Using Cameras in the Workplace – When is it Appropriate & When is it Not? 2018 Update

In September 2014 we published Using Cameras in the Workplace – When is it Appropriate & when is it not?. This is a follow up article with more recent information regarding use of CCTV cameras in the workplace.

You may have seen the recent news in regards to a NZ Post Delivery Agent complaining about audio recordings made by cameras installed on their “Paxster” electric delivery vehicles.

This employee’s team leader confronted him about phone calls he made during his mail run and conversations he had with members of the public. The employee knew the cameras were there but was upset as he did not know the cameras had audio capacity. The employee took this to the Privacy Commission.

How would you feel if this happened to you? As an employer, are you permitted to do this?

Cameras are often in public places for public safety and for the deterrence of criminal activity. But is it OK to have cameras in the workplace and how can consent be obtained?

In New Zealand, employers have the right to use video cameras in the workplace, as long as that right is exercised in accordance with the Privacy Act. The Privacy Commissioner has provided these guidelines for this.

These guidelines reference your legal obligations and best practice in regards to operating CCTV cameras in the workplace in order to show where good privacy protection will help to enhance your business.

cameras in the workplace

Your business should develop three key documents prior to installation and use of cameras in the workplace:

  1. An evaluation of whether you need CCTV and what form that system might take
  2. A business plan which sets out the CCTV strategy
  3. A CCTV policy clearly outlining how you will operate your system and usage rules for staff

The Privacy Act outlines a number of considerations when forming your CCTV strategy and policy, including:

  • Tell people why the cameras are being used. Ensure that this is all the cameras are used for.
  • The use should be for legitimate and necessary business purposes, e.g. health and safety, system improvements, tracking processing issues, high incidence of theft.
  • Ensure employees and public are notified of the camera’s existence using clearly visible and readable signs.
  • You can only use the footage for another purpose when the employee concerned has given permission for this. (e.g. making an ad, putting screen grabs into the annual report).
  • Keep footage only for the time required to fulfil these needs, then delete it.
  • Only install cameras in the places necessary to fulfil these needs i.e. not in toilets, staff rooms, etc.

 

So given all of these guidelines, did the Privacy Commission find in favour of NZ Post?

No, they didn’t – they decided that there was interference with the employee’s privacy and it caused him emotional harm. There were a number of reasons for this including:

  • Employees are entitled to a reasonable level of privacy even during working hours
  • They weren’t convinced that the audio recordings were necessary for safety purposes
  • The employee was not aware of the fact that the cameras were recording audio during his delivery round
  • Given that the employee spends a considerable amount of time in the Paxster vehicles, it is unsettling for them and unreasonably intrusive to record audio for the entire time they’re driving the Paxster

 

As an outcome NZ Post changed its policy and no longer uses cameras with an audio function – you can read more here.

What does this mean for me?

You may also want to review the guidelines on the use of CCTV cameras in the workplace to ensure you are not planning to breach any part of the Privacy Act and run into trouble or receive fines. If you have concerns about any of the suggestions above, we recommend you read the articles on the Privacy Commission’s website.

Have a look at these links to case notes and outcomes where employers have used surveillance of staff and seen to be contravening the privacy act.
Case 1
Case 2

For further information or advice about the use of cameras in the workplace, please contact us.

Written by Nicky Dowling, Intepeople HR Partner

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