Overview of Video Camera Use in the Workplace

Privacy is an important concern today, where almost everyone has access to a smartphone with video recording capabilities. No one wants to have their private conversations recorded, especially not in the workplace. However, whether or not people can use video cameras at work remains unclear among many employers and employees alike.

Can Employers Use Video Cameras in the Workplace?

Employers can use video cameras in the workplace as long as it is for security purposes and they notify employees of the surveillance beforehand. Employers cannot use surveillance to monitor certain employee activities, such as union organizing. In addition, many surveillance cameras cannot have audio capabilities due to federal wiretap law.

California-specific laws state that an employer cannot record employees in the following circumstances:

  • In bathrooms or locker room areas
  • During union meetings
  • In any manner that includes audio, unless both parties give consent
  • In any space that where employees expect a reasonable degree of privacy, such as break rooms

Certain businesses must monitor the workplace with surveillance footage, however. Banks, restaurants, retail stores, and other workplaces that serve the public need to include video surveillance for security and theft prevention purposes. In these circumstances, employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Some work spaces fall within a gray area of privacy expectation and rightful employer monitoring, such as cubicles, common areas, and water coolers. California courts define an area as having a reasonable expectation of privacy if it has blinds or the employees have to access it with a key. Courts do not consider common areas to be places where employees should expect privacy.

What Can You Do If Your Employer Records You Without Consent?

Generally speaking, California businesses retain the right to record employees as long as the business purpose for doing so outweighs the employee’s privacy. However, you can sue an employer for use of surveillance equipment if:

  • You suffered harm due to the surveillance.
  • The employer violated your right to privacy.
  • You suffered a serious invasion of privacy, such as recording in a changing area.
  • Your employer violated your reasonable expectation of privacy rights.

To litigate a successful lawsuit, you will need to prove to the courts that your employer acted in a manner that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. The court will consider certain factors to determine if your employer violated your privacy:

  • Who could access the recordings
  • Who the recordings captured
  • The time of day the recordings occurred
  • The length of the recordings
  • If the employer used safeguards to limit public access to the recordings

Can Employees Use Video Cameras in the Workplace?

The rules for employee recording in the workplace are a bit more stringent than for employers. In California, you cannot record a private conversation with your coworkers without their consent. You can record conversations in public areas, such as office lobbies or conference rooms.

It is legal to record a conversation to document discrimination or harassment under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, recording private conversations in California is illegal and if you do record one, your attorney cannot use it as evidence in your harassment case. In addition, California employers can fire you for recording private conversations. Federal rules under the EEOC may differ, however.

If you record discriminatory actions in a public, common area, you can use the video as evidence in a harassment complaint. If your employer fires you for making this recording or filing a complaint, the courts will consider the firing an act of retaliation and you could sue for wrongful termination.

If you are facing unfair termination due to lawful recording of discrimination, you should speak with an employment attorney to discuss your legal options. An attorney can also assist you with navigating harassment complaints if you cannot make a private recording. In addition, an attorney can help you file a complaint against your employer if he or she invades your privacy with unethical surveillance practices.