An employer did not violate employee privacy rights by installing a hidden camera aimed at catching a person viewing online pornography after business hours, California’s Supreme Court ruled.
The ruling in Abigail Hernandez et al. v. Hillsides Inc. et al. overturned a state appellate court’s finding that two employee plaintiffs in the case “suffered an intrusion into a protected zone of privacy that was so unjustified and offensive as to constitute a privacy violation.”
Hillsides operated a Pasadena, California, facility for neglected and abused children where the plaintiffs worked and shared an office, court records state.
In 2002, the facility’s director learned that at night, after the two plaintiffs left the premises, someone repeatedly used a computer in their shared office to view pornography. The director installed a hidden camera that was operated only at night after the plaintiffs left.
Nonetheless, the workers filed a tort claim after discovering the camera.
The employer argued it neither viewed nor recorded the employees, so it did not intrude on their privacy.
The California Supreme Court agreed.
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,” according to the court’s unanimous opinion.
The court also found that the company had a responsibility to protect the children for whom it was caring.