Mastodon Court upholds termination of employee caught using cell phone camera at work

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Court upholds termination of employee caught using cell phone camera at work

As technology becomes smaller and more accessible, employers will be faced with new problems. For example, one would be hard-pressed to buy a mobile phone that lacks a camera. How, then, should employers address their almost increasing prevalence in the workplace? The answer is to have a policy and to consistently enforce it.

If you need convincing, consider the recent Ohio appellate decision in Strodtbeck v. Lake Hosp. Sys., Inc. (5/13/2011), in which a hospital fired an emergency department technician after he was caught using his cell phone’s camera to photograph a patient. The employee claimed he took the picture to document what he believed was the patient’s mistreatment, which he wanted to bring to the hospital’s attention. The hospital argued that it was against hospital policy for employees to use their own cameras in the workplace. The Ohio appellate court sided with the employer, concluding that there was no legal basis for a wrongful discharge claim and affirming the dismissal of the case.

After reading the Strodtbeck case, you might be tempted to say to yourself, “We’re not a hospital, so these issues don’t affect us.” Think again. There are lots of scenarios that can impact businesses. For example, cell phone cameras can be used to:

  • Copy trade secrets or other confidential information.
  • Document harassment or discrimination.
  • Harass co-workers with lewd or offensive photos.
  • Record safety issues.
  • Distract employees from the performance of their jobs.

Moreover, the ability of these mobile devices to readily connect with social networks like Facebook or twitter increases the risks posed by these tiny cameras.

Your have two regulatory options:

  1. An outright ban on mobile phones in the workplace.
  2. A ban on the taking of photographs in the workplace.

Whichever your choice, you should also ensure that your social media policy addresses the posting of photographs, so that all of your bases are covered. Come back tomorrow for more discussion of how your social media policy can (and should) address photographs, video, and employee likenesses.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or