Looking for a spy camera to deal with harassment from coworker
December 5, 2013 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I work at a very small company, no HR or process of accountability. It's basically myself, the coworker, and the boss. The coworker is someone who's been with the company for over 40 years, and we absolutely need his abilities for the company to function, so there's no chance of his being fired or seriously punished. I've voiced complaints to the boss, threatened to quit, but nothing really changes. However, I have a feeling that my boss either doesn't totally believe me, or thinks that I'm being oversensitive. If I had video evidence of my coworker in the act, I think something effective would be done (for instance, he may decide that I could work from home on most days, which is something we have loosely discussed in the past).

The coworker purposefully moves things around in my workspace when I'm not there, with the direct intention to frustrate me. He hides things, breaks things, throws my papers on the ground, and I'm afraid that he's even done things to the food I keep here. I want to set up a spy camera so that I can show footage to the owner and, if necessary, the police. (Any insight into the legality of this, or what other legal recourse I might have, would be appreciated. FWIW, I live in New York City). My coworker is larger than me, stronger than me, and I believe he has anger issues. I have tried confronting him in the past, and it has only exacerbated things. In general, I do not feel safe confronting him on my own (although he has never explicitly threatened to harm me).

I want a camera that either has decent motion detection, or would take continuous video recordings, and save them directly to a folder in my computer. I want to have video recordings that capture the entire work day, if necessary, so that I can skim at a later time to see if he's done anything while I wasn't there (for instance, when I go to use the bathroom, or out to lunch); so, I think this would need to be a wire-powered camera, rather than battery-powered. I would also prefer that it be in the guise of a common office area item, like perhaps a calculator, AC adapter, keyboard, etc. The video quality is not a factor for me, so long as you can decently make out what's going on. Access to the camera from a smart phone app would be a major plus.

I've done a lot of searching on Amazon, and I can't seem to find anything that both meets my criteria and isn't outrageously expensive. I also can't seem to find items with many reviews, in general, so I'm wary of shelling out money for a potentially fragile and/or dysfunctional product.

Any recommendations, advice, or personal anecdotes of similar situations, would be very appreciated. :)

(Let it be known, by the way, that I have no intention of quitting, so please do not offer this suggestion. FWIW, I am also indispensible to this company, and I have no reason to fear "making too much trouble over this," regarding my standing with my boss. I absolutely need to keep this job, at least for the foreseeable future).
posted by Sine_Agraphia to Technology (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Any recommendations, advice, or personal anecdotes of similar situations, would be very appreciated. :)

Have you at any point voiced solutions? As in what you need done to help the situation? From the way it sounds, you've told the boss you can't stand the coworker's behavior, threatened to quit, now you're planning to spend money to provide video evidence -- which will completely destroy any hope of ever getting along with your coworker -- to prove that you should be taken seriously about this matter.

Well, then what?

You say your boss "may decide" something you "loosley discussed"? Well, that sounds like you're leaving it entirely in his court to remember and grant you. That's not going to happen. Before even getting the camera, come up with a solid plan, take it to your boss and say "this is what I need to be an effective employee in these circumstances."

It sounds like you're not being paid any mind because you're not coming up with any constructive resolutions to your problem. No one else will, I guarantee it. The ball for this is totally in your court.
posted by griphus at 12:14 PM on December 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

FWIW, I am also indispensible to this company, and I have no reason to fear "making too much trouble over this," regarding my standing with my boss.

If this is a company where the only two other employees either actively harrass you or disbelieve your complaints, why on earth do you care if they even do sink or swim?

Here's a list of nannycams, one of which looks like it's disguised in a clock. But - I know you said you weren't going to quit because you need this job, but I still would urge you to start looking for another job as well as looking into this angle. Becuase if you are indeed indespensible to this company you would probably be just as indispensible to another one where they would also treat employees fairly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 PM on December 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

FWIW, I am also indispensible to this company, and I have no reason to fear "making too much trouble over this," regarding my standing with my boss.

