Video surveillance systems help prevent theft and monitor employees’ actions while at work. The action of filming will be upheld by a court as long as the areas being filmed are public, employees know about the filming, and the company has a real need to film in general. However, privacy rights are often of concern, so it’s important that both employees and employers know their video surveillance rights and boundaries.
Most people cherish privacy. Thus, cameras at work are often seen as an invasion of that privacy. Although laws vary state by state, the same general theme of reasonable privacy carries through. In California, it’s illegal to install a one-way mirror, where one side looks like a mirror but from the other side, it’s like a window, in any restroom or locker room. Similarly, in Connecticut, it’s illegal for employers to use video surveillance in areas designed for employee rest and comfort, such as restrooms or employee lounges.
Some states do not have specific laws regarding workplace privacy, but a reasonable expectation of privacy still exists. Certain employee activities, such as using the restroom or changing in a locker room, are considered to be very reasonable expectations of privacy. This is one aspect of what courts look at to determine whether an employee’s privacy was violated. The second interest courts look at is the employer’s need to conduct the video surveillance. In the case of a camera in a “private” area such as a restroom, it would be very difficult for an employer to supply a significant argument as to why any filming in that area was necessary.
For more information about state-specific legislation, check our article on employee privacy.
While everyone plays a part in workplace surveillance laws, the human resource department’s role is one of the most important. Employers have an obligation to provide a safe workspace for all employees. HR professionals are essential for the execution of this. HR works to ensure reasonable and effective practices protect the employees while also minimizing the risk of any employer liability. Due to their integral role in policies and procedures, HR should be involved in surveillance implementation as well as any communication related to it.
What are your rights as an employee that is being filmed?
Employees always have the right to sue. If anyone feels as if their privacy was wrongfully invaded by surveillance cameras, they have the ability to speak up and say so. Most security cameras lack audio because any audio recordings require the consent of recording by all parties involved. Thus, employees typically have a valid claim of invasion of privacy if an instance arises involving audio unknowingly being recorded.
Workplace surveillance laws allow cameras to be used only for legitimate business reasons. These laws are intended to guide employers while also protecting employee’s rights. Besides being unable to use surveillance in private areas, employers are not allowed to use video to monitor any union activity. The National Labor Relations Act prohibits such a thing. It also states that employers cannot use surveillance in a way intended to intimidate current or prospective union members.
Productive Employee Monitoring
The idea of using video surveillance in any company typically has good intentions. Placing a video near the door to the store, especially a retailer, makes it easy for management to monitor who went in and out of the store. Cameras throughout the building can also be helpful, as people are less likely to steal something if they are aware someone could be watching. The same goes for employees. Cameras near the cash registers or even in the back storage areas leave employees no way to steal merchandise from the store. As long as the camera locations are public and obvious enough to where any passerby would notice them, there shouldn't be any issues as to whether or not filming is obstructing an individual's privacy.
Negative Employee Monitoring
Problems arise when employers place cameras in places that are more “secretive”. Hidden cameras around the workplace or in arguably private areas are what riles employees up. In general, everyone understands the need for some security cameras throughout a business. That being said, it’s reasonable for employees to expect and demand to keep certain moments private. Not being transparent and honest with employees about video surveillance in the workplace only leads to future problems for employers.
Disclosure of Surveillance Records
Besides the rules that regulate video surveillance even occurring, there are rules regarding what can be done with surveillance records after the fact. Any records created as a result of workplace video surveillance are not to be used or disclosed except in certain circumstances. Exceptions include a legitimate purpose related to employment or business functions, a requirement that the footage is presented to law enforcement or a need for the footage in civil or criminal proceedings.