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Can Employers Use Video Cameras to Monitor Workers?

Can Employers Use Video Cameras to Monitor Workers?

Many employers use video cameras to prevent internal theft, have a record of any employee accident or injury, and for security purposes. Most video surveillance in the workplace is permissible as long as employers notify workers about it.

But there are some instances where surveillance isn't allowed. For example, the law limits employers' surveillance rights when recording union activity. Other state laws determine how and where employers can videotape workers. Federal wiretap law prohibits the recording of certain oral communications. This is why surveillance cameras don't have audio.

This article provides an overview of when and how employers may use security cameras to surveil workers. See Are Hidden Cameras at Work Legal? and the Workplace Privacy subsection of's Small Business Law Center for more information.

Lawful Use of Video Surveillance

Business owners must have a legitimate business reason for using video cameras to record employees. State privacy and federal laws determine which surveillance systems are lawful. Visit your state labor agency for more details.

Most of these laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, limit the use of cameras in the following places:

  • Restrooms
  • Break rooms
  • Changing rooms
  • Employee lounges
  • Locker rooms

Workplace surveillance is also limited in any other area with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Of course, your employer can also install cameras when they have party consent. Your employer may have a surveillance policy requiring you to sign a form releasing them from liability. They must maintain copies of this policy in the employee handbook.

Certain businesses use video surveillance all the time. These include:

  • Retail stores
  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Hotels
  • Casinos

They limit camera use to locations where security and theft prevention are essential.

Even if employees think they have privacy, many companies watch employee interactions. Business insurance providers may offer lower premiums if the insured company uses video surveillance.

Regardless, employers must inform workers that they are using cameras in the workplace. See Privacy at Work: What are Your Rights? to learn more.

What Constitutes a Legitimate Business Purpose?

Workplace surveillance laws usually allow companies to use video monitoring for legitimate business purposes. Contact an employment attorney if you feel your employer is videotaping employees without a reasonable business purpose.

The following are some legitimate business purposes your employer may claim:

  • Reducing the risk of theft
  • Protecting patrons from security threats
  • Preventing harassment, assaults, and batteries on company premises
  • Capturing video recordings of accidents and other incidents

If your employment law attorney can prove your employer violated your employee rights, you may have grounds to sue. It depends on the employee activity they were taping and whether they also captured audio recordings.

Surveillance of Union Activity

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRB) prohibits employers' use of video cameras to record employees' union activities. This includes union meetings and conversations involving union matters.

Employers must bargain with union employees before using video surveillance. Employers also may not use video surveillance to intimidate current or prospective union members.

Questions About Video Surveillance at Work? Talk to a Local Attorney

Employers use video cameras to watch employees for many reasons. But they must do so lawfully. If you have questions about your state laws, it's a good idea to contact a skilled employment lawyer.

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