No offense, but no one is truly indispensable. Steve Jobs wasn't, Larry Page and Sergei Brin aren't. Even POTUS isn't indispensable - the world kept spinning after LBJ became President after JFK was assassinated, after all. And you aren't indispensible, either. If you do decide to go down this path, you need to plan for there to be unpleasant consequences for you, and IMO that plan should include a job search.

Also, seconding MoonOrb, you need to run this by an employment lawyer. Your office space is not "yours" in the same way your home is, and the law might have something different to say about doing this.

Have you tried to resolve this one-on-one with Other Coworker yet?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:23 PM on December 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Before you do this, why don't you ask your boss: if you had evidence of this harassment, would he take you seriously and allow you to work from home most days? Because you're basing this operation on an assumption that, given the details of your question, is likely not valid.
posted by sm1tten at 12:23 PM on December 5, 2013 [14 favorites]

sm1tten has a good point. Any sort of surveillance equipment is going to be expensive. What if you gather all of this evidence and your boss still isn't moved to act? You're out several hundred dollars, and still harrassed. Or, you could get frog-marched off the property, and wouldn't even have possession of your equipment any more, let alone your job.

To get a little more towards answering your question, I can't recommend specific equipment, but there are companies out there that specialize in surveillance equipment, and will probably have better options than what you might find on Amazon. You might do well to talk to one of their sales people in person / on the phone, they might have good recommendations.
posted by vignettist at 12:30 PM on December 5, 2013

Best answer: Yes. What MoonOrb said. During a legal dispute with my last employer, my attorney flat out said he would not represent me if I had made illegal voice/video recordings of my supervisor (I hadn't). Knowledge and consent of a recording = legal. Secret recordings = not so much.

Why not just tell boss and jerk that you will hire an attorney if the behavior does not stop? Keep detailed notes and be prepared to follow through. Empty threats have a funny way of ending badly.
posted by space_cookie at 12:41 PM on December 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

A few observations, as a manager:

1 - No one is indispinsible, especially not in this economy, where I can find great candidates, quickly and cheaply.

2 - I would fire an employee who setup a spy camera to spy on other employees, regardless of the legality of the action. You're not the sherriff of the cubicle police.

3 - See #1.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:41 PM on December 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

You are indispensable but your boss won't do anything about this issue and doesn't believe you when you threat to quit?

1. Don't make threats you don't follow though on, it completely undermines future creditability.
2. Be sure your proposal of secretly filming at work is legal
3. Perhaps start by photo/video documenting your workspace in before and after conditions.
4. Have you asked your co-worker what is going on in front of your boss? has your co-worker ever admitted to what he is doing?
5. Do start looking for work elsewhere as you try and resolve this.
6. There are lots of options in cameras
7. If you are truly indispensable, then verbally blow up at your boss. No asking, no quiet rational discussion, a full-on what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-about-this? Fix-it-now!!!
Although that may well test how indispensable you really are, so use with extream caution.
8. Look for other work
9. See #5 and #8
10. Oh yeah, employment lawyer will answer many of these questions with certainty and help cya

Good luck, sucky position to be in.
posted by edgeways at 12:42 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I am also indispensible to this company

There is no such thing as an indispensable employee, as testified by the many companies that have lasted longer than a human lifespan. Even if there were such a thing, no rational company would hire one. For example, what should a company do when it has two people it cannot afford to fire being jerks to each other? And, what happens if you catch your indispensable nemesis in the act? The boss won't fire him, so he'll do what, use harsh language and threaten to use more harsh language if it happens again?

These cameras seem like they will fit the bill. They look like clock radios, AC adapters, and power outlets. It looks like there are a number at $200 or below, which is not "outrageously expensive" for what you want to achieve. Have fun. Just bear in mind that you might end up getting fired for setting up covert surveillance in the office. You also might be sued.

