Surveillance in the Workplace: How Far Can Employers Legally Go?

The topic of workplace surveillance presents a complex discussion for employers, both ethically and legally. With the increasing availability and sophistication of surveillance technologies, it’s essential for business owners to understand the legal boundaries and requirements. This month, we’re delving into the topic of permissible surveillance for California employers, aiming to clarify what is legally acceptable and what could potentially infringe on employee privacy rights.

Understanding Types of Corporate Surveillance

Video Surveillance: Often seen as a straightforward and cost-effective way to enhance security, video surveillance systems like CCTV and dashcams are popular in various business settings. They serve as deterrents against theft and help in liability assessments during incidents, but their use is subject to specific legal constraints. For example, employers must notify employees that they are under video surveillance, and surveillance is not allowed in areas where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Productivity Monitors: In the era of remote work, monitoring software is frequently used to track activities on company-owned computers. While these tools help in assessing employee productivity, they must be implemented with clear policies and often require employee consent as well.

Audio Recording: Common in customer service settings, audio recordings are often used for quality control and training purposes. California law mandates explicit two-party consent, which means that all parties must actively consent to being recorded.

Legal Boundaries in Workplace Surveillance

The general rule for lawful surveillance in a business context is that it can be employed in areas where there is no expectation of privacy. This means:

  • Surveillance cameras are permissible in general work areas, warehouses, and parking lots but not in private spaces like restrooms, nursing areas, or changing rooms.
  • Signage indicating the presence of video surveillance is often required, making employees and customers aware that they are being monitored.
  • Productivity monitoring software should be limited to company-owned devices and used strictly during work hours. Employees should be informed about the extent and nature of monitoring.

Balancing Security Needs and Privacy Rights

Employers must balance their right to protect their business with the privacy rights of their employees. For instance, setting up surveillance in a break room to catch vandalism may seem like a reasonable security measure, but it could invade employees’ privacy. Employers should:

  • Understand what constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace.
  • Develop clear policies and guidelines for the use of surveillance tools, ensuring they align with all applicable legal standards.
  • Keep employees informed about the surveillance methods being used and the rationale behind them.

Getting Help

Understanding the legal framework that underpins California’s surveillance requirements is crucial for safeguarding your business interests while adequately respecting the privacy of your employees and customers. At Integrated General Counsel, P.C., we are passionate about helping employers meet the challenges posed by California’s business and employment laws. Whether you are considering implementing new surveillance methods or want to ensure your current practices are legally sound, our team is here to help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at 925-399-1529.

Integrated General Counsel