More and more companies are restricting employee use of personal cell phone cameras at the office for fear that the ubiquitous camera phones could create legal headaches. Improper photos at work might lead to job-related claims, as well as compromise company trade secrets.
For example, employees could take inappropriate photographs of co-workers without their permission, and the secret photos or videos could amount to sexual harassment or an invasion of privacy. Even if the picture-taking doesn’t create a legal problem, it could still make some employees uncomfortable or embarrass them if photos or videos appear on such Web sites as MySpace or YouTube.
Another worry relates to a soured working relationship. A disgruntled employee might want to embarrass a boss or gather evidence for filing a legal claim. All sorts of photos — from a supervisor getting upset with an employee to overall working conditions — could become fodder in an employment dispute.
For companies with patented products and closely-protected manufacturing processes, any information leaked to a competitor might be extremely damaging. Companies need to protect against cell phone cameras used to copy confidential documents or record other internal information.
What can an employer do? A big first step is to adopt a written policy that controls employee use of cell phone cameras at work. Determine which employees need cameras as part of their jobs. It might be a good idea, for example, if truck drivers carried cameras in case they have to photograph an accident for insurance purposes.
Employees permitted to use camera phones at work should agree that the employer has the right to review all photos and videos on the camera, and can delete any work-related photos. The employer should also prohibit employees from posting work-related photos on the Internet. For those workers who don’t need to use camera phones at work, it’s okay to ban their use outright.
The easiest way to address camera phone use is to update your employee handbook. Once that’s done, follow up with either a company-wide memo or a discussion with employees about why camera phone use is being restricted. The key is enforcement. Don’t develop the policy unless you’re willing to enforce it in every instance that it’s violated.