It may seem reasonable to install a surveillance camera in the office to supervise your employees and minimise office theft. However, specific laws may restrict the use of video, listening and data surveillance devices in the workplace. In this article, we examine: 

  • whether it is legal to install a surveillance camera or closed circuit television (CCTV) in your workplace;
  • restrictions on workplace surveillance; and 
  • some practical steps you can take to comply with the law. 

The Impact of Privacy Laws

National Laws

Certain businesses need to comply with the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). These are called APP entities and include any business that: 

  • has an annual turnover of more than $3 million;
  • provides health services; or
  • buys, sells or otherwise trades in personal information.

The APPs may apply if your business engages in video surveillance and you keep these recordings on file. If your business is an APP entity, you must meet several obligations, prominently: 

  • only collecting personal data if it is absolutely necessary; and 
  • notifying people when you collect their personal information. 

While you may not actively collect personal data when video recording your workplace, it is best practice to apply these guidelines. This means you should only conduct the surveillance if it is absolutely necessary and, if so, you should notify your employees that you are doing so. 

State Laws 

While national laws do not prohibit you from installing a surveillance camera in the office, certain state laws may restrict this behaviour. In New South Wales (NSW), you must give notice to your employees that they are subject to surveillance, preferably 14 days before the monitoring begins. 

This notice needs to set out:

  • the mode of surveillance, such as through a camera;
  • whether the surveillance will involve video recordings, sound recordings or still images; and
  • whether the surveillance will be ongoing, or will take place only within a specified time frame. 

You can give notice via email and include it in a workplace surveillance policy or employee handbook.

Other requirements for camera surveillance include that:

  • the cameras are clearly visible; and
  • there must be clear signs letting people know that they may be under video surveillance.

If you do not provide notice and camera surveillance is not obvious, then it may be considered “covert surveillance”, which is against the law.

Prohibited Surveillance and Securing Footage

You cannot conduct workplace surveillance in certain circumstances or locations, including:

  • in change rooms, bathrooms or any area where privacy should be respected;
  • covert surveillance, where you have not provided notice and the surveillance is inconspicuous; and
  • in locations that may record people unrelated to your business, such as neighbouring properties.

If your workplace conducts CCTV surveillance, you must take reasonable steps to secure the footage. Even if you have outsourced your surveillance to a security company, it is your responsibility to ensure that they correctly secure the data. 

Securing footage includes: 

  • physical safeguards, like minimising how many people come in contact with the data; and
  • technical safeguards, such as password protection and encryption. 

If you store data on cloud servers, you should implement security measures to restrict access. This may involve: 

  • encrypting the data; or
  • implementing two-factor authentication.

Practical Steps to Meet Your Legal Obligations

If you do decide to install a surveillance camera in your office, you should:

  • notify employees that you may be using surveillance, including details of how and when this surveillance will take place;
  • set out your surveillance policy in employment agreements and staff handbooks;
  • destroy footage that you no longer require; and
  • place a prominent sign at your office’s entrance which notifies visitors (such as clients or temporary employees) that they may be under surveillance. 

Key Takeaways

If you wish to install a security camera in your office, you need to ensure that you have fulfilled the legal requirements of surveillance. Here, you should only conduct surveillance if:

  • it is absolutely necessary for the business;
  • it is done overtly; and
  • employees are aware that they are being monitored. 

If you are looking for advice on your privacy obligations or drafting your workplace surveillance policy, contact LegalVision’s privacy lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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