The use of video surveillance in the workplace is increasing. It is seen by employers as a valuable tool to improve security and the safety of employees.  However, employees can feel like they’re “being watched” by their employer in ways that violate their reasonable expectation of privacy.

Covert Surveillance of Individual Employees

An employer can only use covert (hidden) surveillance if the employee under surveillance is suspected of having breached the trust relationship between the employee and the employer by engaging in fraudulent activity (such as falsely claiming to have suffered a workplace injury).

Less privacy-intrusive ways of getting the information about a suspected fraud should be used before surveillance video is used, and the employer must limit the collection of personal information to only what is necessary to establish the fraud or breach of trust.

General Surveillance in the Workplace

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has issued a number of decisions specifically about surveillance in the workplace and some principles have emerged which can be expected to be applied under most privacy laws:

1. It is not appropriate to use continuous or “always on” surveillance if one of the purposes is to manage employee productivity. An employer should use a less privacy-invasive means of managing productivity;

2. Cameras may be appropriate if:

  1. There is a legitimate, demonstrable, operational need for cameras for security purposes;
  2. The cameras are going to be effective in meeting that need;
  3. There is no other more effective and less privacy-intrusive means of meeting that need;
  4. The cameras are directed at areas of access to the facility rather than on areas where employees work or where the employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as washroom doors, changing areas, or lunchrooms;
  5. The recordings are stored for a specified, limited time and destroyed or overwritten when that time has lapsed;
  6. The employees are told about the surveillance, the purpose of the surveillance and the rationale for it.

Employers should develop a policy on video surveillance prior to implementing the surveillance and the policy should include the following points:

  1. Clearly identified purposes for the video surveillance;
  2. The personal information recorded should be limited to what is necessary for the purpose, and should be used only for those purposes. The information may not be used for other purposes unless the relevant privacy law permits or requires the use (generally this would be for investigation purposes) or the individual who is in the surveillance tape gives consent;
  3. The information in the recordings must be kept secure, access to it should be limited and the recordings should be destroyed when they are no longer required. Any image of an employee is that employee’s personal information to which he or she would generally have a right of access (subject to any limits in the applicable law).

If you have any concerns about surveillance conducted by your employer, do the following:

  1. First, look at the privacy policy and the surveillance policy if the employer has one;
  2. If you are comfortable doing so, you could ask the privacy officer about the surveillance;
  3. If you are unionized, seek assistance from your union representative and your union;
  4. You may also lodge a formal complaint with the Privacy Commissioner that oversees your employers;

General guidelinesabout video surveillance were jointly published by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioners of Alberta and of BC. They are not specific to employee surveillance, but provide an overall set of principles which should be followed by organizations in most circumstances.