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Office Drones: UAVs in the Workplace

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 16, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As soon as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) became small enough and affordable enough for just about anyone to have, we've marveled at their myriad uses. You can battle other drones in aerial combat, or get beer delivered to your ice fishing shack (or at least you used to, before the pesky FAA got involved). And, of course, Amazon was at the forefront, pushing for drone delivery.

But what about drones in the workplace? Is it legal for your small business to be using drones?

Drone Laws

Federal regulations for drones remain in their infancy: although the FAA and Department of Transportation recently announced that all unmanned aircraft would need to be registered, but officials are still hashing out how the registration process will look. And earlier this year, the FAA was still seeking public comments on proposed flight regulations for commercials drones.

In light of the current lack of consistent commercial drone legislation, businesses looking to use drones should register their drones and file a certificate of exemption from the FAA. You should also make sure that only commercial drones are operated only by licensed airplane pilots and only within sight of the operator. And with the federal government still sorting out its drone statutes, some states have stepped into the void -- so check any applicable state, local, or municipal laws relating to commercial drone use before you fly

Drone Limits

Beyond complying with federal and state aviation regulations, the purpose of the drone may decide its legality. Depending on what you're using your drones for, business owners might want to pay attention to employment laws as well.

Aerial photography is probably OK, as is keeping an eye on your crops or cattle. But if you're using drones to spy on your employees, you might get into trouble. Employee surveillance and monitoring in the workplace can raise privacy and employment issues -- issues that have yet to be settled in the courts.

Until that time, you might want to talk to an experienced commercial attorney near you, and maybe avoid using drones for indoor mistletoe delivery this holiday season.

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