In Hernandez v. Hillsides, Inc., S147552 (Aug. 3, 2009), the California Supreme Court unanimously held that the mere placement of a hidden video camera in an employee’s office could constitute an invasion of privacy, even if the camera was never actually used to record the employee. Under the specific facts of the case, however, the Court ultimately found no liability because the intrusion was relatively minor, limited and justified, but California employers should be aware that the use of hidden surveillance cameras without notice or warning in “semi-private” office space is likely to produce an actionable claim for invasion of privacy in many cases.

The Ohio Court of Appeals, in State v. Wolf, No. 08-16, slip op. (Ohio Ct. App. 5d April 28, 2009), recently upheld application of Ohio’s computer crime law to an employee who used his work computer to engage in criminal conduct (solicitation of a dominatrix-prostitute). While this holding may seem uncontroversial, another aspect of the decision might open the door to imposing criminal liability on employees for violating employer computer use policies.

Wolf was a Shelby City Wastewater Treatment Plant employee. The plant superintendent discovered nude photographs on Wolf’s work computer while performing routine maintenance. The superintendent notified police, who discovered that Wolf used the city-owned computer to solicit a prostitute, visit pornographic websites and upload nude photographs of himself during work hours.  At trial, the jury found him guilty of soliciting prostitution, theft in office and unauthorized use of a On appeal, Wolf challenged the trial court decisions overruling his motion for acquittal on both the charge of theft in office and the charge of unauthorized access to a computer. The Court of Appeals agreed that the trial court should have acquitted on the theft in office charge, but ruled that Wolf’s use of the office computer was unauthorized under Ohio law.

The June 18, 2008 Ninth Circuit panel decision in Quon et al. v. Arch Wireless et al., No. 07-55282 (9th Cir. June 18, 2008) has sparked a flurry of news reports and speculation regarding employers’ ability to monitor employees’ e-mails and text messages. In fact, the decision appears to change very little for private employers who wish to review employee communications stored on, or sent through, their own servers and computers. However, Quon does limit employers’ ability to request from third-party providers the contents of employees’ electronic communications.

In a unanimous panel opinion issued on January 28, 2008, the Ninth Circuit upheld the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) newly-announced three-factor test for determining whether employer surveillance activity of potential union members is coercive and therefore in violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The case, Local Joint Executive Board of Las Vegas et al. v. NLRB, No. 05-75515, — F.3d –, 2008 WL 216935 (January 8, 2008), involved two incidents of alleged surveillance of union activities at Aladdin Gaming, LLC, in which Aladdin officials conferred with employees in the cafeteria who had been presented with union cards.