When Is It Illegal to Use Surveillance Cameras?
While it is common for California employers to use surveillance cameras in the workplace, certain kinds of surveillance are illegal under state law. The legality of surveillance cameras mainly depends on the location of the cameras and the purpose for their use.
Under California Penal Code Section 647(j) PC, it is illegal to put a surveillance camera in:
- Locker rooms
- Tanning booths
- Fitting or dressing rooms
In general, surveillance cameras are prohibited in areas where a person might reasonably expect privacy. This law applies to California employers. However, an employer can receive an exemption from these rules if he or she has a court order authorizing the use of surveillance in any of these areas.
Under the federal National Labor Relations Act, employers are not allowed to photograph or record employees participating in union or other protected activities. This includes union meetings.
It is important to note that surveillance laws do not concern only the visual. Under California Penal Code Section 632, it is illegal for employers to record audio of confidential conversations without the consent of the involved parties. Employers who use surveillance cameras with audio capability in their workplace may not be aware of this law.
When Is It Legal to Record Employees at Work?
Under California law, employers are entitled to install surveillance cameras and record their employees when the surveillance is in the interest of their business.
Specifically, this means that an employer can legally record employees in common areas and public locations in the workplace. Examples might include the break room and the corridors between offices.
When Can an Employer Be Sued for Using Surveillance Cameras?
It is possible to sue an employer for using surveillance cameras. However, there must be proof of each of the following:
- The employer violated the right to privacy
- The employee had a reasonable expectation of privacy
- There was a serious invasion of privacy
- The employee suffered serious harm as a result of the surveillance
Let’s return to our opening example. Vincent had a reasonable expectation of privacy while in the restroom. By installing a surveillance camera in the restroom, his employer has violated California Penal Code Section 647(j) PC. Vincent has every right to file a lawsuit concerning the violation of his privacy.