Q&A: The pros and cons of surveillance cameras

Q&A: The pros and cons of surveillance cameras

Should my practice install video surveillance cameras?
Mar 19, 2010
By dvm360.com staff

There are a number of good arguments for installing a video security system in an animal hospital, says Dr. Christopher J. Allen, JD, president of Associates in Veterinary Law P.C.—particularly since incidents of robbery and workplace dishonesty are on the rise. “Clinic surveillance cameras are a good idea as long as the risk justifies the cost,” Dr. Allen says. “But I also believe that areas where animals are treated and clients are seen should be free of such equipment.”

Video surveillance is a touchy subject if it’s installed in public venues where people aren’t used to encountering it, Dr. Allen says. On the other hand, federal and state case law has established that businesses open to the public are subject to electronic observation. “There’s generally no reasonable expectation of privacy in such areas,” Dr. Allen says. “Even in pro-privacy states, a simple sign indicating the use of cameras is generally sufficient to meet legal requirements.”

For veterinary hospitals, concerns usually center on surveillance pointed at team members, Dr. Allen says. There are several issues to consider.

“First, employees may hold moral or personal objections to video surveillance,” he says. “When you install cameras in the clinic, a brief culture crisis may ensue—employees who previously felt that their workplace was a warm, family place may become upset when you introduce a symbol of mistrust.”

To offset this reaction, it’s a good idea to ease into the concept, Dr. Allen says. Explain that your business is potentially liable for controlled substances and workers’ compensation issues. So the cameras aren’t intended to imply mistrust.

“Second, many employees believe they’re subject to a legal zone of privacy in the workplace, similar to their expectations in their homes,” Dr. Allen says. “But this right is more limited than they may think.” So it’s a smart idea to include information about surveillance technology in your employee manual. Then ask employees to sign a copy of the manual acknowledging that they’re aware of the presence of workplace cameras.