In 2005, the American Management Association conducted a survey that focused on video surveillance in the workplace. The results of that survey revealed that over 50% of the participants were currently using hidden cameras at their place of business. According to these individuals, the primary reason for installing these devices was to prevent sabotage, theft, and violence. However, those survey results also revealed that nearly 20% of these business owners and employers used them to monitor the performance of their employees.
The question that is oftentimes asked regarding this issue is whether or not this practice is entirely legal. In most cases, there are three criteria that business owners or employers must meet in order for this to hold up in a court of law:
- Employees must be aware that these cameras are being used.
- Only public areas can be surveyed.
- There is a legitimate need for surveillance cameras to be installed.
In most cases, employees are aware of the primary reasons for installing hidden surveillance cameras as well as preventing employee theft. But what if those cameras are also being installed in employee locker rooms or restrooms?
State Privacy Laws
Where this aspect is concerned, it depends on the images that the cameras are capturing and the laws of the state where the business is located. In any case, the business owner/employer must be careful since the unauthorized filming of an individual could be considered an infringement of their privacy rights. For most individuals, privacy is important and the legislators of every state are aware of this and the majority of the states in the US today have passed laws that preserve those rights.
Many of these privacy laws were passed to protect the consumer against identity theft by requiring businesses to maintain the confidentiality of their personal information such as credit card information and social security numbers. There are a number of laws pertaining to the use of cameras and video surveillance equipment that have been passed to protect the privacy of employees in the workplace.
However, there are limitations involved where this is concerned. For example, here are a couple of states that have passed specific privacy laws that are not passed in others:
- In California, businesses/employers cannot install one-way surveillance mirrors in fitting rooms, locker rooms, restrooms, and showers.
- In Connecticut, it is illegal to install any surveillance cameras or related equipment in areas specifically designated for employee comfort and use. These areas include employee lounges, locker rooms, and restrooms.
Even if you own and operate a business in a state where these laws are not in place, you should still contact your state's Labor Department about workplace privacy laws before you install any video surveillance equipment. Keep in mind that if your state does not have any privacy laws in place, it is illegal to film or tape your employees when they are changing their clothes or going to the restroom. Additionally, there are other activities that are protected by privacy laws such as the secret filming of any union meetings.
In those states where there are no laws that allow or prohibit any type of surveillance, the courts will determine whether or not there has been a violation of an employee's privacy. There are two competing interests involved in the courts decision in these matters. First and foremost, the employee has a reasonable expectation of having their privacy protected in the workplace. Secondly, the need for the employer to conduct any type of surveillance of their employees must be proven. So just be sure that you do plenty of research on employee privacy rights before installing any type of surveillance equipment at your place of business.