One last point - if your dream is to work from home most days, you are an excellent candidate for having your job outsourced.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:42 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't go down the recording-device rabbit hole unless I was absolutely certain that Boss would take swift and immediate action if shown video evidence that Coworker was screwing with your stuff.

Because when I read your question I put myself in Boss' shoes. As Boss, I recognize that while you are important, your are not indispensable. The same probably goes for Coworker. And if you showed me video evidence that you surreptitiously recorded that shows Coworker screwing with your stuff, I would think long and hard about which one of the two of you is causing more trouble. One factor would be the fact that Coworker presumably hasn't thrown my papers on the floor or screwed with my stuff, but I couldn't be sure that you haven't been surreptitiously recording me too. And that wouldn't sit well. So I would probably give you some noncommittal answer about looking into the issue, and then starting putting out feelers for replacing you at my company.

Maybe your boss would do something else. But maybe not.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:43 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're going to stay, and chances are your boss won't help you out. So you need to behaviorally modify this guy. You could set up a fake camera that is a totally obvious security camera, or a webcam hooked on to your monitor at your desk through which you skype yourself from home.

He sees the camera, he (hopefully) thinks otherwise.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:43 PM on December 5, 2013

Best answer: Yikes. I do not advise being secret about the taping. I would tell your coworker that your desk is being monitored by video. Put a sign up to that affect.

BUT, I don't advise you go this route, period. This is a toxic work environment and if you haven't already, you need to document everything that's happening. Take photos of your workplace before and after. Document things he says and does. Then, speak to an attorney and then present this to your boss and let him know that you have council and this needs to be addressed appropriately.

Oh, and buy a locked cooler that you keep at your desk for your lunch and beverages.

Read what you wrote. Read my reply again. You don't deserve to work in a place that requires you to do any of this. Consider getting another job.
posted by vivzan at 12:54 PM on December 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Please don't post a response if you're not providing information about a camera I can purchase.

-This company is very unconventional. You do not know my situation, don't assume that you do.

-I *am* indispensible. Leave it at that. I have quit twice in the past and been taken back both times with a raise. My boss does *not* want me to quit.

-Again, I am really, really not interested in your armchair psycho-analysis of my boss, my coworker, or myself. I provided the background info for sympathy and support, not as an invitation for you to challenge my judgment.

-My coworker is physically stronger than me and has anger issues. I will either get nowhere, or possibly risk endangering myself, if I engage with him.
posted by Sine_Agraphia at 12:58 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: ***With the exception of vivzan's answer. Definitely going to look into the locked cooler.

I know that neither myself nor anyone deserves to work in this sort of environment. It is a toxic company, it has been for a long time. But I do not believe I would able to find another job that pays me as well as I am paid here. Again, it's a very unconventional situation. And, I am in debt, and I need to continue making money.
posted by Sine_Agraphia at 1:01 PM on December 5, 2013

Best answer: Just want to re-iterate what space_cookie said. You should talk to an employment lawyer, because even though the recording might convince your boss in the way you want, it may open you up to some sort of legal retaliation, as well as prevent *you* from taking some sort of legal action in the future.
posted by anateus at 1:03 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP, if all you want is camera recommendations, I suggest asking the mods to remove this from your original post: Any recommendations, advice, or personal anecdotes of similar situations, would be very appreciated. :)

You asked for other recommendations or advice and received both.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:05 PM on December 5, 2013 [43 favorites]

Will you get your boss's consent to put up the camera? If not, you are liable to be sued, not just by the icky co-worker, but by anyone else who happens to wander into camera range. A private compnay is not a public space, where people have no reasonable expectations of privacy. If your boss will sign some document, giving you permission and inform the rest of the staff that there will now be a security camera, you can probably go ahead. I'm not a lawyer. You might want to brush up on your state's labor laws.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:43 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sometimes the advice you get is not the advice you want, but may be the advice you need. This has happened to many of us, myself included.

