Cameras in the Workplace

April 10, 2008

The other day I was interviewed by a writer for an international HR magazine on the use of cameras in the workplace. The writer was interested in the legalities of using cameras in employee locker rooms and fitting rooms in retail establishments. The answer to both is no.

The rule of thumb is wherever there is a 'reasonable expectation of privacy' you cannot use cameras to view employee/customer activities. I explained that you could use cameras to view the entrances of locker rooms and fitting rooms, but not to peer inside the private or changing areas.

We also talked about the use of 'fake' cameras. At any given time, you can look for fake cameras on EBay and find 200 or more ads. Only a few will include a disclaimer of liability. I advise my clients not to use fake or dummy cameras in their business. If a business makes exclusive use of dummy cameras, they have created a reasonable expectation of security for their customers.

Look at it this way - you, the storeowner, has purchased fake cameras because you are having a shoplifting problem and think the cameras, visible to the public, will have a deterrent effect on your shoplifting problem. A few months later, a customer is in your store when a street thug steals her purse. She resists and is struck in the face and injured. The robber gets away. The customer is injured to the point where she is taken to the hospital by ambulance. This is a tragic experience, not only for the customer but also for you the business owner. During the investigation, the police see the cameras and ask you for the video tape in hopes of identifying the criminal. You tell them your cameras are not real and there is no video tape. Many months later, you receive a notice from an attorney and learn the injured customer is suing you. During the discovery process, it's found that you used fake cameras to save a few dollars. You can see where this little scenario is leading, especially when the customer says she felt safe shopping in your store because she saw the cameras. To make matters worse - you had a sign in the window proclaiming the premises were being monitored by surveillance video.  I hope your business is able to survive!

Curtis Baillie, Principal Consultant - Security Consulting Strategies, LLC

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