The laws about hidden recorders in a workplace

Written by lauren farrelly
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The laws about hidden recorders in a workplace
Hidden cameras and recorders in the workplace are becoming more common. (office workers image by Tracy Martinez from

More employers are beginning to install hidden cameras and recorders in various places of the workplace to try to prevent various activities such as stealing, on-the-job illicit behaviour (such as drug use or drinking), poor job performance, and to insure safety conditions. While various laws protect employees from invasion of privacy with these cameras and recorders, ultimately the employer or business has the right to use these devices in certain areas and conditions under law.

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Employee Privacy and Private Areas of the Workplace

Employees are entitled to certain areas of privacy at the workplace, including bathrooms, locker rooms or changing areas, and in any areas where an employee may be allowed to sleep or rest. Laws in 13 states expressly prohibit the installation of cameras in these types of places: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Utah.

In addition, the majority of U.S. states also have laws that protect employees from these types of devices being installed without notification of their existence or installation. Failure of an employer or company to notify employees or to post a sign making them aware of a recorder's existence is subject to a fine between £650-$2,000 per violation under various state laws.

An employee is granted a certain right of privacy in designated "private" areas of a workplace. For instance, a camera in the changing area of a workplace is strictly prohibited because it may violate a person's 4th Amendment right to privacy. In addition, many labour unions have become involved in employees' rights regarding recording devices in the workplace. The National Labor Relations Board has won legal battles in various states demanding the disclosure of any recording devices installed in a workplace where there are union members.

Employer Rights

In areas such as a loading dock, hallway or general area where employees meet or congregate, employers are allowed to install recording devices to best protect the integrity of the business if they deem it necessary. Under certain state laws though, employers are required to make employees aware of the existence of such devices, but they may not be required to notify anyone or any entity (such as a labour union) of exactly where that camera or recording device may be installed - making it a hidden device. Employees instead may just be notified of the existence of a recording device. Employers have won legal precedent in various cases over the right to install cameras or recording devices in the workplace. Due to safety or security issues in warehouses or loading docks, courts have found that a business or company is acting in its best interest to provide security to employees and/or visitors and prevent financial loss in the event that employees may be stealing or participating in illicit activities on the job.

Consent of Parties Involved

Because laws vary from state to state in regard to the installation and use of cameras and recorders in the workplace, there are also various consent issues involved. In some states, an employer is required to notify workers and anyone using the facility of the existence of the device(s). This can be done by having an employee sign a waiver of consenting knowledge of the device, or perhaps a sign posted in the designated area of a recorder's existence. However, in other states, consent or knowledge of the device(s) is required by only one party - which can qualify as the employer, making employees unaware of its existence. Keep in mind though, that even though employees may not be made aware of the existence of the device, they are still entitled to "privacy" in the above described "private areas."

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