Cornell University

Catherwood Library

Catherwood Library, Ives Hall, 607-255-5435

Question of the Month

From the Catherwood Library reference librarians

May 2004

PLEASE NOTE: The Reference Question of the Month is kept current only during the month for which it was written. Archived questions will not be updated, and over time may contain inaccurate information or broken web links. We provide archived questions as a service, since much of the information will remain accurate and of continued interest to the ILR community.

Question: Do employers have to notify workers if they are under video surveillance?

Answer: No, in the U.S. employers are not required to notify employees if they are being observed by video cameras or closed-circuit television.

In general, it is not illegal for someone, who is not an agent of the government, from videotaping others provided they do not record voices. Federal wiretapping laws do not allow eavesdropping on conversations or the interception of private conversations unless one of the parties to the conversations consents. However, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986 (EPCS) (18 U.S.C. ยงยง 2510-2522) does allow employers to listen to work related conversations.

There are limitations on what type of activity can be monitored and where. For example, federal law prohibits employer surveillance of union activity. Most courts also recognize an invasion of privacy if there is an intrusion in an area where there is an "expectation of privacy," like bathroom stalls or locker rooms.

Supporters of employee monitoring and surveillance claim it is necessary to prevent theft, drug and alcohol-use and to identify potential workplace risks and measure employee performance. However, there is a great deal of debate surrounding workplace surveillance because of privacy issues and the effects of monitoring on employee morale.

Please visit the sites below for additional information on workplace surveillance and workplace privacy.