Using CCTV in the workplace is subject to data protection and human rights law, so what must employers do to avoid breaking the law?
There are many legitimate and lawful business reasons why employers can monitor employees using CCTV. These include:
- to keep employees safe and secure by preventing violence or theft;
- to prevent pilfering, malingering, deliberate damage or other misconduct;
- to ensure and record that health and safety procedures are being followed;
- to monitor and improve productivity;
- to comply with regulatory requirements in some sectors (eg financial services).
Respecting the law
When using CCTV, three key areas of law must be observed. Firstly, employers must not act in a way that is likely to destroy or damage the mutual trust and confidence between an employer and employee. If they do, an employee can claim constructive dismissal.
Secondly, data protection laws and principles regulate how employers can collect and process personal data about employees - which includes video footage recorded using CCTV cameras. These laws and principles give employees the right to ask which data is held on them and why it is collected and processed. There are also limits on how long such data can be held.
Finally, employers should respect their employees' rights to privacy under human rights law by making sure CCTV monitoring is proportionate and not too intrusive.
The Government has created a surveillance camera code of practice self-assessment tool. If your business uses surveillance cameras, use the tool to check how well you comply with the surveillance camera code of practice's 12 principles.
Consultation with employees
To avoid legal problems, unless you're using CCTV in particular circumstances (eg to detect a crime or catch and prosecute those responsible) or to comply with a regulatory requirement, let employees know in advance:
- that you are introducing CCTV;
- the reasons why;
- how monitoring will take place;
- the nature of the monitoring;
- how information obtained will be used;
- how their rights (eg to privacy) will be protected.
Employees should be given the opportunity to make their views on this known. After consultation, your procedures and practices should be included in a written CCTV policy document that is readily available to employees, explained to them in their induction and in ongoing training.
Secret CCTV filming should be avoided except in exceptional circumstances, such as to help prevent physical injury or a serious crime. It should be authorised by senior management and limited to a specific period of time and, as far as possible, to specific people. The risk of intrusion on innocent employees should be balanced against the objectives of the secret recording - particularly if it is to take place in a private area such as a staff toilet. Cameras should only be used in locations where there would be a heightened expectation of privacy in the most exceptional of circumstances.
Evidence of other wrongdoing obtained by covert recording is unlikely to be admissible unless it amounts to gross misconduct.
Overall, introducing CCTV can be a problematic step, with potential for reputational damage if employees denounce their big brother employer. Specialist legal advice is strongly recommended.