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Should I smile if caught on camera at work?

Published 06 July 2021

Revealing CCTV footage played a central role in the resignation of Matt Hancock, so it is worth focusing and taking a much closer look at the use of surveillance cameras in the workplace. 

The ex Health Secretary’s close encounter with a female aide, in breach of social-distancing guidelines, was captured on a camera in his office.  

There are conflicting reports about whether or not Mr Hancock actually knew the camera was there, or if it was a secret camera.  

It is reported that the camera has now been disabled amid security concerns about the leak of the CCTV footage (1) 

The use of cameras in many workplaces is now commonplace. Large numbers of employers use video surveillance to prevent theft or to monitor what employees are actually doing while at work. 

However, workers should not be subject to unnecessary and intrusive monitoring in the workplace. Staff must be informed that they may be recorded and where cameras are located.  

Employers have to get the balance right between surveillance and privacy. For example it is unlikely to be acceptable to place cameras near toilets, changing rooms, kitchen and break areas. 

It is not uncommon for CCTV to now be used to detect employee misconduct and for footage to then be relied upon in disciplinary cases.  

Such use of cameras was considered in a case heard by the High Court, which made it clear that if they are to be used for disciplinary purposes it should be made clear to employees (2) 

Being caught on camera as we perform our duties at work or go about our daily business is nothing new. 

As far back as a decade ago it was said that the average person is caught on camera 70 times a day. (3) 

London has been dubbed the CCTV capital of the world, as it is home to hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras. The average Londoner is now said to be caught on CCTV 300 times a day (4)  

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of the different types of cameras focused on workers to monitor what they do and offer protection. 

Logistics companies are increasingly using “dash cams” in drivers’ cabs or on couriers’ bikes to protect staff and to use potential footage as evidence. 

Last month the NHS announced thousands of ambulance crews across the country will be provided with body cameras as part of a crackdown to reduce attacks on staff. (5) 

It is perhaps the use of surveillance cameras in offices, which is the most controversial and gives rise to the greatest concerns around privacy. 

Employers can install CCTV in a workplace and monitor activities, but they must tell employees about any monitoring arrangements and the reasons for it. 

In certain, limited, circumstances employers can use covert surveillance if they believe criminal activity is taking place. It does not mean cameras can be hidden everywhere and in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, for example a toilet. 

In accordance with the Data Protection Act and GDPR guidelines, the employer must inform anyone who might come under the surveillance of CCTV cameras.  

Premises need to display GDPR compliant CCTV signage where cameras have been installed in a workplace. The requirements are fairly straightforward.  

The signs should be visible and readable to everyone, in all the areas where surveillance is taking place. 

If workers are unhappy about being monitored, they can check their staff handbook or contract to see if the employer is allowed to do it. 

Employers should have written policies in place to cover all areas of monitoring in the workplace, so that employees know they are being monitored, the reason for it and how the information is being used.  

It is important to remember that employees are entitled to some privacy at work.  

Legally, with the use of CCTV in workplaces, employers must meet the requirements on use of data established in the Data Protection Act (6), and the rights of privacy under the Human Rights Act 1998 (7) 

References: 

(1) Matt Hancock’s CCTV camera has now been disabled amid security concerns about the leak of the CCTV footage [Internet] https://www.itv.com/news/2021-06-28/camera-which-caught-hancock-kissing-aide-has-been-disabled-new-health-secretary-confirms [Cited 06.07.2021] www.itv.com 

(2) High Court made it clear that if CCTV cameras are to be used for disciplinary purposes it should be made clear to employees [Internet] https://www.courts.ie/acc/alfresco/d08c47b8-1bf6-4101-b072-dd45536fa56b/2020_IEHC_90.pdf/pdf [Cited 06.07.2021] www.courts.ie  

(3) A decade ago, the average person could be caught on camera 70 times a day [Internet] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12641568.amp [Cited 06.07.2021] www.google.com  

(4) The average Londoner is now said to be caught on CCTV 300 times a day [Internet] https://www.cctv.co.uk/how-many-cctv-cameras-are-there-in-london/ [Cited 06.07.2021] www.cctv.co.uk  

(5) NHS announced thousands of ambulance crews across the country will be provided with body cameras [Internet] https://www.england.nhs.uk/2021/06/nhs-roll-out-of-body-cams-in-boost-to-ambulance-crews-safety/ [Cited 06.07.2021] /www.england.nhs.uk  

(6) Employer must meet the Data Protection Act [Internet] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/12/contents/enacted [Cited 06.07.2021] www.legislation.gov.uk  

(7) The rights of privacy under the Human Rights Act 1998 [Internet] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/contents [Cited 06.07.2021] www.legislation.gov.uk  

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A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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