These days, businesses use video cameras for many purposes such as to enhance security. In previous blogs, we’ve discussed the legality of employers using cameras for monitoring employees in the workplace and the surveillance of employees working remotely. But what about when the workplace is a company-owned vehicle? Are employers allowed to use dashboard-mounted cameras to record employees?
Employers may legally place dashboard video cams in company vehicles in every US state, as long as they comply with that state’s specific safety laws regarding these cameras. For example, in Texas dash cams are permitted if they are not placed on or attached to the windshield, side window, or rear window, and if they do not impede the vehicle’s airbags. In addition, some states have restrictions related to audio recordings.
These cameras can be extremely useful for employers. They can be used to monitor an employee’s driving, to track the location of company vehicles, and to provide evidence in the event of a traffic accident.
Dash Cam Usage and the National Labor Relations Board
Where employers can run into trouble is how they create and implement policies relating to the use of these cameras. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is interested in and observing how employers use this type of technology. In fact, a few years ago, the NLRB became involved in a case where it deemed an employer’s use of a dash cam to be an unfair labor practice.
Stern Produce Company Case
Several years ago, the warehouse and delivery drivers at Stern Produce Company began the process of organizing a union. While this was taking place, the company was alleged to have engaged in multiple unfair labor practices. These tactics caused the union elections to be postponed indefinitely. `The NLRB later issued a decision that Stern Produce had illegally interrogated employees and created the impression the workers’ union organizing activities were being watched.
Just one month after the NLRB decision was issued, Stern Produce installed dual-view camera systems in its delivery trucks. The cameras captured views both inside the cab and a street view. Company policy stated that the camera system would alert supervisors in certain circumstances only: when a vehicle stopped for an extended length of time, when it entered an unauthorized area, or in the even of harsh braking. A driver manual stated the camera should always remain on unless a driver received permission to turn it off.
A delivery driver at Stern Produce Company — who had been part of the union organizing activities — covered the in-cab portion of the surveillance camera in his truck while on a break. A supervisor texted the driver immediately and told him covering the camera was a violation of company rules.
This change from its stated and customary practice — of only viewing camera footage if triggered by safety concerns — caused the NLRB to conclude that the employer’s use of the camera gave the “impression of surveillance” of the employee due to his interest in the union. The conclusion of the NLRB in this case: employers may not use dashboard cameras in a way that indicates to employees that their union or protected activities are being monitored.
Another Example – Not in Violation of NLRA
In April of 2023, the NLRB declined to bring a case against a different company that used dash cameras to record 10-20 second video clips when unsafe driving was detected. It found that this use of dash cams did not prevent or interfere with an employee engaging in protected activity for several reasons. The company had a legitimate business need to use the cameras, and it disclosed its use of the cameras to employees including how the footage would be used and stored. Employees were also allowed to turn off inward-facing cameras if they desired.
Best Practices for Dash-Cams in Company Vehicles
In light of the NLRB’s actions, employers may want to consider the following before using dash cameras in company vehicles.
- Is there a legitimate business need to use dash cam or similar technology (e.g., lower insurance premiums, reduce theft, etc.)?
- Disclose use of the cameras (or other technology) to employees, explain why, and include how data will be collected, used, and stored.
- Create a written record of all communications related to these disclosures and the implementation of the dash cameras or other technology.
- Verify any state specific requirements.
These are all important steps, especially the disclosure to employees. Note that Texas law permits employers to record video without notifying employees, however consent must be obtained to record audio of employees if they are not a party to the recording.
Contact Our Frisco Employment Law Attorneys Today
If you are considering using dashboard cameras in company vehicles, it’s important that you take certain steps to avoid legal liability. If you need help implementing surveillance policies, or with any employment or business law matter, the Frisco employment lawyers at Simon | Paschal PLLC can help. To schedule a consultation, call (972) 893-9340 or contact us online.