California Supreme Court Holds that Hidden Camera in Workplace Did Not Violate Employees’ Privacy Rights

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court published its unanimous opinion in Hernandez v. Hillsides which held that an employer did not violate its employees’ privacy rights by installing a hidden camera in their private office.

However, this case appears to be little more than the product of the old adage “bad facts make bad law.” The employer—a nonprofit residential facility for neglected and abused children—was an extremely sympathetic defendant. The plaintiffs were never captured on video and the camera was only activated when the plaintiffs were not at work. The hidden camera was installed for the legitimate purpose of catching a rogue employee viewing pornography and protecting the children at the facility. Indeed, some of the children at the facility were victims of sexual abuse, including exposure to and participation in pornography.

Although they found that the hidden camera constituted an intrusion on the employees’ reasonable expectation of privacy, the Supreme Court held that summary judgment for defendant was appropriate because they found that the intrusion was not “highly offensive” to a reasonable person and not an egregious breach of social norms.

As consolation to California employees, the Supreme Court concluded its opinion by stating . . . “Nothing we say here is meant to encourage such surveillance measures, particularly in the absence of adequate notice to persons within camera range that their actions may be viewed and taped.”

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