The Legal Issues of Employee Video Surveillance

Companies invest a lot of money for state of the art IT systems and infrastructures to ensure that they can easily access information. Improvements in technology have made it possible to include surveillance systems. This serves as protection for their investment against theft and other illegal activities. Unfortunately, this has raised questions on the legal aspect of workplace monitoring.

The right to privacy of the employees

The primary issue being raised regarding video surveillance is the violation of the employee’s right to privacy. However, a company can’t just grant this right to their employees. Monitoring employees is an effective means to prove or lessen suspicion on employees who might be revealing trade secrets or doing illegal activities. It also ensures that the productivity is maintained to meet the goals of the company.

What activities are employers allowed to do during video surveillance?

According to the American Bar Association, the general rule that employers should follow is that they may only be allowed to record the activities of the employees if they are in plain view. They should be at their workstations. Recording should only occur during work hours.

The employer should be able to give a valid business reason if he chooses to hide the cameras. The cameras should only be placed in locations where privacy is not expected. In some states like New York and Minnesota, the use of audio function is only allowed if the consent of the employee was obtained in accordance with wiretapping laws.


What is considered as illegal in video surveillance of employees?

  • What is stated in the federal law?

There are no limitations or prohibitions explicitly stated in the US Federal Law regarding monitoring of employees. The provisions of the Federal Wiretapping or Electronic Communications Privacy Act do not specifically pertain to video surveillance in the workplace. It is up to the states to determine which practices are considered acceptable when it comes to monitoring employees.

  • Exceptions in the Federal Law: protected concerted activity

Employees that are also members of a union or worker solidarity march are protected from video surveillance according to Section 7 of the NLRA or National Labor Relations Act. They are allowed to exercise their right to protected concerted activity.

  • What is in the state laws?

Some states have set limitations on video surveillance, in addition to protected concerted activity of the federal law. In the states of California, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and West Virginia, employers are not allowed to record sounds, voices or videos for monitoring purposes in areas designated for comfort, health and security of the employees such as restrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms.

Protection from court cases

Video surveillance and privacy in the workplace continue to be a challenging area in terms of legalities. The employers should be able to create standard procedures that comply with laws and regulations. To avoid putting the company in a bad light, employees should be well-informed of the company’s surveillance practices. They should know which areas are being monitored. It is recommended to seek the help of an attorney to make sure that existing regulations are interpreted correctly.

Jon is fond of reading, writing & meeting people. He loves writing about Employment Law. In a former life, Jon worked as a content specialist and has good knowledge about employment policies & law.

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