The Role of Surveillance in Workers’ Compensation Investigations

May 29, 2024
Stern & Cohen
Surveillance camera

Employees are entitled to wage loss and medical coverage for injuries that occur on the job. If your claim is accepted or you are in active litigation, the employer or insurance company may hire surveillance companies to check in with you. The surveillance companies are generally paid to follow you around for a few days and conduct a social media/internet investigation to see what you are up to. The purpose is to catch you potentially doing something outside of your doctors’ orders or doing something over and above what you said you could do, i.e., lifting more than 20 pounds. A social media investigation could reveal that you went on vacation with friends or spent the morning at the gym doing squats. Be careful what you are doing in public and be careful what you post. It can and will be used against you.

Can I be placed under surveillance?

Short answer: yes. Although it may seem like an incredible invasion of privacy, insurance companies can place you under surveillance when you file a workers’ compensation claim. This means they can have someone follow and monitor you throughout the case. Surveillance is allowed in workers’ compensation cases because of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case in 1963 where the Supreme Court determined that when you file a worker’s compensation claim, it is reasonable to assume you know you might be investigated regarding that claim. Companies typically hire private investigators, and if they’re good at their job, you most likely won’t know you’re under surveillance.

Don’t worry…there are limits to how intrusive this surveillance can be. Under Pennsylvania law, companies cannot:

  • Come onto your private property
  • Take photos or videos through windows or openings into private places
  • Place audio or video surveillance equipment in or on private property
  • Conduct surveillance of private electronic devices
  • Harass you in any way
  • Anything illegal

Investigators can: 

  • Call you and your family members for interviews
  • Interview your neighbors, coworkers, and others
  • Track your movements while respecting your space
  • Take photos and videos in public spaces, including places of worship
  • Keep a record of what you do publicly for considerable periods of time

What are the investigators looking for? 

Investigators conducting workers’ compensation surveillance usually hope to catch you doing something against your doctor’s orders or doing something you said you could not do. Video evidence can be used to argue that you are exaggerating the severity of your injuries. Judges are aware that these videos are taken without context. However, your employer can still introduce footage during trial and change your case’s tide. 

Investigators look to take photos and videos that they can give to the judge. To do so, there are requirements for the pictures and videos. The video or photo must include the following:

  • A clear image of the injured worker
  • No evidence of tampering, illegality, or entrapment
  • Timestamps providing a time and date
  • Proof of where the photo or video was taken
  • Proof of the investigator’s experience, license, and professional reputation

What role can social media play in surveillance? 

Employers and their insurance companies can monitor social media, so be careful what you post. Sometimes, social media images can be misconstrued or misdated by companies to make it seem like you’re lying about your injury. Make sure that your friends and family are aware of this potential monitoring. If they can avoid posting you, they should. 

What do I do if I am under surveillance?

If you believe you are under surveillance, don’t panic! The investigator is likely just trying to capture footage of you doing something outside your doctor’s restrictions or doing something you said you could not do. Be careful what you do in public. Remember that investigators can misconstrue your actions; a single photo without context can be incredibly harmful to your claim.