Many employers install surveillance cameras to monitor employees, since these cameras can record employees stealing from a store, not working when the manager is not around or violating work rules. Employers have broad rights to use surveillance cameras at work, since the employee usually has no expectation of privacy. Using surveillance cameras to monitor an employee at home, such as to determine if the employee is really sick or injured, is more risky for the employer.
When employees are part of a union, they receive additional rights. The National Labor Relations Act requires an employer to get permission from the union to install surveillance cameras when the workplace is under a collective bargaining agreement. Employees have received back pay awards after unauthorized workplace monitoring, even though they were fired for cause after the camera caught them breaking rules.
A court may allow an employer to monitor an employee at home if it is for a work-related reason. Stalking or recording an employee at home without good cause can lead to criminal charges for voyeurism. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an employer can hire a detective to take pictures of an employee at home if it is for a valid reason such as a workman's compensation claim.
A reasonable expectation of privacy may apply to some work areas. State law may prohibit an employer from using surveillance cameras in private areas, such as bathrooms, changing rooms or employee break areas. The state of Connecticut, for example, prohibits employers from using monitoring systems in work locations designed to promote the employee's health or comfort. Federal law does not establish any of these restrictions.
An employee may claim that the use of surveillance cameras is discriminatory. An employer should purchase enough cameras to monitor the entire work area so that the actions of all employees are recorded. Employees may work harder while being monitored, but the cameras can also reduce employee trust in the management. An employee may like the cameras, since the cameras also discourage robbers if the cameras are visible.
The company can select either visible cameras or concealed cameras. A company that uses concealed cameras may want to tell employees that the cameras are present anyway, so that the employees cannot claim a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area being monitored. According to St. Francis University, an employer should also give this privacy warning when it provides work e-mail services.
Eric Novinson has written articles on Daily Kos, his own blog and various other websites since 2006. He holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Humboldt State University.