- Installing video surveillance cameras in the workplace can increase security, deter theft and improve employee accountability.
- Businesses that wish to install security cameras should consider not only the cost, but potential employee privacy issues and any legal guidelines on workplace surveillance.
- The right choice for your company depends on the security risks you anticipate and how your employees and customers feel about being monitored.
- This article is for business owners who are considering installing an on-premises video surveillance system at their store or office.
Every business owner wants a safe, comfortable and productive working environment for their staff. One way to help achieve this is to install surveillance cameras in the workplace. When implemented properly, surveillance cameras can deter theft and other adverse events, while also keeping employees accountable for their work and actions.
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However, businesses that choose to install video security systems must do so with care. Surveillance cameras have legal implications, including consideration for people's rights to privacy. Business owners should research the relevant laws and follow best industry practices regarding surveillance to prevent negative outcomes.
Not sure if video surveillance is the right security option for your business? Here are some pros and cons of surveillance cameras in the workplace, plus best practices for implementation.
Video surveillance pros
Installing a video surveillance system can offer a host of benefits for your business:
It provides security.
Surveillance cameras at the entrance of your business and inside the office can offer an overall sense of security. Video feeds can monitor who comes in and out of the building, which can deter intruders and make employees feel safer.
It reduces workplace crime.
Video surveillance can reduce the incidence of workplace crime, both external and internal. Those looking to break in are less likely to try if they see a surveillance camera at the entrance, and those who do are more likely to be caught after your team reviews the video footage. This same principle holds with internal theft: If employees are aware they're being monitored, they'll likely be discouraged from stealing from the office or store.
"The most significant advantage of setting up video surveillance cameras is it helps prevent crime," said Glen Levine, co-founder and senior partner at The Law Offices of Anidjar & Levine. "The sight of a camera alone could deter a person from committing a crime, and if someone committed a crime, the footage from the cameras could be used as evidence."
It helps prevent workplace harassment and violence.
Employees who experience workplace harassment and violence might be afraid to come forward or may not think the issue is "bad enough" to warrant investigation. One way to reduce the incidence of violence and assault is to install conspicuous video surveillance. Potential perpetrators are less likely to engage in workplace harassment if they know they are being watched – and even if they do, victims can come forward with evidence and without fear of repercussion.
It cultivates a productive work culture.
In addition to preventing negative events, surveillance cameras can create a more productive work environment. Employees who are aware of video security systems and other monitoring techniques are likely to work harder and waste less time, especially if there is an incentive for productivity.
"Employees tend to have better work ethic if they know someone is watching," said Kim Chan, founder and CEO of legal tech platform DocPro. "They tend to come in and leave on time, plus work harder."
Key takeaway: Video surveillance in the workplace can help improve security, deter crime, prevent workplace harassment and violence, and contribute to a more productive work culture.
Video surveillance cons
Video surveillance is not without its downsides. Here are a few to consider:
It could feel invasive.
While video surveillance can increase productivity, it can also have a negative effect when taken to its extreme. Employees may see the cameras as proof that their employer doesn't trust them and is watching their every move. This is particularly true when monitoring extends to areas such as break rooms or when more extensive surveillance systems are established.
It can increase stress in the workplace.
While surveillance cameras in the workplace might give some employees peace of mind (as mentioned above), it could also backfire in this regard and actually increase employee stress. Team members may worry about whether their actions are perceived as "productive enough," potentially leading to decreased productivity and burnout.
It sometimes provides a false sense of security.
Workplace surveillance cameras are great tools to increase safety, but they are not a replacement for the vigilance of employees and any security personnel. If companies implement video surveillance without actually monitoring them or taking other protective measures, they still leave themselves at risk for security breaches.
It can be expensive.
Between the equipment itself and wiring or installation charges, security cameras can often run up a hefty bill, which can be a burden for small businesses.
Key takeaway: The potential downsides of workplace video surveillance systems are a lack of employee privacy, increased stress and a false sense of security. These systems may also stretch a small business's budget.
Video surveillance best practices at work
If you've decided to install a video surveillance system in your workplace, follow these best practices to avoid unwanted consequences.
1. Check state laws.
Before installing security cameras, make sure your intended usage of them complies with the law. Exact video surveillance laws vary by state, and some states do not have any specific workplace privacy laws at all. Broadly speaking, however, video surveillance should not infringe upon reasonable expectations of privacy.
"Surveillance cannot happen in a restroom or in a room where employees change into uniforms," said Francine Love, founder and managing attorney of Love Law Firm PLLC. "If the room has a reasonable expectation of privacy, then the employer is well advised to not put a camera there."
Levine noted that audio recording is most likely not permitted for workplace surveillance, so check your local laws before establishing a surveillance system with an audio component.
2. Involve your HR and legal department.
Your company's HR team is an invaluable resource when it comes to workplace surveillance laws. HR can ensure that any security practices are reasonable and effective, protecting employee privacy and potential employer liability. Additionally, they can help communicate with employees about your video surveillance and any concerns your employees have.
You should also consult your business's legal advisor or a reputable attorney who specializes in employment law before using a video surveillance system.
"Many employers are unaware of the privacy law requirements in their jurisdiction, and they set up surveillance systems that are out of legal bounds," Love said. "This can cost them far more than the amounts they were attempting to protect."
3. Be transparent with employees.
"Under the personal data privacy law in most jurisdictions, employers will need to let the employees know that they are being taped, the purpose of the surveillance, how the recordings will be used, and how long the recordings will be kept for," Chan said. However, being as transparent as possible with your team is always a good practice, especially when it comes to surveillance.
Employees may feel uncomfortable with the idea of being monitored at first, but if you are transparent about your video surveillance system and its purpose, they'll likely have fewer concerns. This should mitigate their feelings that you're installing the cameras to spy on them or that you lack trust in them.
"Speak to the employees to see if they mind having such a system and, if possible, get their consent," Chan added. "You do not want resignation or HR issues resulting from setting out surveillance cameras on employees without notice."
4. Respect employees' privacy.
Surveillance cameras installed in conspicuous spaces (such as main offices or storage rooms) generally do not cause privacy concerns. The issue arises when video cameras are installed in areas such as break rooms or if more invasive security methods are implemented. It's important to consider any data privacy obligations that could be violated in the process, and avoid collecting this type of data.
5. Choose the best video surveillance system for your business.
If you've decided to purchase video surveillance equipment for your workplace, consider which system makes the most sense for your company's needs. Here are some factors to keep in mind:
- Type of camera. The two main types of video surveillance systems are Internet Protocol (IP) and analog. IP cameras offer network connectivity and more features than analog cameras. Storage systems also vary by camera type.
- Necessary features. Consider when and where your business needs protection. For example, a business looking for after-hours security enhancement would benefit from night vision. If you're installing cameras outdoors in areas exposed to the elements, it's best to choose a weatherproof camera.
- Installation. Small businesses using only one or two cameras may be able to install the system on their own, while larger companies with multiple locations might need to pay for professional installation.
- Budget. The price of your video surveillance system will depend on the size of your business, how many cameras you need, and any additional features you require.
Key takeaway: If you do opt to install a video surveillance system in your workplace, be sure to check local and state laws, involve your HR department, be transparent with your employees and respect their privacy, and invest in a quality system that matches your business's needs.