Installing cameras in open office area

Is notifying employees required?
By Tim Mitchell
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 10/03/2012

Question: Does an employer have to notify employees when it installs cameras to monitor in an open office, or is it assumed there is limited privacy in such an environment? The cameras are set up to film the entire area and everyone in it, not a specific part.

Answer: The question whether surveillance cameras will or will not be considered an invasion of employee privacy is not dependent on employees’ knowledge of the cameras alone. Instead, it will depend on a variety of factors, including such considerations as the nature of the workplace, the reason for the installation, the visibility of the cameras, the degree of monitoring, the persons having access to data, the duration of data retention, the quality of the resulting data, the nature of the cameras (fixed or remotely movable), and the use to which the data is put.

For example, hidden cameras installed as a last-ditch effort to discover the perpetrator of theft in the workplace may be considered reasonable, notwithstanding lack of advance notice that would obviously undermine the purpose of the installation. In such circumstances, employees’ rights to privacy may have to yield to the employer’s greater interest in protecting its and its employees’ assets. In Colwell v. Cornerstone Properties Inc., a secret camera installed in a trusted manager’s office without her knowledge, purportedly to address thefts, was found to constitute a constructive dismissal where the explanation given for the installation and the attendant secrecy was unconvincing.