Can an employer video and audio tape its employees during business hours while on the job, without their knowledge? If the employee signs an acknowledgment and consent that authorizes the employer to video and audio tape, is this a violation of reasonable expectation of privacy?

Posted 05-15-2001

Ann Kiernan responds:

There’s a word for secret audiotaping of someone else’s conversations: Wiretap! And that’s illegal under state and federal law. However, federal law allows employers to monitor employee telephone conversations to ensure customer service, efficiency, and the like, but employees must be told they are subject to monitoring. (So must customers, which is why you hear an announcement like “This call may be monitored to ensure customer satisfaction” when you call many businesses.)

If the videotaping includes audio, that’s a wiretap, too. If the video is silent, such as those produced by the surveillance cameras in banks, it’s not a wiretap, but there may be a violation of privacy rights, depending on where the cameras are located. Restroom and locker room cameras have been held to be illegal–and even criminal– in some cases.

If the employees are told that there will be videotaping in “public” areas at work, then they no longer have a reasonable expectation of privacy there. To make sure employees know what to expect at work, the best practice is to tell employees about taping policies in the employee handbook.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.