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Does an institution have to tell you all the ways you are being electronically or photographically monitored?

Monday March 18, 2013
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Dear Nancy,

We are moving into a new state-of-the-art hospital with more cameras. Does an institution have to tell you all the ways you are being electronically or photographically monitored? Are there badges that track location as you enter different rooms or anywhere you go? Is there any data on the safety of these electronic signaling monitors? Where can I read about this and can I ask the hospital to divulge specific data?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Wilma,

Your question raises many issues that are well beyond the scope of this column, but some general comments can be made.

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (https://www.privacyrights.org), most employers monitor their employees in some way. Interestingly, half of the companies surveyed in 2007 use video monitoring to counter theft, violence and sabotage. Of those companies, only 7% use video surveillance to track on-the-job performance. 78% of those surveyed notify employees of anti-theft monitoring and 89% inform staff on performance-related monitoring (Fact Sheet 7-Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring, 1.).

It appears monitoring can be done whether or not the employee is informed of the surveillance. Exceptions would include, where a labor union agreement would restrict the monitoring in some way, if state laws exist that prohibit or limit the type and kind of video monitoring of employees and where the employee's privacy is severely compromised (e.g., video cameras in a locker room).

Another important exception would be if the workplace were a governmental hospital (e.g., the State of XYZ Hospital and Medical Center). Because it is a state or federal facility, the state and federal constitutional protections of the First and Fourth amendments would apply (freedom of expression and association and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, respectively).

Also, there are exceptions protecting privacy from the common law — that is to be free from unreasonable intrusions into one's private affairs. Although not always successful, this challenge could be another way to combat video surveillance.

You and your colleagues might want to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can provide specific information and advice about this workplace issue. To help you with this consultation, there is a wealth of information on the Internet about employee privacy in the workplace. It would be a good idea to review some of that information so you can narrow down the questions you have when you meet with the attorney.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.