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Security Cameras and the Law: The Eye in the Sky, Privacy in the Work Place

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Imagine this scenario: A manager at Acme Company disciplines an employee after they discover a stolen inventory in his locker. The motive is unknown, but they suspect Wile E. Coyote was involved. The manager suspected that the employee was involved in nefarious activity, and was able to prove it, because he witnessed the employee put the stolen merchandise in his locker via security camera. Unfortunately for the employer, the video will most likely be inadmissible in Canadian courts. Read the blog below to find out the legalities involved with security surveillance in the workplace.

The Workplace

The example above deals with workplace privacy. In this particular example, the video obtained was in a locker room, and this would be a breach of employees right to privacy, according to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This doesn’t mean that because a workplace has a locker room or change room, that an employee has a license to steal, but employers and employees need to be aware of the laws regarding security cameras at work. The first thing you need to know is that there are two main categories involved with workplace security cameras: The Non-Unionized Workplace and the Unionized Workplace. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it is important to mention that in both Non-and Unionized Workplaces, employers cannot have video surveillance in the washrooms and or locker/change rooms.


There isn’t much privacy at a Calgary Flames game, when you’re walking downtown, or when you’re ordering food at a restaurant. Employees that interact with the public have to understand that they can’t expect to have complete privacy, and therefore areas like the lobby of a business or where there are interactions between employees and costumers, employers have the right to install surveillance video. Employers need just cause to install a camera to focus on a particular employee or a group of employees - without it, employers can only focus video surveillance in general areas.


The unionized workplace is a complete different ball game, one of the key differences is that a Labour arbitrator is involved and not the court system. Having cameras in certain areas of the workplace are determined by the collective agreement between the union and management. For example, once again at Acme Company Ltd an employee was caught taking a nap on an open box of extra fluffy pillows. Management had a feeling that this employee was taking frequent slumber numbers during the workday. Management has viewed the videotape and decides to suspend the employee for a week without pay. The union airs the grievances on behalf of the employee, suggesting he fell and landed on the open box of pillows, and then couldn’t get up. A labour arbitrator is brought in to mediate, and the first order of business is to determine if he/she should view management’s surveillance video. If there is a reasonable reason to visually record the employee, for example, everyone at work is talking about the Mr. Nap’s siestas in the warehouse, this would be just cause to watch the videotape. If management had the ability to catch the sleep deprived employee in person, and still sought to record his nap, then the labour arbitrator may not watch the video.

The Bottom Line

Video surveillance is a great deterrent for thefts, robberies, vandalism and sexual harassment, but employers have to be aware of and respect their employees' rights to privacy. Employees need to understand that video surveillance is not a way for management to spy on them and that it is there for their safety and the safety of everyone at the workplace.

Before installing security cameras and surveillance systems at your business, contact the team at Frontline to get information on the legalities involving workplace privacy. Frontline suggests that if you are going to install one of their security surveillance systems, it’s best to:

  • Let them know that you’re going to install cameras
  • Assure them that cameras will not invade their privacy in locker rooms and washrooms
  • Placing them in general areas like front lobbies of businesses
  • Place signs up, that an area is under video surveillance

To find out more about Calgary Security Cameras and home or business security solutions in general, contact Frontline Security today on 403-291-9311.

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