Surveillance Pitfalls: Ignorance of Law Lands 3 Massachusetts’ Managers in Court
Imagine finding out you have an employee working on the night shift who you heard was sleeping on the job. Catching him doing it was going to be next to impossible, so you decide to hook up your video camera to catch him in the act. Brilliant!! You set it up and BAM, you catch him on tape. No questions, no denials, you got him. Fired for violating company policy, sleeping on the job. Perfect. High fives all around.
The only thing that would have made this sweeter was if it was legal—and that’s what three Massachusetts’ managers, including the HR manager, were thinking when they got dragged into court. You see, that fancy video camera included an audio component and now these 3 are in trouble. Without permission of the individual, they broke the law.
Under Massachusetts’s wiretapping law (known as the two-party consent law), it is a crime to secretly record a conversation, whether the conversation is in-person or taking place by telephone or another medium. As a result, you must inform the individual you are about to record them. This law applies to secret video recording when sound is captured. The penalties for this infraction include criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.
Yikes, this guy sleeps on the job, you catch him and you’re in trouble. Yup. It might not seem fair, but it is the law in Massachusetts.
Take away for everyone else:
Before you consider using hidden surveillance equipment consult with an expert adviser or labor attorney first. Secondly, cameras can never be installed in an area where individuals can reasonably expect privacy. And third, you should have as one court stated a “legitimate interest in the efficient operation of the workplace.” In other words, don’t do it because you’re simply curious about what’s going on.
With that said, here are some other things you should do:
- Tell employees in advance that the video monitoring will be occurring. Put it in your handbooks and discuss in employee meetings.
- Tell employees where the cameras would operate. Note how banks and stores warn you with signs upon entering.
- Do not record any sound—as these 3 guys will find out, the Courts prohibit this.
- Call the Dacri HR HelpLine (207-229-5954) for advice.
- Finally, never have a camera focused on one person.
The intent of these 3 managers was understandable, the execution was obviously flawed. If they knew the law, this would have never happened. It’s unfortunate.
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