Employers may wish to monitor their staff at work, to ensure they are on track with tasks and deadlines. As such, it is not uncommon for employers to record phone calls and monitor emails.
However, one fired Disney employee is suing the business following claims that his phone and home computer were hacked by his employer to spy on him.
Steven van Soeren alleged that he was subject to discrimination and harassment by Disney following his new parental status, reported the Independent.
According to the lawsuit, Disney terminated his employment without cause in May 2019, and did not provide severance pay. He had worked as a product designer at BAMTech and Disney Streaming Services from August 2016.
While working for the Disney Streaming Services (DSS), Van Soeren claimed that he was subject to ‘a work environment displaying a pattern and practice of discrimination and evidence of discriminatory animus’ due to his partner’s pregnancy.
The lawsuit indicated that a number of colleagues ‘discussed and referenced matters that Plaintiff had only discussed at home with his spouse, and/or viewed through his Google Chrome internet browser’, which led him to believe that his computer at home had been hacked by Disney employees.
It’s also alleged that Brian McConnell, Senior Director of UX and Design, who was Van Soeren’s boss at the time, told Van Soeren that ‘maybe you shouldn’t have a kid’.
However, Van Soeren claimed that he never told his boss about the pregnancy, while another colleague knew he had been searching whether carcinogens were in the food made at sandwich chain Subway.
In addition, the plaintiff claimed that McConnell and other DSS employees ‘continued to harass, taunt and intimidate Plaintiff throughout his spouse’s pregnancy and the birth of his child’.
It’s alleged that his boss made derogatory comments towards Van Soeren, including calling him the ‘tallest midget’ and saying that ‘everything he said was stupid’.
Monitoring at work
According to Acas, employers should remember that workers are entitled to some privacy at work, and as such must tell them about any monitoring arrangements and the reason for it.
In very rare cases, employers may need to carry out covert monitoring without staff being aware. However, there must be a genuine reason behind this such as criminal activities or malpractice.
In this case, spying on Van Soeren due to his partner’s pregnancy could be deemed an unnecessary breach of privacy. Acas also stated that ‘employees are protected against unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy or maternity. This means an employee or job applicant must not be disadvantaged because of their pregnancy or maternity’.
Therefore, in this instance HR should have stepped in to ensure covert monitoring was not in place at the organisation for unjustified reasons, such as a pregnancy.