Is it Legal to Install Surveillance Cameras in the Office?

Is it Legal to Install Surveillance Cameras in the Office?

The laws regarding surveillance in the workplace can vary by state. However, in most states, it is legal for employers to install video surveillance cameras in the office/workplace. Having cameras installed can help protect businesses from theft and other security issues.

But, if there's no law in place in your state that allows or prohibits surveillance, the courts determine whether an employee's privacy has been violated in the surveillance process.

In this case, the courts consider these points:

  • The employer's need to conduct surveillance.
  • The employee's reasonable expectation of privacy.

That said, It's important for business owners to recognize that there is a fine line and should make it a point not to cross it.

As a business owner, you always risk the liability of a lawsuit if you choose to install surveillance cameras in the office.

So, in order to avoid any liability issues, business owners should do their best to follow these three guidelines:

  • Employers have legitimate reasons to install the cameras
  • Employees are aware of the cameras.
  • The cameras are set in common/public areas.

In this blog, we'll take a closer look at each of these guidelines and how business owners can go about protecting their businesses without facing any legal scrutiny or backlash.

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Disclaimer: We are not in the business of law and if you're looking to install security cameras in your business, you should familiarize yourself with the laws in your state first.

Guideline #1: Have legitimate reasons to install surveillance cameras

If you intend to keep a watchful eye over your business (and employees) you must have a legitimate reason to do so. So, installing surveillance cameras in the workplace needs to be lawfully justified, in most states.

Some examples of lawful/legitimate reasons to use cameras in the workplace include:

  • To prevent internal theft - If a business is having an issue with internal theft or employees that are engaging in dishonest behavior, employers have a legitimate/lawful reason to install security cameras in the office.
  • To secure employees - If someone is being harassed on your property, most states will allow employers to use video surveillance to protect any individuals who may be threatened by criminal acts.
  • To ensure productivity - If you're concerned about employee productivity during work hours, video surveillance can be a helpful tool. Business owners have indicated that surveillance cameras can help to improve workplace productivity and motivate employees to perform their day-to-day duties without slacking off.

Guideline #2: Make employees aware of surveillance cameras

Since employees may feel uncomfortable about being monitored, it's important to be transparent. Be upfront about what you hope to accomplish and how surveillance aligns with your business's goals.

Let your employees know why you have cameras installed and where they're placed. You can send out a company-wide email or have a large meeting/conference call.

You may also consider having employees sign an acknowledgment form stating they understand that there are surveillance cameras installed. However you choose to do it, just make sure everyone knows and understands.

Guideline #3: The cameras need to be placed in public areas

In most states, installing video surveillance cameras in the workplace is considered illegal if they're placed in certain areas. Specifically, areas that are intended for employee rest or comfort.

Some of the areas that are NOT considered public (and should not be under surveillance) include:

  • Restrooms
  • Locker rooms
  • Break rooms
  • Employee lounges

An employee who is using the bathroom or changing clothes has a very strong and reasonable expectation of privacy. So, employers will have a tough time justifying the need to film employees in these private settings.

Understand the law

Again, we are not law professionals. So, if you're thinking about installing security cameras in your office, it's your responsibility to know the state/federal laws regarding surveillance and privacy.

For example, federal law makes it illegal for you to record any oral conversations without consent. So, installing a surveillance camera that records audio (without employees knowing about it) can be deemed as a form of illegal wiretapping.

Also, according to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRB), employers are prohibited from using video cameras to monitor employees' union activities. This includes union meetings or any conversations pertaining to union matters.

You can learn more by contacting the U.S. Department of Labor and your state's labor department.

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