If you live in fear from your co-worker and will not engage with him but no one will do anything about it, you may be in the wrong job. What do you think he will do when the boss (in an ideal circumstance) reprimands him for this? He is going to act any more rational and considerate of you?

If all you want is advice on a spy camera then ask "I need a spy camera that is easily hidden and can be plugged in and accessed via smartphone". Everything else is inviting people to try and help with your bigger problem that, even if legal, a spy camera will do little to fix in the long run.

Again, good luck I hope it works out well.
posted by edgeways at 1:55 PM on December 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: While there are tons of restrictions on recording telephone conversations, I could find very little data on Federal Law explicitly finding that video surveillance is illegal. On the contrary I found data that implies:

- Video surveillance is legal in places considered public--this includes workplaces. It is only explicitly illegal in some states and in locations where privacy is expected by a reasonable person (restrooms, ect.)

- Audio still requires informing the other party they are being recorded. Your state (New York) requires one-party consent (instead of two-party). Additionally, you may only record audio if the conversation is one you would naturally overhear.

Most of the above is derived from: BrickHouse Security Company, Video University and Digital Media Law Project. I highly suggest reading the following link from DMLP:


While that link pertains to employers using surveillance on employees, it also outlines in what situations it is OK to record in the workplace.

That all said, I would prepare yourself for the backlash that will undoubtedly ensue once your co-worker determines you have been using surveillance without his knowledge. This may blow up in your face OP. Surely there is another way. What, precisely, are you hoping to achieve by taping your co-worker and showing your boss? What do you want your boss to do, knowing your co-worker won't be fired? Even if you believe yourself indispensable, you may not win a battle against a veteran co-worker who may be MORE indispensable than you are.

Is moving offices an option? I also second the above advice on getting lockable items (a cooler, ect.)
posted by stubbehtail at 1:57 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I gave an answer recently that I think applies here, too:
Another issue is that my manager supports this lazy coworker

Stand down! This will not work out in your favor. EVER.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:07 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you cannot find a camera you like, perhaps the best way to deal with this is to remove the personal items from your coworker's reach -- get a locking filing cabinet and very casually lock up your papers and work items whenever you are not there. If there's nothing to disturb, your coworker may no longer be tempted.

Forgive me for asking -- a year ago, you wrote about a job where you were making peanuts (and sleeping there five days a week). If this is the same place, I am concerned there are larger issues at play.
posted by mochapickle at 2:13 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Why don't you just go to your boss and say, "Since you haven't addressed this, I'm working from home from now on"? I mean, seriously. If you're really unfireable, just do whatever the hell you want.
posted by mskyle at 2:17 PM on December 5, 2013 [22 favorites]

Mod note: Sine_Agraphia, I appreciate this is a frustrating situation for you but you need to not continue to get combative with folks answering your question; take what you can of use from the thread but understand that folks here are trying to help and are not the source of the stuff you're dealing with and it's inappropriate to get in their faces for trying to help.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:29 PM on December 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Ok, thinking more about this, I remember what Gavin DeBecker wrote in "Gift of Fear." Paraphrasing here, but the best thing you can do is not respond - at all - to whatever this guy says or does to remove the pleasure he feels from getting a reaction out of you. Because that's his payoff.

This would mean:
1. locked cooler like I mentioned earlier
2. locking any unnecessary items away when you're not at your desk
3. Using a Trapper Keeper of some sorts to take your work files with you to the bathroom, kitchen, boss's office, etc.
4. removing any effects from your desk. Anything. Stapler, tape, paperclips, push-pins. Those are in your locked cabinet. IF you don't have a locked file cabinet under your desk, you can buy one and use your own lock and take it home with you at the end of the day.
5. No personal effects on your desk. None.
6. using hand sanitizer before handling your keyboard and mouse. In case this guy is getting nasty.

And, not reacting to anything he hides, breaks, moves or touches. Ever. Just ignore it. Act like it didn't happen. Ex: He breaks a stapler? Get another one. Silently. Vent on IM to your friends, but don't mention it at all.

