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Video Surveillance in the Workplace – What is a company allowed to do?

Technology has improved a business owner’s ability to monitor what goes on in their operations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Cameras can be installed in buildings and parking lots and a business owner or manager can log onto an app on their smart phone and monitor the activities of employees. But is this legal?

Employers must first determine if the state(s) in which they operate have any specific laws addressing what is allowed and what is not with regard to utilizing cameras to monitor the workplace. There are no federal laws that prohibit use of cameras by private companies. Once this has been determined, if video monitoring is allowed in the state in which the company operates, a legitimate business need for such monitoring must be established. As an example, in a retail environment, a company could say that cameras have been installed to monitor for theft and provide additional security. We find that most states do not have laws disallowing the use of video surveillance if the cameras are installed in common areas and the cameras have been installed for a legitimate business reason.

Cameras can typically be installed in the common areas of company property. Employees performing work in such common areas would typically not have any expectation that what they do in the commons areas would be considered private. Though it may seem obvious, most states would not allow cameras in workplace restrooms, locker rooms, changing areas or other similar areas that have been meant to serve employee’s “health or personal comfort” needs. Employers in some states may not be able to monitor break areas used by employees.

If a company determines that having video surveillance is needed for legitimate business reasons, they should notify employees and may not use hidden cameras in many cases. Not providing notice or utilizing hidden cameras has been found to be in violation of employee privacy rights in some states.

Depending on the company’s use of video surveillance, the company could be put in a position of having to defend an invasion of privacy complaint, a harassment complaint or even a discrimination complaint brought by an employee.

Employers are not allowed to use video cameras to monitor union activity. This includes union meetings and conversations that center on union issues. An employer also cannot use video surveillance to in any way intimidate any current or prospective union members. Employees engaging in union activities are exercising their rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Such activities are protected under the NLRA and employers are not allowed to monitor these activities.

As a final note, be aware that audio surveillance in the workplace is another matter. There are federal and state wiretapping and eavesdropping laws companies will also need to follow that may prohibit recording of conversations. It is more likely that surveillance systems set up by employers are video only based on these laws.

Source: For more information please contact our HRWS Client Services Group at 866-691-7757 or email us at