When all that is captured on camera is not what it seems
Published 17 July 2019
The use of CCTV to detect wrongdoing is widespread and it is being used more and more in disciplinary cases as well.
There is a saying that the camera never lies. When an employer’s interpretation of what is captured on film conflicts with the explanation provided by an employee, convincing the employer that it has got it wrong can be an uphill struggle.
Teaching assistant Joyce found herself in this position when she was accused of threatening and aggressive behaviour towards a colleague at the secondary school where they worked.
There were no witnesses to the incident and the CCTV footage taken outside of the school building was the only evidence.
There was history between Joyce and her colleague who had made the complaint. Both had taken part in mediation after being involved in a disciplinary case the previous year.
That case involved a teacher and another teaching assistant. Joyce and her male colleague, who was now making the allegations against her, were on separate sides of the dispute.
That case revealed that there was long-running tension which had existed between two groups of employees, which the school acted to address.
When Joyce contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre she was desperate for help.
She explained that as she was leaving the school building to go to her car when a male colleague bumped her with his shoulder. He claimed it was accidental as he was searching in his bag for his mobile phone.
Joyce felt it was deliberate and responded angrily. The pair then exchanged words in a conversation that CCTV showed lasted for 45 seconds. There was no sound with the footage.
In the days after Joyce saw her colleague in work and the pair did not speak and nothing further was said.
About two weeks later Joyce was asked to attend a meeting with a HR advisor and the head teacher.
She was asked about and explained the incident. Joyce was told by the HR advisor that it is alleged that she was threatening and aggressive to her colleague.
Joyce was shocked and she strenuously denied the allegation. She was informed that she would be suspended from work due to the seriousness of the allegation.
Having never been in any type of disciplinary trouble before Joyce did not know what to expect next.
She was invited to attend an investigation meeting at which the CCTV footage of the incident was played to her. It was put to Joyce that despite the fact that there was no sound on the film her body language made it look like she was the aggressor.
Joyce explained that she was shocked by the physical contact form her colleague and she protested her innocence.
Following the disciplinary investigation a decision was taken to instigate disciplinary action against Joyce.
In the days before the disciplinary hearing it was arranged for our representative and Joyce to review the CCTV. Joyce gave her version of events as they did so.
At the hearing our representative explained Joyce’s actions. He told the hearing that the footage showed her shocked reaction to being bumped from behind.
He contended that her open arm gesture while facing her colleague was done as she asked him what he was doing. Our representative pointed out this was the only active body language captured as the pair exchanged words, and that it cannot reasonably be considered an act of aggression.
He argued that the footage did not, and could not be considered to, show Joyce being threatening and aggressive as alleged.
The disciplinary hearing panel pointed out that Joyce’s version of events conflicted with that of her colleague, which meant one of them was not telling the truth.
Our representative referred to employment law and that in situations when there is no clear corroborating evidence and it is one word against another the alleged wrongdoer should be given the benefit of any doubt.
Joyce was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
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