Are Hidden Cameras at Work Legal?
Cameras at work and similar types of surveillance are generally legal, if they are there for a legitimate business concern. However, there may be legal limits on the places where cameras can be placed, as well as notice requirements and limits on the extent to which surveillance can occur. Employees should pay close attention to applicable company policies, any employee handbook(s) that may address monitoring in their workplace, and also look into their specific state's laws on the issue.
Legitimate Reasons and Methods for Workplace Video Surveillance
For the most part, each state's own laws control the privacy issues surrounding cameras at work. As a general rule, however, an employer needs to have a legitimate business reason for conducting surveillance using cameras in workplace spaces. Still, in our everyday lives there are countless circumstances where we encounter cameras in workplaces (whether they be our own workplace or those of others) including in grocery stores, retail establishments, banks, and more. In each of those examples, the reason for putting up cameras, which may include preventing theft and providing security, is almost undeniably legitimate and reasonable. However, in a regular office setting, it may be wise for an employer to establish a policy and notify employees of the existence of cameras and the reasons behind the move.
Furthermore, employers should be careful about conducting any audio recordings in the workplace because of the existence of state and federal wiretapping laws, which may apply in such circumstances regardless of how legitimate the reasons behind the video surveillance might be. As a result, if video cameras at work are also capturing sound, employers may run the risk of breaking applicable eavesdropping or wiretapping laws.
Location of Cameras at Work
As noted above, regardless of the state, private companies generally have a right to video monitor the common areas of the workplace if done for a legitimate reason. So it comes as no surprise then that we see cameras in settings such as those described above, recording common areas of a workplace such as retail sales floors, grocery store aisles and exits, bank counters, and the like. Placing cameras in these common areas where employees have little to no expectation of privacy while going about their jobs has typically been protected by law.
However, employee privacy rights are not completely surrendered when workers are on the job. In some states, the law has established that an employer can violate employees' privacy rights should they place cameras and similar surveillance in areas where employees would expect at least some measure of privacy. Some examples of workplace areas that may receive privacy protections in some states include restrooms, changing rooms, and break areas. States vary widely as to which specific areas of a workplace may be legitimately video recorded, and it is best to consult with a local employment or privacy attorney or your state's labor agency to find out more specific information.
Notice Requirements & Hidden Cameras
Putting up video surveillance without notice to employees or using hidden cameras at work may also violate employee privacy rights. Some states, such as Connecticut, make notice to employees an explicit requirement in their laws, while courts have established similar protections in some other states, as well. As a result, employers are generally well-advised (if not required) to provide notice to their employees of the existence of cameras in the workplace. Nevertheless, it should also be noted that courts in various states have protected employers' use of hidden cameras in the workplace in certain circumstances.
Should an employer place cameras in inappropriate locations, violate notice requirements, or otherwise use cameras in the workplace improperly, it may leave them open to legal action for invasion of privacy or other similar types of lawsuits. Additionally, if an employer improperly uses cameras to create an impermissible hostile environment in the workplace, they may be subject to harassment or discrimination lawsuits. For this reason, it's important to always check state laws on this issue, or consult with an attorney with experience handling cases involving cameras in the workplace.