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Can Employers Use Video Cameras to Monitor Workers?

Founding Member of Moshes Law, P.C.
During his years of practice, Yuriy has concentrated in litigation and real estate transactions as his areas of expertise.
new york surveillance camera laws

Work productivity, misappropriation of company time and resources, workplace violence, Capital riots and the security of employees working on January 6th: Video surveillance plays a crucial role in the workplace across the country.  But how much is too much for employers who may be getting a case of “Big Brother syndrome”? There are state and New York surveillance camera laws in place to help define and place limits on what employers can record or monitor in the workplace, particularly when it comes to video surveillance. 

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However, there may be a time when you should consult with an attorney if you feel your rights and privacy are being violated by your employer. Call the Moshes Law if you feel you are a wronged party in your employer’s surveillance efforts in the workplace, especially if you are dealing with a wrongful termination in New York.

When It’s Lawful To Use Surveillance Cameras

“Can my employer use surveillance cameras in the workplace?” you might ask.  Camera laws at work allow for the employer to monitor employees by video camera in certain circumstances. Those circumstances must be related to legitimate business purposes:

  • Loss Prevention
  • Security and Safety
  • Employee utilization of company time and resources

Some businesses that make common use of cameras at work include banks, eating establishments, retail stores, and local/state/federal government buildings among others, where employees would not have an expectation of privacy. Employers must also inform employees that cameras in the workplace are utilized.

Prevent External and Internal Thefts

Employers will often use surveillance cameras to monitor activity in retail stores to ensure loss prevention and no theft of company monies. Cameras will often be put in areas of prominence like the cash register area to monitor employees’ cash handling and throughout the store to monitor for potential shoplifters or inside thievery involving employees. Cameras will be placed at teller stations at banks in the event of inside thievery or a potential bank robbery. Cameras may be put on board armored vehicles carrying large loads of money to stores and other establishments that handle cash on a regular basis.

Using Cameras for Security Reasons

In this recent age of workplace and school violence, many employers have installed security cameras to monitor safety of employees, patrons, clients, and other people entering and exiting a given building. Aside from helping ensure safety of others, employers utilize video cameras to protect against potential liability in the event of a major catastrophe from a person who may have entered an establishment and is not supposed to or authorized to be there.

To See That Workers Are Doing What Is Expected of Them

Loss prevention does not just protect against the loss of goods from an establishment. It also includes preventing theft of company time and resources by employees. Security cameras are often placed in areas where employees normally do not expect a reasonable amount of privacy. Such circumstances can include:

  • Employers will put security cameras at entrances and exits and at employee time clocks to ensure against time card/clock manipulation.
  • Employers will install cameras in office areas to ensure employees are working when they are supposed to, instead of doing things like being on their phone or surfing the Internet on company computers, particularly on websites not normally utilized for work (Facebook, watching videos on YouTube, etc.).
  • Employers will place security cameras in supply areas to ensure against theft of company resources.

These are some of the ways an employer can legally use security cameras in the workplace.

Unlawful Use of Surveillance Cameras

Unlawful Use of Surveillance Cameras

There are strict state laws and federal laws in place that limit where an employer CANNOT use security cameras. In New York, New York Labor Law 203-c clearly spells out where employers cannot install security cameras. It states in part:

“No employer may cause a video recording to be made of an employee in a restroom, locker room, or room designated by an employer for employees to change their clothes, unless authorized by court order.”

This covers any area where an employee does have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The law also keeps an employer from using video obtained for any purpose if it is recorded in violation of the labor law.

Attorney for Job Discrimination

At the federal level, federal wiretapping laws prevent the recording of audio conversations, which is why many employer security cameras do not capture audio. Also, the National Labor Relations Act forbids an employer from using video to monitor or intimidate union employees when engaged in union-related activities.

When Camera Installed Without Noticing Employees

In New York, employers can be filming employees at work without consent as long as they use video-only (no audio) surveillance (New York is a one-party consent tape when it comes to recording). But as mentioned previously, it must have a legitimate business interest and be installed in areas not prohibited by NY Labor Law 203-c.

If Video Surveillance Violates Privacy in the Workplace

Laws do lean pro-employer in many states when it comes to. There is recourse, though, if you feel you have been unfairly targeted by the employer’s surveillance policies and methods. One option is to file a complaint with your union (if a union member) or your local or state department of labor. 

However, the best option is to seek legal counsel first, to see what the best option or options are, especially if it involves potentially filing a wrongful termination or discrimination suit untli New York Labor Law 203-c. Potential damages can include awards for emotional distress, expense for hiring legal counsel, and other potential relief.

Contact an Employment Rights Attorney 

As mentioned, while the legality of videotaping employees is a fine line to walk,  employers do have legitimate reasons for using video surveillance in the workplace:  protection of company assets and monitoring employees’ work activities while on the clock. However, your employer must inform you that they do monitor employees’ activities by video.

If you are fired because of something the employer says they saw or caught you doing on video, it could affect you in several ways, the least of which could be your right to seek unemployment benefits while you look for another job. Depending on the reason for discharge.That is why it is beneficial to consult legal advice to see what your options are to defend yourself. Whether it is fighting for unemployment benefits or fighting a wrongful termination, our legal team at Moshes Law Firm will fight for your rights in the workplace. Fill out the online form for a free consultation to further discuss your legal needs with us.

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