CCTV in the Workplace Laws: Can your employer spy on you?

20th February 2020

The ongoing debate surrounding safety versus privacy invasion when it comes to CCTV is likely to persist for years to come. It’s estimated that Londoners are picked up by CCTV cameras an average of 300 times a day, and while the rest of the country falls short of this astounding statistic, the fact is, CCTV cameras are increasingly apparent.

CCTV is commonly found in shops, hospitals, and other public areas where many people work. While cameras have usually been put in place for security reasons, many employees in these environments feel that they are being used more and more to monitor staff instead. With this in mind, we take a closer look at the implications of CCTV in the workplace.

CCTV in the Workplace: UK Law

The first thing to understand about CCTV in the workplace is what is defined by UK legislation. The main aspect of this is the fact that if CCTV is to be installed, employees must be made aware. At the very least there should be clearly visible signs informing people of the presence of cameras, but ideally employers should talk to their staff to advise them of the reasons why CCTV has been put in place.

UK law regarding CCTV in the workplace stipulates the following:

  • Employees must be made aware of cameras
  • Employees should be told why CCTV is being used
  • If an employee asks to see footage of themselves, this must be provided within one month
  • The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) must be informed of the presence of CCTV, and the reasons why it has been installed
  • If CCTV was installed to detect a crime, it should not be used to monitor workplace productivity

Are hidden cameras in the workplace legal in the UK?

The only instance when hidden cameras in the workplace would be considered legal is in the event of suspected criminal activity or severe malpractice at work. In most circumstances, employees must be made aware of the presence of cameras, however if an employer is trying to determine the occurrence of crime at work, they might be entitled to install hidden cameras in the workplace. In this situation, monitoring must be conducted as quickly as possible and CCTV removed as soon as the specific investigation has finished.

Even when this is the case, there are certain places where hidden cameras are not allowed, such as in toilets and changing rooms.

Why might CCTV in the workplace be installed?

There are many work environments in which CCTV can be hugely beneficial, if not necessary, for security purposes. In addition to supermarkets, banks, and high street shops where cameras are frequently installed for crime detection and prevention, professionals working in other sectors are being protected in various ways with the presence of CCTV. These include:

  • Hospital personnel. After a rise in assaults against hospital staff in London, personnel were given body cameras to wear in an attempt to reduce abusive behaviour and violent attacks.
  • Drivers. From taxi drivers to delivery drivers, many working vehicles have been fitted with dash cams in order to protect employees in instances of traffic accidents or assault. In the case of taxis, the driver must inform passengers of the presence of a camera.

As well as for security reasons, however, some employers opt to put CCTV in place for the purpose of monitoring employees at work. As long as employees are made aware, this is perfectly legal.

It’s important to know, though, that cameras that are installed for this reason can have severe detrimental effects on staff. The feeling of being monitored at work is likely to lead to employees feeling demoralised and untrusted, which can cause ill-feeling and a lack of respect. If possible, other monitoring techniques should be considered first, however in cases where CCTV is deemed necessary, good communication with staff is a must. Explain to your teams the reasons why cameras are being installed, and invite them to ask questions openly.

CCTV can be an extremely useful tool for protecting people and detecting crime, however there is no doubt that those under surveillance are likely to have questions about their privacy and rights. Business owners who opt to install CCTV in the workplace must be well aware of the legalities of using cameras, and be prepared to answer to both staff and the ICO – the data protection public body that reports to Parliament. Read more about other potential HR ‘grey areas’ with our guide to the top ten UK HR issues.

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