We hear a lot these days about an individual's right to privacy. But you also have a right to protect your premises, to observe people you are paying to do work for you, to enforce reasonable rules of behavior, and ensure a safe workplace.
Video surveillance is a relatively inexpensive and effective way for you to maintain an unblinking eye on what your customers and your employees are doing at your place of business.
Fourth Amendment Rights
On-premise video surveillance is not a shocking new concept. Security cameras are legal and were widely used by retailers, banks, hospitals, and a wide variety of other businesses long before most people had cellphones or Internet access.
But, your right to monitor your premises must not collide with a person's Fourth Amendment right to a reasonable expectation of privacy.
It is reasonable to expect privacy in:
- Changing or dressing rooms
- Showers and locker rooms
- Employee break areas
1. Video surveillance cannot be used to monitor union meetings or other similar activities that might take place on your premises.
2. Video cannot be posted on the Internet or shared with others who do not have a legitimate business or legal reason to view the content. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press notes that surveillance video may be published if there is a compelling public interest served or to assist with law enforcement. For example, you can usually release video of a suspect wanted for a crime.
3. The use of otherwise legally placed and clearly marked cameras to zoom in on body parts is prohibited. The one exception might be to provide evidence of theft when someone is secreting merchandise or other business property on their person.
4. Generally, video systems with audio recording capabilities cannot be used to monitor conversations unless you provide prior notification that monitoring is taking place and obtain consent to be recorded from those who are being monitored.
Video Surveillance Laws Vary by State
State and federal laws vary, so it's always best to check first to make sure you are in compliance with all pertinent regulations in your state. Generally speaking, the guiding rule is you must have a reasonable and legitimate purpose to put a surveillance camera in operation.
Whether something is reasonable and legitimate can sometimes be open to question. It is reasonable and legitimate to place video surveillance in your store to deter and detect theft. It might not be to place a camera in an apartment building parking lot where there has never been a problem. Tenants could argue that their comings and goings are none of your business just because you feel there is the possibility something could threaten tenant safety or building security.
Best Practices in Business Use of Video Surveillance
To minimize the chance of being called into court to protect your right to maintain video surveillance of your premises, here a few best practices for using video surveillance systems in the workplace, courtesy of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse:
- Post warning signs that the premises are under video surveillance.
- Inform employees where you have cameras in operation and why they are there.
- Develop a written security policy that states the purpose of video surveillance.
- Post your written policy in a conspicuous area and adhere to your own rules.
- Use video recordings only for the intended purposes.
- Restrict access to recordings. Maintain a log of when video footage is accessed and for what purpose.