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Covert Video Surveillance of Staff

What rules apply to the use of hidden cameras to watch employees and others in our building? There may be copy paper used in excessive amounts when the bank is closed, promotional materials disappear or items in the lunch room end up missing, etc.

Answer by Dana Turner: Generally, the use of hidden cameras is permissible as long as the use doesn't violate an employee's (or customer's) reasonable expectation of privacy, such as installing a camera in the restroom, changing room or workout room where a person's body parts may become exposed. Common sense prevails . . .

Your employee handbook should contain language (I am not an attorney. Your's should provide input in this area.) that advises employees that their communications and activities may be monitored at any time they are conducting the institution's business. Even without this language, I know of no prohibition about placing concealed recording devices in areas frequented by employees, including the employee lounge, storage areas, hallways, parking lots, vaults or other similar areas. It's the same principle behind placing marked currency in the vault to catch a thief. You're not soliciting (entrapping) employees to commit a crime -- you're just providing the means to identify and prosecute them.


Answer by John Burnett: In Massachusetts there is a strange combination of rules. While videotaping is generally not prohibited (except in the private circumstances that Dana alludes to), it's illegal to record a conversation without the party's consent. That's been found to include an audio track on videotapes.


Answer by Ken Golliher: I have found some legal synopses indicating there are few, if any such laws and only one that even hints that such practices may be regulated in a limited fashion. It is this excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Everyday Law/Privacy:

Several states and U. S. territories have enacted statutory provisions that prohibit employers from spying on employees who are exercising certain protected rights. They include Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, the Virgin Islands, and Wisconsin. Most of the prohibitions contained in these statutes closely mirror or expand upon the prohibitions contained in the NLRA. Specifically, the statutes regulate employer surveillance of workers who are engaging in union-related activities, and each STATUTE permits employer surveillance that is done pursuant to clearly defined rules and in furtherance of legitimate business objectives.

"NLRA" is a reference to the National Labor Relations Act.

The last sentence appears to indicate that even in the very few states where employee surveillance is proscribed if the purpose is anti-union, there is no attempt to regulate it when it supports other business objectives.

John's information on MA may or may not be unique. Be certain to check your state, but it generally looks favorable to the employer.

First published on 3/27/06

First published on 03/27/2006

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