Q You are suspicious that an employee is up to no good and are thinking about installing hidden CCTV cameras to catch them red-handed. Is there anything you must consider first?

A Occasionally, you may get a hunch that an employee is up to mischief for example, you might suspect they are stealing from the petty cash or taking drugs in the toilets. Of course, you can intervene, but you would have a much stronger hand if you had hard evidence to back up your beliefs. CCTV footage showing the culprit in the act would be ideal. But is it as simple as rigging up hidden cameras out of hours?

The use of CCTV cameras is covered by the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and its accompanying CCTV Code of Practice (the Code). Unlike the DPA, the Code is voluntary, but the Information Commissioner (IC) will want to know if you have followed it, should an employee complain about your use of CCTV.

The Code says hidden CCTV cameras must not be used purely to obtain evidence for run-of-the-mill internal disciplinary matters. They are only justifiable where you suspect that a specific crime for example theft is being committed and you intend to involve the police.

Even if these conditions are met, you will still need to carry out an "impact assessment". This will help you decide if resorting to CCTV is a "proportionate response" to the perceived problem, or a potential breach of privacy. If it’s not clear-cut, then a less intrusive alternative should be found.

Details on how to carry out an impact assessment can be found in Part 4 of the Code. For example, it says you must consider if hidden CCTV cameras will:

1. be used only for this particular investigation that is, they cannot be used to generally monitor staff

2. have a detrimental effect on staff who are not under suspicion

3. actually identify the culprits in other words, could this be done through other means?

4. add any weight to the investigation is the recording vital to establish wrongdoing?

The number and placement of any hidden cameras should be proportionate to the type of investigation. Plus, you must limit access to the footage to as few employees as possible and must be able to justify who has it for example a manager and why.

Keep records of your impact assessment in case your decision to use hidden CCTV cameras is ever challenged by staff.

Finally, and understandably, the most contentious use of hidden CCTV cameras is in toilet areas. According to the Code, this can only be justified if you have reasonable grounds to believe a crime is being committed there for example drug dealing and police involvement is a certainty.

Ensure hidden cameras in toilet areas do not cover cubicles or urinals, even partially. This would be an unlawful invasion of privacy and risks a complaint to the IC.