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Video-Recording Employees Can Pay Off, but Legal Worries Remain

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 18, 2014 12:13 PM

As a business owner, should you video-record your employees?

Employers may wonder how their employees might act if they knew they were being watched at all times. It may sound like a heavy-handed science fiction premise, but companies might actually benefit from having cameras recording their employees. Some recent studies have found that when employees knew they were being watched, misconduct (like employee theft) fell, while sales and productivity increased.

However, a business can get itself into real legal trouble by recklessly recording its workers.

Studies: Workers Better When Watched

It's not hard to imagine that most of our behaviors would improve if every act that we performed was exposed in the stark light of day. Writing for The Huffington Post, Harvard business professor Ethan Bernstein believes that the research on employee behavior matches this intuition. Cameras will not be terribly effective at helping employers catch bad behavior by employees, but the presence of the cameras themselves seems to curb poor choices.

A Washington University study found that technology-based monitoring in restaurants "reduced restaurant employee theft by 22 percent" and actually increased productivity and sales. Another study found that customers perceived an increase in worker effort when they were more able to view them while working. Greater transparency seems to have a number of different perks for businesses, and adding cameras to watch employees removes one more barrier between the employer and employees.

Legal Worries

While statistics may point to a decrease in worker misconduct and an increase in productivity, watching employees may nonetheless land your company in legal trouble. Video surveillance of work areas can be legal, but only if it is video-only. Recording the audio of your workers' conversations can run afoul of federal wiretapping laws.

In addition, you don't want to place cameras in places that would violate your employees' privacy -- like bathrooms and changing areas. Make sure that wherever you install cameras, you have a reasonable business purpose for doing so (e.g., security, preventing theft, monitoring performance, etc.). If there is no business purpose for the camera, it's more likely to expose your business to a lawsuit.

Try to remember that your employees are humans as well as workers when installing cameras. Bernstein notes that although a camera's presence may increase productivity, it may also dampen creative or innovative behavior.

As an employer, you will have to balance legal and human concerns when deciding to video-record your employees.

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