What Makes Worker Surveillance Legal – or illegal?

Employers are busy. This makes it difficult for them to keep track of their employees 24/7. If they’re not watching, they couldn’t and wouldn’t know if their workers are really working for them, against them, or for somebody else.

Because of this, some companies go belly-up just because they failed to check the work output of their employees. Thanks to closed-circuit television (CCTV), many companies are using video surveillance systems to check their staff.

To the management, employee surveillance is a good thing. To the workers, not exactly. The question here boils down to – is it even legal to begin with?

What is Employee Video Surveillance?

Employee video surveillance is the management’s act of monitoring its employees in the workplace using video cameras fixed anywhere inside the company premises.

Many employers use video surveillance to gauge their worker’s performance and to protect their company’s security. It also helps them prepare and counter from any form of violence, theft, robbery, sabotage, or other illegal activities by the employees.

Is it legal?

Generally, video surveillance of employees is legal. But this largely depends on which country or state an employer belongs. Also, it is subject to limitations provided by different national or state laws.

However, the most debated issue is its supposed violation of the worker’s right to privacy. Since some countries or states don’t have a clear set of rules about employee monitoring, there is a thin line between its legality and illegality. That is why employers must take care not to cross the line.

What Makes it Legal?

There is nothing wrong with monitoring employees as long as it is lawful. If ever someone charges an employer for any violation of privacy rights, he won’t have to worry as long as he complies with these three things:

1.   There is a justifiable need for film

Every employer shares a different viewpoint on what makes employee surveillance a need. To some, they need it to measure their employees’ productivity. If it turns out that the business is not profiting because of poor work output, the employer can check, or rewind, the videos to see whether his workers are working or not.

Meanwhile, some employers need it to protect their company from any illicit activity. Although it is still not necessary for the time being, videos become handy in times of theft, corruption, and other serious crimes in the workplace.

2.   It is public

Companies should place their CCTV cameras in public areas to prevent issues about the worker’s privacy rights. This does not include places where the workers do private matters, such as the restroom, lockers, etc.

Although there are states which allow the use of hidden cameras, it is still safer on the part of the employers to keep them in public sight. This would discourage any act of voyeurism.

This does not mean that the cameras are accessible to the public. Still, the management retains exclusive control over the CCTV.

3.   It is known to employees

Employers must tell their employees about their surveillance system. This ensures that the workers consented to the practice, which prevents them from denying it before the court.

So what makes it illegal?

Primarily, video monitoring in the workplace is illegal if it goes beyond the legal standards provided by the national or state laws. More so if it violates one’s right to privacy. The following are some instances where employee surveillance is forbidden:

1.   If the cameras are inside the restrooms, lockers, shower rooms, break rooms, etc.

Installing video cameras inside the private zones is a big no-no. The purpose of conducting surveillance is for the benefit of the employers’ business alone – not for personal reasons. There is no need for employers to see their workers changing clothes or answering the call of nature. Doing so would invade the worker’s privacy and it can even promote voyeurism, which is a crime.

2.   If it films union meetings

Union meetings are subjects outside the employer’s business. As such, there is no legitimate need to record these meetings in videos. Besides, it is unfavorable on the part of the union members if the employer continues to check on them. Doing so could injure the workers’ autonomy and right to self-organization.

3.   If it records sounds

Some states are strict against surveillance cameras that record sounds. This may run afoul of the laws on wiretapping and eavesdropping, which is why most CCTV cameras are silent.

4.   If it is discriminatory

Some states advocate against discriminatory actions. This happens when employers carry with them their biases in the workplace. There are employers who used CCTV cameras to focus disproportionately on a certain race. That is why it is advisable to install surveillance cameras to cover all types of employees, regardless of color.


A lot of legal issues may arise out of monitoring employees using a video surveillance system. As much as the employers wanted respect, they should also bear in mind to respect their employees’ right as a human person.


Contributed by: Jon from lochlaw.co.uk

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