There are many business owners who feel the need for hidden cameras in the work place to help deter employee theft, false accusations of sexual harassment, wasted time, etc. However, they have concerns about the legality and ethics of placing hidden cameras in the workplace. A recent California Supreme Court decision should help alleviate some of that concern. This siding, in the ultra-liberal state of California, for the employer over the employees bringing the suit is very encouraging for all business owners.
The California Supreme Court held held that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace, but that right has limits. And it doesn’t prevent employers from conducting some hidden surveillance in an employee’s office for “legitimate business concerns.”
“An employer may have sound reasons for monitoring the workplace,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for a unanimous court, “and an intrusion upon the employee’s reasonable privacy expectations may not be egregious or actionable under the particular circumstances.”
This ruling came about in October 2002 when office manager Abigail Hernandez and administrative assistant Maria Lopez discovered hidden video equipment in the office they shared at Pasadena’s Hillsides Children’s Center, a facility that houses abused children. Executive Director John Hitchcock had installed the equipment in an unsuccessful attempt to catch someone who had been viewing pornography on Lopez’s computer in the wee hours of the morning.
Hitchcock was particularly concerned because many of the 66 boys and girls at the center had been the victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. No one was ever apprehended.
Neither Hernandez nor Lopez were suspects, and the camera — activated only after work hours — never recorded them. Nonetheless, they were distraught upon discovering the camera and sued for invasion of privacy.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge C. Edward Simpson granted summary judgment to the center. But Los Angeles’ 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed in 2006, holding that the mere placement of the surveillance equipment in the women’s office without their knowledge invaded their privacy.
On Monday, the Supreme Court justices split the difference, saying that while they could understand the two women’s “dismay,” the placement of the hidden camera wasn’t egregious, and the employer had a valid reason for doing what he did.
This court decision has given employers the right to use surveillance systems and hidden cameras for legitimate business concerns.