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Is a private investigator on your case?

Do you feel like you are being watched? If you are on WorkCover, it’s possible the insurer has put a private investigator on your tail.

A WorkCover insurer may have grounds to have a worker followed if it suspects the worker is abusing the system. The WorkSafe guidelines state that surveillance of a worker may be appropriate where less intrusive means of investigation have failed, and the insurer has adequate evidence to suspect that the worker is misrepresenting their injury, playing down their capabilities, or is involved in a fraud.

Private investigators must be licenced and abide by various laws and the WorkSafe code of practice for private investigators. This document is available online. Being ordinary citizens, private investigators cannot trespass on a worker’s property to obtain surveillance. Investigators must only conduct surveillance of workers from what the Code describes as a “public vantage point”, being any place that members of the public have the right to access, public or private.

This means that from the street, an investigator can watch a worker in their front yard washing their car, pulling out weeds, or dragging in the wheelie bin. They can also follow a worker in their car or on foot to a public place, like the park or the beach, or into shops and other business premises, such as a hardware store, where people may enter but not necessarily purchase anything.

The investigator may take photos or footage of a worker, or both, and write up a worker’s movements and activities in a surveillance log.

However, investigators must not unreasonably interfere with a worker’s privacy. They cannot film a worker inside their home, at a place of worship, or at a ceremony such as a wedding or a funeral. Filming a worker at conciliation or at court is off limits, as is filming a worker inside a doctor’s clinic.

There are limits on the number of hours of surveillance the investigator can undertake at a time, but workers can be watched on multiple occasions. If an investigator thinks the worker knows they are being watched, the Code says they must stop the surveillance, but may get approval to continue their investigation.

Investigators can also look at a worker’s social media, but they must not use illegal or dishonest means to obtain information. They must not create false accounts to send friend requests to a worker or message them or ask a third party to access a private worker’s account.

If you think an investigator has behaved inappropriately, you can make a complaint directly to Worksafe.