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Surveillance in the Workplace: Top Legal Questions

Between customers and employees, there's a lot to keep an eye on at your business. And given recent advancements in technology, there are more ways than ever to monitor patrons and staff. One would imagine there are a whole lot of laws out there as well, governing how, when, and where you can monitor your employees and customers, and what you can do with that information.

But that's not always the case. Sometimes it takes the law a little bit to catch up with technology, and an eagle-eyed small business owner might have come up with something before the courts have. So questions remain about the legal limits of workplace surveillance -- here are some of those questions, and a few places to turn for answers.

1. Is It Legal to Spy on Your Employees?

As a general rule, employers may monitor employees, online and off, with certain limitations. Courts have allowed employers to read employee email, so long as they have employee consent, the reading is done in the ordinary course of business, and the employer has a legitimate business purpose. Courts have also allowed certain media surveillance, but there remains some protected speech for which you cannot fire an employee.

2. Is It Legal to Post Business Surveillance Video Online?

Let's say you catch someone doing something unethical or illegal. Can you post that footage in order to catch or shame the guilty party, or to deter future bad actors? For the most part, yes. Looking to have a laugh at an employee or customer's comedic misfortune? You might want to be more careful

3. Is It Legal to Install Cameras in Restrooms?

Nope. While video surveillance in public areas and even business' common areas or offices is generally allowed, cameras in restrooms are a big no-no. Additionally, you should only use security cameras to record video and not audio, as audio recording of employees or customers may violate state or federal wiretapping laws.

4. Can Your Business Monitor Employees' Movements in the Office?

Just knowing where your employees are might sound mundane, but high tech employee monitoring systems can also tell you who your staff is interacting with, or how long they've gone without interacting with other employees at all. Oh, and it may also help to know which lights and air conditioning to turn on or off, and when.

Before you set up your workplace surveillance system, consult an experienced employment attorney to make sure you're complying with the law.

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