Human Resources News & Insights

When are surveillance cameras illegal?

When rules are broken, HR and managers are often put in the tough position of investigating the incident — without invading anyone’s privacy.

Those sometimes-conflicting obligations recently led to a lawsuit in California.

Two women sued their employer after discovering a hidden camera in an office they shared. They claim the company invaded their privacy.

What was the camera doing there? The company said someone had been viewing pornography after hours on the women’s computers, so it installed a camera in the office to find out who it was.

The employer never thought either of the women did it — but it also didn’t tell them about the surveillance. The camera was never turned on during the day, and the female employees were never actually captured on film.

As we reported earlier, a judge initially sided with the women anyway. He said that just the possibility that they could be watched was enough to let the case move forward.

However, the California Supreme Court overturned that ruling, saying the scope of the surveillance wasn’t enough to constitute an invasion of privacy.

Cite: Hernandez v. Hillsides, Inc.

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  • mike R

    What is the expectancy of privacy in an office? I would expect that putting a camera in a bathroom or sleeping area or changing area to be off limits, but an office? Did the company communicate to the employees that they had an expectancy of privacy in their offices? Did the company communicate to the employees that they may be subject to video tape surveilance?

  • HRGirly

    Privacy in your work office – that is a shared office? Your work day – at work – is not a private matter. Your employer is paying you for your time… Yes, they should have been told – as a curtesy but it was not an invasion of privacy.

  • Roger

    Is it legal for a manager at a store to download surveilanse videos from the store cameras surveilace to there personal I-phones? Then go around the store threating at employees with the recording they have on there personal I-phones. Is this legal? Is this the pupose of surveilance cameras in stores?