What is the best way for HR to handle violence in the workplace? How about drug abuse, pornography, theft, lowered productivity and on-the-job injuries? Couple the losses from these activities with the cost of litigation and the solution for many companies is: Surveillance!
A greater amount of employers are turning to the use of video surveillance cameras and other high-tech security measures to keep an eye on employees so they can stave off injuries, bad behavior and other kinds of loss. I’m not a fan of cameras, but if done appropriately, monitoring can increase productivity and reduce misbehavior. But would you trade these benefits for the new set of problems a monitoring system brings to workplace?
If an employer is going to do it, from a legal perspective, unveiling surveillance is the wisest approach. Employers need to let employees know that they will be monitored so their reasonable expectation of privacy is removed. Not knowing often forms the basis for invasion of privacy lawsuits arising under common law.
The law is not yet fully developed on the issue of surveillance in the workplace. Nevertheless, the cases that have been decided propose that the courts will consider the ‘disclosure factor’ in determining whether privacy rights of an employee have been violated, or whether other illegal activity has taken place. By letting employees know that their activity will be monitored, the employer will lessen an employees' expectation for privacy and as a result, reinforce its defense in court.
I’m a big proponent of trust, happiness and fun in the workplace. I believe that trying to eliminate theft or drug abuse needs to happen in the interview process, not by instigating an intense surveillance system with measures that will erode the framework of a positive culture and trust within a company.
Employers need to incorporate HR professionals at the earliest phase of considering and implementing a surveillance system in the workplace. Employers also need to work toward a company wide solution that does not harm morale and is comprehensible to employees. Employers also must be certain that surveillance systems do not infringe upon collective bargaining contracts, or create an atmosphere of shadowing in the middle of a union-organizing campaign.
Finally, given the changing legal setting of this issue, any employer that chooses to keep an eye on its employees through surveillance should also be sure to stay fresh on the law.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
Search this site: