in 2011 the abuse at Winterbourne View, a care home near Bristol for people with learning disabilities.

It is essential, however, that, if this is implemented, that it is balanced against the need for privacy and dignity in such settings.

Use of CCTV monitoring at work

You have the right to monitor your employee’s activities in many situations at work and this is covered by data protection law. Data protection law does not prevent monitoring in the workplace. However, it does set down rules about the circumstances and the way in which monitoring should be carried out.

Before deciding whether to introduce monitoring, you should:

  • be clear about the reasons for monitoring staff and the benefits that this will bring;
  • identify in an impact assessment any negative effects the monitoring may have on staff;
  • consider whether there are any less intrusive alternatives to monitoring;
  • consider if the monitoring is justified, taking into account all of the above.

Except in extremely limited circumstances, you must take reasonable steps to let staff know that monitoring is happening, what is being monitored and why it is necessary. If you can justify monitoring once a proper impact assessment has been carried out, you will usually not need the consent of individual members of staff.

Secret monitoring

Some care employers monitor their workers without informing them that this is happening by, for example, use of hidden cameras or audio devices. Guidance under data protection law says that secret monitoring should not be allowed in private areas at work, such as staff toilets, unless there is serious crime involved, such as drug dealing.

The employee’s recourse for this could be to raise a grievance or reporting the business to the Information Commissioner to assess whether their employer is meeting their obligations under data protection law. However, secret employee surveillance is certainly on the up, and has very often confirmed suspicions of wrongdoing, as can be seen in the press.

If you have any questions in respect of this, please do not hesitate to contact one of our Employment Law Consultants.