CCTV cameras and employee privacy rights
The loss of employee privacy rights in the workplace due to the use of CCTV surveillance cameras is a growing concern among employees, lawyers, and civil libertarian groups in the UK. Although employers in UK based banks, telecommunications, hi-tech industries, and in other workplaces justify using video surveillance in the workplace to monitor employee behaviour chiefly to improve productivity, promote safety, and stop theft, protecting employee privacy must be a top concern. For if the courts find that the employer’s surveillance methods are less than fair, that company may find itself knee-deep in lawsuits that could have been avoided.
Employers install hidden CCTV surveillance cameras for many good reasons (preventing theft, promoting productivity or protecting employees) that in some cases will interfere with employee privacy. Legal observers and human resource specialists who study workplace privacy and security believe that employee privacy violations are more common than previously observed, and that they will increase each year.
According to a 2008 survey conducted in the UK, more than half of the companies surveyed use video monitoring to prevent theft, violence and sabotage (65% in 2008 vs. 51% in 2007). In addition, the number of companies in the UK that use CCTV video surveillance to track employees’ performance has also increased, with 15% now videotaping selected job functions and 8% videotaping all employees. Among firms that use video surveillance, 85% notify employees. It has also been seen that employees are unaware of their privacy rights at the workplace. As more and more employee groups become aware of how they are being videotaped by the use of CCTV cameras and also how their privacy is violated, the more likely that they will drag their employers to court.
These are the four main types of court-upheld privacy rights violations that could occur in stores, factories and offices and the first type is directly related to video surveillance.
- Intrusion upon seclusion which includes invading worker privacy rights in bathrooms and changing rooms
- Publication of an employee’s private matters
- Medical records disclosure
- Appropriation of an employee’s favour for commercial purposes
In the UK, video surveillance must be limited to visual images and cannot include audio in order to comply with federal and state statutes. Employers need to be proactive and aware of these four privacy rights violations so that their employees’ individual rights are respected and protected.
First, UK employers need to clarify which privacy rights employees are guaranteed and what constitutes an invasion of privacy. Then, employees must be notified in writing that video surveillance will be conducted and they should also sign a waiver verifying that they know they may be videotaped and monitored.
Management must define what is acceptable monitoring and control versus “snoopervision” and that includes not videotaping showers, changing rooms, restrooms, smoking areas, and employee lounges. These are certain places specifically for employees’ personal comfort, health or for safeguarding their possessions. However, UK employers must also be sensitive against using video surveillance and monitoring in other areas where employees might take breaks.
UK employers must be fully aware of the privacy risks associated with videotaping and monitoring employees so that the likelihood of litigation is reduced. Companies in the UK should also nurture a workplace environment where employees can voice privacy or security rights concerns in confidence with management without feeling that their conversations are being monitored. In short, if employers choose to use video surveillance monitoring in the workplace, they must adhere to written privacy rights guidelines that will keep employees secure and that will also respect their privacy.