Restaurant Cameras Keep Tabs on Workers, Customers

Restaurant owners using video surveillance for safety and register fraud


"If we had 100 occasions with some sort of theft going on, 96 percent are from your own employees," he said. "We've seen [on camera] people take boxes of product out of the refrigerator or freezer; boxes of chips, about 50 bags to a box; bread dough they take and bake at home."

And he's seen employees steal from the register.

With his surveillance system, including equipment from DTT, each cash register transaction is coordinated with the camera's digital recording system.

"If someone is doing something they shouldn't be doing on the register we can go back and track that," Mr. Chapman said.

Over the past five years, he's fired "conservatively, maybe two dozen" workers who were caught by cameras. In one severe case, he pushed for prosecution.

The target of employee theft is usually cash, said Michael Mershimer, a consultant who heads the National Restaurant Association's loss prevention study group.

"It's not that they want to steal chicken nuggets," he said.

At Mr. Chapman's stores, cameras are trained on each cash register. He also has cameras watching the exterior doors and the dining rooms. The restrooms are about the only place in the restaurants that are off limits.

Courts generally have held that workers should have a diminished expectation of privacy in public areas -- which would include the checkout area of a restaurant.

The possibility that cameras will be installed in inappropriate places, such as restrooms and locker rooms, has privacy experts concerned. They also suggest cameras can be intrusive.

"It's not a privacy violation if you're standing behind the counter where everyone can see you," said Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute in Princeton, N.J. "But it's not a pleasant way to work."

Mr. Chapman of Subway said he's never had "one employee come up to me and complain about being on camera."

Sherlonda Hurley, 37, of Irving has worked at Mr. Chapman's Irving store since it opened in October. She was aware of the cameras -- and had worked under them at previous restaurant jobs.

"They don't faze me," she said, as customers lined up for toasted sandwiches with Genoa salami and seared steak. "Sometimes I forget they're up there. I'm glad we have them for safety reasons."

She doesn't see the addition of cameras in restaurants as unique.

"Cameras are everywhere," she said. "You've got cameras in the mall. That's just something in general."

TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS

--Identify and document the business reasons for using surveillance cameras. Legitimate reasons include health, safety, theft prevention and workplace productivity.

--Hold meetings with employees to address morale concerns and to explain which areas of the workplace they should not expect to be private.

--Adopt a written policy reserving the right to monitor the workplace with visible and hidden cameras.

--For unionized labor forces, ensure that camera use has been addressed in collective bargaining.

--Limit the times during the day that the cameras will be in use to achieve the business purpose.

--Limit who is permitted to view any surveillance tapes and keep that group on a "need to know" basis.

--Do not put cameras in restrooms or locker rooms where employees may change clothes.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.