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Go ahead and set up employee surveillance, but be careful how you pick your spots

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

What should you do if you suspect an employee is goofing off at work or perhaps sleeping at his desk? You’d like to have better evidence than just the say-so of a co-worker who says he caught the employee playing solitaire or napping. You want good, solid proof that the employee is slacking.

One employer recently took the high-tech approach to that problem, setting up a surveillance camera to catch an employee in the act. It worked, but it took a trip to court to finally put this case to bed.

Recent case: When supervisors suspected Lawrence Smith was sleeping in a cubicle, they put up a surveillance camera. The camera caught him napping, and he was fired. He sued, alleging invasion of privacy. He said he never expected to be filmed while working in a cubicle and had the right to some privacy.

The court tossed out his case, explaining that Smith didn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the open cubicle. It said employees aren’t entitled to privacy in common work areas or hallways.  (Smith v. Methodist Hospital, No. 3:07-CV-1230, ND TX, 2008)

Advice: Want to try this? Be sure to very clearly spell out the surveillance rules. Make sure your employee handbook states that the company may use surveillance cameras at work. Explain that employees don’t have the right to privacy in cubicles, hallways, offices or other “public” places.

Of course, exclude obviously private spots such as the restrooms or new-mom nursing stations. Employers have lost big in cases involving bathroom or shower taping, especially when the targets were women and the videos were shown to people with no legitimate need to view them.

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