'Culture of sexism' | Firm used surveillance cameras to harass female colleagues

Firm used surveillance cameras to harass female colleagues

Under current Government guidelines, companies are encouraged to allow staff to work remotely wherever possible.

Whilst some have made a tentative return to the office since the request was first made in March of this year, the vast majority of office workers are now operating exclusively from their homes. As such, one key issue that has arisen is the concept of employee monitoring.

An IT Security Central study recently found that nearly 80% of major companies now monitor employees’ use of email, internet and phone. This figure represents a sharp rise from pre-COVID levels of just 42%.

Yet, it seems that the issue of surveillance was present even before the coronavirus pandemic hit and a large portion of employees started working from home.

For example, the Silicon Valley security start-up Verkada has recently come under fire and has been accused of sexism following the alleged actions of a staff member using company tech.

According to a recent Vice report, last year an unnamed sales director at the company misused their access to the surveillance technology to take photos of female colleagues and make sexually explicit jokes.

The photos of female colleagues were posted on an internal Slack channel called ‘#RawVerkadawgz’ where the director and other male employees made sexually explicit jokes about women who worked at the company.

"Face match… find me a squirt," the sales director wrote in the company Slack channel in August 2019, according to one screenshot obtained by Vice.

The comment was posted along with a series of photos of employees’ faces captured with the office's surveillance system which were patched together using a Verkada facial recognition feature.

Two members of the Slack channel reacted with laughing emojis. Another commented "lol."

According to three sources who worked at Verkada at the time, the group of men posted sexually graphic content about multiple female employees in similar Slack messages.

Despite multiple complaints, and after the Slack channel was reported to the company's HR team in February, the director and several other participating employees were not fired.

Verkada's CEO Filip Kaliszan announced in a company meeting that the workers were ‘given the choice between leaving the company or having their share of stock reduced’. All of them chose the latter option, and the Slack channel was removed.

A company spokesperson said: “Verkada does not tolerate sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour. This isolated incident was investigated and all individuals involved were disciplined accordingly.

“This process included our HR department working with the women impacted by this incident–offering professional and personal resources to ensure they supported our course of action and felt safe and comfortable in their jobs,” it added.

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However, Verkada isn’t the only company that has come under fire regarding staff monitoring. In April, the CEO at online banking firm Axos Financial Inc came under fire for subjecting staff to 'Big Brother-style surveillance’.

The level of staff monitoring, which online site Corporate Rebels dubbed a “Big Brother surveillance scheme”, was outlined in an internal memo that was previously shared by Bloomberg.

The memo, which was reportedly from the firm’s CEO, Gregory Garrabrants, read: "We have seen individuals taking unfair advantage of flexible work arrangements by essentially taking vacations [...]. If daily tasks aren’t completed, workers 'will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination"'.

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