I would like to find out whether its legal for an employer to look back on how nurses take care of patients through the use of video cameras. For example, my patient pulled his nasogastric tube. They reviewed the recording from the time of the incident to see what I was doing, and I can I be reprimanded if they think I am at fault. Is it legal for them to do this?
Nancy Brent replies:
The question submitted is one that poses lots of interesting legal issues associated with it. Unfortunately, all of them are beyond the scope of this column. As a result, some general responses can be made. It would be helpful for you to read more about the use of cameras in the workplace. There is a wealth of information available on the web for your consideration. For example, www.privacyrights.com is a good place to start this review. Also review the website of the American Civil Liberties Union (www.aclu.org).
Generally speaking, an employer can use camera monitoring of employees if it is for security, to prevent theft of employer property, and/or to monitor employee productivity. Most often, employees are advised of the use of cameras or may be asked for their consent to be monitored by camera, but there is no federal law requiring employee knowledge or consent. Obviously, if cameras were placed in areas where these stated goals would not be met or would be considered physically invasive (e.g., a bathroom), the use of the cameras could be legally challenged.
Employers should have policies covering the use of cameras and the reasons for their use. Hopefully, this policy has been developed with employee input. In addition to federal laws that may apply when cameras are used (e.g., if there also is audio monitoring), many states have passed laws governing the use of cameras in the workplace, and employers must comply with these state laws. Also, if the employee is a member of a union, the use of any camera monitoring is a mandatory bargaining subject and may therefore have additional limitations placed on such monitoring by the union.
If you need specific advice about you being under camera surveillance in this situation, or have questions in general, a consultation with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state would be a good idea in order to identify your rights as an employee and to see how this employer is complying with applicable laws.