·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


CCTV Cameras in the Workplace and Employees’ Rights

— March 27, 2023

Video security can be a powerful tool when it comes to preventing crime and monitoring employees’ activity.

When planning a physical security strategy, installing CCTV cameras is usually one of the first items on the list of many employees, alongside access control measures and an effective alarm system.

However, implementing a video security system also comes with several implications in terms of employees’ privacy and rights. Employers don’t have full freedom when it comes to recording their workers. After shortly covering the benefits of CCTV surveillance, this article will answer some common questions on rules that employers must observe when recording their workers.

The benefits of installing CCTV cameras in the workplace

A clear advantage of installing CCTV cameras in the workplace is how effective they can be in boosting security.

Video cameras are a powerful deterrent against malicious individuals who may want to commit crimes on the premises. Criminals are usually less likely to commit illegal acts in areas where they know they are being recorded. Moreover, cameras can collect evidence of crimes when they have already happened, which can be very helpful to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors when building a case. Finally, video surveillance can provide data for video analytics software to analyze, thus allowing the business to prevent unfortunate events before they happen.

Video surveillance can also be used to monitor the conduct and productivity of the company’s workers. For example, it may be used to identify employees engaging in prohibited activities, as well as track their work process to increase their efficiency.

Is it legal to install video security cameras in the office?

There are currently no federal laws that prohibit the installation of video cameras in the workplace.

However, employers should beware of a set of laws that deal with reasonable expectations of privacy. There are certain workplace areas where employees have a right to privacy and where video cameras should not be installed. These include restrooms, locker rooms, and break rooms. Installing cameras in these areas may result in lawsuits by workers who feel their privacy has been violated.

As for other workspace areas, employers must have a legitimate business purpose for installing video cameras, such as ensuring security, monitoring workers’ productivity, or gaining evidence of improper conduct.

Should employers notify workers of CCTV video surveillance?

Laws on this matter typically vary from state to state. However, it’s a good business practice to notify your employees of the presence of CCTV cameras in your workplace and detail the exact positions in which they are located (e.g., lobbies, reception desks, and elevators). It would be best if you also make your workers aware of the presence of cameras in outside areas. For example, some employers may install license plate reading cameras at the entry point of their parking lots.

It’s also a good idea to obtain the worker’s written consent to be recorded. This could be requested when workers sign employment contracts or through an explicit written policy.

Are there federal laws protecting certain employee activities from being recorded on camera?

Some provisions included in the National Labor Relations Act have very important implications for employers planning to install video cameras in the workplace. These rules prohibit a business from recording employees when they engage in so-called protected activities. Examples of such activities are discussing salaries and working conditions with other employees, as well as participating in rallies and demonstrations.

Employers are also prohibited from using CCTV surveillance to monitor their workers’ union activities, as this may be seen as an intimidation attempt to prevent them from taking collective action.

Painting of surveillance camera on wall; image by Tobias Tullius, via
Painting of surveillance camera on wall; image by Tobias Tullius, via

What about state laws?

Rules on using video surveillance in the workplace may differ from state to state.

For example, California and Alabama forbid the installation of hidden cameras. All employees should be fully aware of where the cameras are located. Similar laws exist in Georgia and Hawaii.

As we mentioned earlier, it’s always a good practice to obtain your employees’ written consent to be recorded. However, this consent is mandatory in a number of states, including Michigan, New Hampshire, and Kansas.

Are there different laws for recording in outdoor and indoor areas?

Rules on cameras in outside areas are typically less strict than those on recording indoor activities. Businesses are allowed to install cameras pointing toward public areas, where individuals typically don’t have a right to privacy. This could be the case of cameras outside a retailer’s store or a bank entrance.

However, businesses (and property owners in general) cannot point their video cameras toward private areas. For example, your surveillance device cannot record what’s happening in the living room of a building located in front of yours. Similarly, they are not allowed to record activities in the parking lot or other outdoor areas of the neighboring company.

To sum up

Video security can be a powerful tool when it comes to preventing crime and monitoring employees’ activity. However, it’s important for employers to avoid installing their cameras in areas of their workplaces where there is an expectation of privacy. It’s also forbidden for businesses to record employees when engaging in protected activities, such as union meetings and discussions on work conditions. In certain states, businesses may also have to obtain the written consent of their employees if they want to record them while in the workplace.

Join the conversation!