Legal Use of Surveillance in the Workplace in Minnesota

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The use of surveillance cameras in the workplace is regulated by law.
The use of surveillance cameras in the workplace is regulated by law. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

English philosopher Jeremy Bentham proposed in "Panopticon," a tract on penitentiary management published in 1787, that there should be a type of jail where inmates felt as if they were being watched at all times. This idea was if people thought they were constantly monitored they would not misbehave, and this idea has crept into the modern workplace. Although most video recordings on an individual's or company's private property are legal in the Minnesota, there are laws that protect the right of employees and regulate the use of cameras, microphones and other surveillance tools in the workplace.

Surveillance and Privacy

The right to privacy is the right of being safe from unauthorized surveillance in a certain area. However, its definition in the workplace is far from clear. A private area is anywhere a reasonable person would expect a level of privacy, such as bathrooms, locker rooms and bedrooms. Protection from unauthorized surveillance in private areas and the right to privacy in the workplace are not a constitutional right in the United States. Each state has its own laws regulating the use of surveillance.

Minnesota Laws on Surveillance In Private Places

Thirteen states in the United States, including Minnesota, prohibit specifically the use of cameras, microphones or other surveillance devices to photograph, eavesdrop and monitor workers in private areas. In these states, installing surveillance devices in a private area of the workplace, such as toilets or changing rooms, is a criminal offense.

Minnesota Private Property Surveillance Laws

In Minnesota, Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, South Dakota and Utah, you cannot use hidden surveillance devices on private property without the owner's authorization. Therefore, if your employees workplace includes private property, such as their homes, the use of surveillance without their authorization could be a felony offense punishable with up to two 2 years in prison.

Minnesota's Right To Privacy Tort

The Fourth Amendment regulates the issue of privacy between the government and its citizens. However, a similar law protecting the invasion of privacy between citizens, such as employers and employees, does not exist. What does exist is a series of judge-made laws, called torts, which regulate social wrongs, which do not reach the level of crimes, from the civil courts level. In Minnesota, the right to privacy was first established in 1998 with the legal decision on Lake vs. Wal-Mart. This landmark tort determined that privacy is a part of our humanity and that liberty affords us the right of choosing what we hold private and what we share publicly.

Electronic Surveillance at Work

The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act prohibits the intentional interception of electronic communications at the workplace. However, there are several large loopholes that allow employers to effectively monitor employees. For instance, employers may intercept emails and telephone conversations of employees as long as there is an actual or implied consent or knowledge of the surveillance. So, if a company gives notice that electronic surveillance is being carried out as part of its company policy, it may be allowed to use it to monitor its employees.

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