Caught on camera! Public employers can snoop on employees during fraud probes — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Caught on camera! Public employers can snoop on employees during fraud probes

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California has a tough statute that protects celebrities against the paparazzi. But California law doesn’t necessarily shield the privacy of public employees.

Government agencies can order and conduct intrusive investigations if they suspect public employees are committing workers’ comp and benefits fraud. Government units have been—and continue to be—immune from lawsuits for damages for invasion of privacy during legitimate investigations. There’s one exception: California citizens can seek an injunction prohibiting some snooping under the California Constitution’s privacy clause.

Recent case: Klare Richardson-Tunnell worked as a teacher for the Lucia Mar Unified School District and went on workers’ compensation leave for a back injury and spine surgery. While out on leave, she married and went on her honeymoon.

Apparently suspicious about the extent of Richardson-Tunnell’s injuries, her employer arranged for a private investigator to surreptitiously videotape her wedding. The investigator also took photos of the reception and of the honeymooners sunning themselves during their trip. To capture the sunbathing shots, the investigator used a telephoto lens aimed at the second-story balcony of the happy couple’s honeymoon suite.

Richardson-Tunnell sued, alleging breach of the paparazzi privacy law in the Civil Code and the privacy provisions in the California Constitution.

The court rejected both claims. First, it said nothing in the paparazzi privacy provisions said government units can’t conduct legitimate investigations. Second, it concluded that the constitutional privacy claim would, at most, give people like Richardson-Tunnell the right to an injunction barring future filming, not damages for past filming. (Richardson-Tunnell v. School Insurance Program for Employees, et al., No. B195938, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate Division, 2007)

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