Case workers from the IWW Cymru branch based in Swansea recently took on and won an interesting case, which raises some interesting questions.
A young fellow worker in retail was presented with a load of accusations based on written testimony from a so-called “Mystery Shopper”. This Mystery Shopper alleged that our member had said all sorts of scandalous things about their management team, with our member adamant that on this occasion no such thing had been said. The management threatened our member with immediate dismissal for their supposed comments and that’s where we got involved.
We viewed this as a case of unverifiable “covert monitoring” and challenged the company on their un-professionalism, lack of relevant policies and general cluelessness – this was a bit of a high-risk strategy as the fellow worker had only been with the company for six months. However, companies should have policies in place about the terms of such monitoring and should warn staff in advance when it is due to take place. In fact, it seems that the rules state that covert monitoring should only be used for criminal offences – we assume that it’s not yet a criminal offence to slag off your boss!
As a result of our intervention all claims against our member were retracted and the case against them was dropped. Our member is now happy to report that their job situation has improved and they are now being promoted!
This case bought up some interesting questions about working as a “Mystery Shopper”, and whilst it is a grey area how companies can or should utilize this activity within their organisations, there are ethical challenges that need to be considered – particularly if any ‘evidence’ gained from these shoppers is used to form the basis of claims of misconduct at work!
We recognize that lots of people benefit from earning a few quid by accepting this kind of role but we also acknowledge that for those employed, unless robust policies and procedures are in place to protect workers from spurious claims, then employers can use and abuse information gained through this way to exploit, marginalize or get rid of staff without due cause.
For those of us whose employers utilize “Mystery Shoppers” it is important that we obtain, review and challenge policies that are – or are not – in place to determine when and how these forms of monitoring do and can take place – unfortunately this kind of activity is legal so we need to understand how we can best protect ourselves! A good place to start to understand the in’s and out’s of monitoring at work can be found on the Citizens Advice Website: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/rights-at-work/basic-rights-and-contracts/monitoring-at-work
For those of us whose do work as “Mystery Shoppers” to help earn some extra cash we need to think about how the information that we capture is going to be used by individual companies and the potential adverse effects this could have on your fellow workers. Remember they are trying to earn to keep a roof over their head and food in their belly just like you – be conscious of what to include and not in your report (particularly if they are just expressing dissatisfaction with their employer!) and don’t take action which can cause undue harm to your fellow worker – as always, don’t be a scab!
Ideally, no job should involve the pitting of worker against worker but we need to understand the system we are living in and how through acts of resistance, cross-industry solidarity and organization we can wrest the power from unscrupulous employers and into the hands of workers all over the world.