Health & Medicine

Did UC Davis Health manager secretly record worker conversations? Officials say no

UC Davis Health officials said a camera installed in this supply room was never connected to power and was not used to record employee activities.
UC Davis Health officials said a camera installed in this supply room was never connected to power and was not used to record employee activities. Courtesy of University of California, Davis, Health

A half-dozen UC Davis Health employees contend that a manager installed a video camera in a supply room where employees changed into their scrubs and discussed workplace concerns. But UCD officials said Monday that the camera had not been hooked up to record anything.

The employees said they work in the respiratory care department and would speak only on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal from the department manager. They described the device as a covert “nannycam” that the manufacturer made to look like a smoke alarm. It ran on batteries, they said, and had a SIM card that could record both audio and video.

“A lot of people would go in there talking, a lot of them talking bad about (the manager who installed the device),” said one employee. “A lot of people have been disciplined for things out of the ordinary, and they’re thinking now that she probably eavesdropped on their conversations.”

The employees, members of AFSCME Local 3299, said they were more concerned about the eavesdropping on conversations than they were about the possibility that they had been filmed changing into scrubs since they were never fully nude. Union officials told The Bee that they were investigating a grievance filed about the device.

UCD Health officials said in a prepared statement that the camera was not hooked up to power and was never put in operation. They said employees brought their concerns to the attention of management three weeks ago and the matter had been thoroughly reviewed.

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“The reason the employee placed the device in the room, which is a storage area for medical gas tanks, was because there were several instances of equipment vandalism over the prior few weeks,” the UCD statement said. “The employee placed the unpowered device in the calibration room to deter further vandalism.”

Employees in the hospital’s respiratory care unit said they want to know who had access to the video and how long taping had occurred. They said neither they nor their union representatives were given an opportunity to examine the camera or the SIM card.

The UCD statement said that university policy does permit video surveillance cameras within the hospital for quality, safety and other university-related activities, but that the employee, identified by union officials as a manager, had not followed appropriate procedures for acquiring the equipment and has since been informed how to report any observed sabotage, theft or damage concerns to security.

Because the camera was never connected to power and did not record anything, UCD Health officials said, no university policy was violated.

Employees, who said the camera had been in place for 15 to 16 months, said they would regularly duck into the room to have private conversations, sometimes about the manager who was doing the recording and sometimes about their personal relationships. They said they also used the room to change into the green scrubs they had to wear in the OR and out of the blue scrubs they wore in their department because the supply room was more convenient than a changing room or less confined than a bathroom stall.

“Many private conversations have been held in that room,” wrote one employee in an email sent to The Bee. “Ask Michael Llyons [sic] how it worked out when he secretly video/audio recorded people without their consent.”

Sacramento business and civic leader Michael Lyon pleaded guilty in 2011 to four felony counts related to surreptitious video recordings he made of women at his home. In May of this year, he was sentenced to more than six years in prison on charges of electronic eavesdropping and secretly videotaping women he paid for sex.

Galen Shimoda, an Elk Grove attorney who has represented workers suing over being videotaped, said that privacy laws govern this type of situation. In the workplace, he said, most employer handbooks alert employees that they may be recorded in common-use areas. Supply rooms typically fall into this category, he said, because employers can make the case that they are trying to secure property.

“In a (workplace) bathroom ... you absolutely have an expectation of privacy, but in a supply closet, that’s a question,” Shimoda said. “Was there an expectation of privacy in a supply closet? Did management know that employees changed clothing in the supply closet? Was it common practice for employees to be changing in the supply closet?”

These are all questions that would have to be explored, he said, but “to me, a supply closet is a supply closet.”

UCD officials said: “The configuration of this room is entirely inappropriate for changing. The top half of the door is clear glass... without a window covering, so this room does not provide sufficient privacy for changing clothes.”

However, employees said that memos were often taped to the window, obscuring the view, and there is a spot in the room not visible from the door. Management is not taking this matter seriously enough, said employees who contacted The Bee. They said they would like to see an independent investigation of the covert camera.

“People go into this supply room and have confidential talks which she has or had the ability to listen in and record,” one respiratory therapist told The Bee. “She seems to know things that she should not have known. We just want a through investigation about this camera.”