CA High Court Says Employer Was OK to Spy on Office

August 4, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The California Supreme Court has overturned a lower court decision that an employer invaded workers' privacy by installing a hidden camera to catch employees watching online pornography.

The high court agreed with the employer’s argument that it neither viewed nor recorded the employees, so it did not intrude on their privacy. While finding that the employees had a reasonable expectation that their employer would not record their activities on video, “any actual surveillance was drastically limited in nature and scope, exempting plaintiffs from its reach,” the court said in its opinion, according to Business Insurance.

The court also found that the company had a responsibility to protect the children for which it was caring, Business Insurance reports.

In 2006, a California Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling that the two female plaintiffs whose office was monitored with a hidden camera had a diminished expectation of privacy due to the employer’s concerns for clients (see CA Court Overturns Ruling on Office Privacy Case ). According to the appellate court, testimony from the females that they conducted activity in their office such as changing clothes for the gym supported the conclusion that they did have an expectation of privacy in their office.

Hillsides had placed a motion-activated camera in the office shared by the two plaintiffs after being advised by their computer technician that some staff computers, including one in the plaintiffs’ office, were accessing pornographic Web sites. The facility’s director claimed nothing was ever recorded because the camera was only hooked up after work hours.

When the females noticed a flashing light on an office bookshelf while at work and discovered it was a camera, they notified their supervisors. Though the facility director showed them what was recorded and the recordings contained no images of them until that day, they sued their employer.

The case is Hernandez et al. v. Hillsides Inc. et al. The opinion is available  here .

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