One company owner cannot keep an eye on all their employees at the same time. That’s why they may consider installing surveillance cameras in the office. Whether to prevent employee theft at worst or, at the very least, ensure everyone’s doing their job, cameras can be very useful. Is it illegal to have them in your office?
No, it’s not illegal to install surveillance cameras in an office if you state a purpose for such. You can also record with them, provided your employees know you’re doing it. If they’re unaware of the cameras, then you could run into legal issues if an employee discovers they’ve been unwillingly recorded.
In this article, we’ll explain first the legalities surrounding installing surveillance cameras, then the rules around recording with them. We’ll also include a section on what to do if you were recorded in the workplace without your consent.
Why would a company owner or manager want to get surveillance cameras installed in the first place? As hinted at in the intro, there’s plenty of reasons to consider doing this. Let’s talk more about them now.
While you hope your employees will never steal supplies, unfortunately, sometimes it does happen. Without video evidence (or some other form of evidence), proving the theft becomes a matter of “he said, she said.” You’ll be stuck in a standstill with less product to your company’s name.
Having surveillance cameras installed should keep employees on their best behavior. Even if a theft occurs, you will have video proof of it. You can then fire the employee and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
Who’s coming in and out of your workplace each day? Your camera can tell you. That’s the basic purpose of a surveillance camera system anyway, to survey the property. This becomes a matter of safety, both for yourself and all your employees and staff. If someone who’s not a member of the company was to enter the building, you could catch it on video quickly and prevent potentially dangerous situations.
Like having surveillance cameras to prevent theft, recording can also (hopefully) curb misbehavior. Whether two employees don’t get along with one another or a staff member has a curt experience with a customer, having this all on video helps. You can then discipline the employee, reconsider your training program, or hire a new employee to take their place.
Then there’s the matter of productivity. As we mentioned in the intro, you can’t watch all your employees around the clock. Some may think that’s an invitation to slack off and quit being as productive as they can. With the presence of a surveillance camera, these employees will clean up their act and do more work.
As we said in the intro, it’s not illegal to install surveillance cameras. Using them, on the other hand, can be. We’ll get to that in the next section.
You must divulge to your employees that you plan on installing surveillance cameras in and around the office. You also have to explain the reasons behind your decision. Many employees will grasp why you’d want or need to install these cameras, though, especially when it comes to matters of personal safety.
In fact, having surveillance cameras capturing everything around the office on a CCTV feed doesn’t just benefit the company owner. This feed can also protect the rights of employees.
We do want to talk about two things in this section. The first is the purpose of a surveillance camera. To reiterate what we mentioned earlier, a surveillance camera watches over certain areas. It’s not a hidden camera. If a person were to look for a surveillance camera, they should spot it relatively easily. Hidden cameras are illegal in office settings while surveillance cameras aren’t.
Then there’s where you might install these cameras. If you want them in your office, that’s fine. However, you cannot install them in every single room. Many states prevent surveillance cameras in spaces like bedrooms, bathrooms, hotel rooms, and changing rooms. Connecticut and Delaware in particular have laws that insist you must tell customers and employees before installing bathroom cameras.
Okay, so you’ve made the decision to get surveillance cameras installed around your office. Now comes the time to use them.
Again, before you ever turn the cameras on, you need to let every employee and staff member in your office know about the presence of the cameras. You might send out a companywide email or have a large meeting or conference call. Whatever suits your needs best works, but make sure everyone knows.
Also, research the laws in your state. Most require you have an intention or purpose for getting the surveillance cameras installed. That could be one of the reasons we mentioned or something else entirely. Saying you want surveillance cameras just because won’t fly, though.
If you want to record video with sound, you must tread extremely carefully. Once more, you’ll want to check your state laws. Even then, you might want to reconsider whether it’s worth it. Sometimes recording video with sound in an office setting gets misconstrued as wiretapping. That could count as a federal offense. Is that really something you want to get tangled up with?
If your company has any sort of union activity, you’ll also want to reconsider the need for a surveillance camera. The National Labors Relation Act or NLRA has specific rules about what can and cannot get recorded for unions. Any matters with the union, including meetings and other activities, are prohibited. While an employer can install a camera if all employees agree to it, the employees must grant their permission first.
Let’s say you’re an employee and you suspect your boss or manager recorded you via surveillance camera without your consent. What can you do?
First, you need to ensure the recording occurred in an illegal capacity. If your employer had a valid reason for getting surveillance cameras and then used them lawfully, this wouldn’t count as illegal use. If you were recorded in a bathroom or locker room, though, that’s a different matter entirely. Recording in that instance would likely be illegal.
If the employer used a hidden camera instead of a surveillance camera, then it’s almost always illegal to record in this manner at the workplace.
What if your employer relied on an audiotape for recording? They’d have to have a reason to do so for legality’s sake. Even if they record a one-on-one meeting or conversation, if they say it’s for their records or even a matter of security, then there’s no legal issue.
Perhaps it’s an employee that recorded you. In states like Washington, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada, Montana, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois, Florida, Connecticut, and California, an employee cannot record another without asking. These two-party consent states may have different laws than other parts of the country, though.
All employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy, or they should. If you feel like your employer or even another employee encroached upon your rights, you have two options. You can either contact an employment attorney or reach out to the department of labor in your state.
Is it legal for an employer to watch you on camera?
If the employer has established a reason for needing the surveillance cameras and follows lawful recording rules, then yes. They can watch employees on camera. In fact, that’s pretty much the whole point of having surveillance cameras in the first place. If the employer never reviews the content of the CCTV feed, how will they know whether something’s amiss?
That’s not to say your employer will sit there all day and watch you. They have their own work to do. In fact, they’d probably only hone in on single employees if said employee was not doing their work, seriously misbehaving, or accused of some other misdemeanor.
Can an employer listen to a phone call at work?
Yes and no. Your employer should not listen to personal calls. That said, to determine you’re making a call of a personal nature, your employer will have to listen in on some of the call. After that, they’re supposed to hang up.
It does depend, though. If your employer prohibited personal calls on work devices, your employer could listen in on the call with no legal repercussions. If you’re using a personal device for calls, then your employer should not monitor your conversations. Do keep in mind that, in this instance, a personal device means a phone you paid for. Your company does not have anything to do with this device.
What about your work phone? Yes, an employer can listen in on these calls. They’re protected under federal law to do so. In some states, you may have to tell the call recipient about call monitoring first. Your employer may also have to tell you they monitor your calls.
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