With video surveillance systems becoming cheaper every day, many employers are turning to these tiny cameras to improve productivity and safety in the workplace, or to prevent theft and waste. Before installing their new system, however, employers should know the legal restrictions and the basics of workplace surveillance etiquette.
First and foremost, employers must obey the law, especially when dealing with workplace surveillance. Though employers are allowed to record and monitor most areas in the workplace, there are some places that cameras may not legally go.
No surveillance is allowed in bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, or any similar areas where employees can reasonably expect privacy. This restriction may extend to smoking rooms and employee lounges as well.
Video surveillance also must be limited to video—recording of audio is a separate issue and is subject to different legal restrictions on both the state and federal levels.
While the use of video to monitor employees is legally permissible, the use of the resulting video is subject to further restriction. It is illegal to publicize the details of an employee's personal life. It is also illegal to appropriate an individual's likeness for commercial gain.
Aside from the legal requirements, employers should consider the ethical implications of surveillance. Is the system being used to supervise the workplace, or to snoop on employees? Are cameras being installed to deter theft or to intimidate employees? Is surveillance seen as a necessary evil, or something you can legally get away with doing?
These questions are even more important in the minds of individual employees. If employees see behavior that could be considered unethical, the resulting damage to employee loyalty and morale can be worse than any problem that surveillance deters.
One way to improve understanding of surveillance in the workplace is to openly and clearly notify employees beforehand. Explain to them the reasoning behind the use of surveillance. Discuss the proper and improper uses of such a system. Inform them of the legal requirements, and assure them that all relevant laws are being followed. Ask for their input, and involve them in the process.
Failing to notify employees about the use of surveillance will likely lead to problems if and when the surveillance is discovered. If there is any question about the legality of such monitoring, you and your company may find yourselves in court. Even if all of the legal specifications are met, the discovery of previously hidden surveillance often leads to suspicion and paranoia in the workplace. Such attitudes can lead to considerable difficulty in supervising and managing employees.