DeBecker mentioned that the way to deal with people like this is to not respond at all because most people will stop. They will escalate the harassment to get your attention and then stop because they're not getting it. BUT, he also mentions the signs to look for to when the individual in question is going to violently escalate. If you haven't already, please pick up the book so you can know what to look for.
posted by vivzan at 2:39 PM on December 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Are you open to hiding a webcam somehow? I don't know if it would show with wires and so on depending on your desk setup. If you can do that, then I suggest the following combination of software/webcam that I use for my hamster cam.

I use Tincam software (very cheap) and it will do motion detection pictures (not sure about video). This might be enough, since you could get it to shoot 10-15 pictures when motion is detected, store them on your computer or in a folder that is synced with a cloud (which you could then access via an app?) and it would clearly show someone at your desk messing around with your stuff, which would, I hope, be enough for your purposes. it can do a caption with the date/time, and you can also have it name the files with the date/time (to the second if you like).

I don't use Tincam to upload photos (I use Fling) but you would not need Tincam to upload if you just have it store the photos in a folder synced to a cloud. If you have dropbox, for example, you could have the photos go there and you could check for updated photos as often as you like (or I guess as often as the cloud updates).

The webcam I use is a Logitech one and I do not install the software that comes with it. Many years of hamster cam success ;) so far so I can highly recommend the brand.

Everything vivzan said is very good advice if you absolutely must stay. But I think documenting the crazy might be helpful just in case you ever come down mysteriously ill. Or dead. On that note, perhaps give links/access to the folder you store video or photos in to someone you trust.

I encourage you, even if it seems impossible or unrealistic, to decide if you would rather be cheerfully indispensable elsewhere instead. I know this is not what you want to hear. But it is worth considering, perhaps, when so many objective outsiders suggest it.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 3:15 PM on December 5, 2013

I did not even think of the legal stuff. Definitely consult a lawyer before recording anything.

Fortunately my hamster does not have any money for his own lawyer...
posted by AllieTessKipp at 3:22 PM on December 5, 2013

I don't really get why you would consider resorting to something of questionable legality and certain expense, if you are so indispensable? Why not just go to the boss and say that this is what your co-worker is doing, and it has to stop immediately, and if it does not, you will work from home? Case closed.

Or at least be open about using the camera. Tell both the boss and your co-worker that you are installing a videocam in your work area, so you can figure out why your stuff seems to move about. No need to be accusatory -- just say that you are puzzled by what it going on, and you think this is a way to find out if it's maybe a mouse, or something else? Shouldn't that stop co-worker from messing with your stuff? If not, you will have the evidence you are looking for. Why the need to be secretive?
posted by merejane at 3:26 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Laptop video camera.
Every modern workplace has laptops - they blend in with hardly any attention.
posted by Kruger5 at 3:35 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two things.

1) There's no need to immediately jump to a video camera. What you need to do is take photos of the before and after. "I'm going to the bathroom. *snap" "I'm back from the bathroom. *snap"
Make sure a timepiece is visible in the pictures. Then work with that. Your boss may think you are finicky, but it seems much less creepy.

2) I work in an office where we are encouraged to keep everything under lock and key. It is infinitely comforting. Try asking your boss if he will support you by giving you locking cubicle items.
posted by corb at 4:07 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Tell your boss, again, that it is happening. If he poo-poos it again, suggest to him that you put up a nanny cam, and ask him if you find evidence coworker IS messing with your stuff, if you can telework 50-100% of the time. Tell him that if coworker doesn't mess with your stuff, you will happily continue working from the office and not complain further about him messing with your stuff (note you're not promising to stop complaining about him entirely, simply not complain about him moving your stuff until he is on tape moving your stuff).

I think there is nearly 100% odds boss will agree, and also will spill the beans to coworker just to be sure he doesn't get recorded. Just in case he doesn't spill the beans, I'd put up a sign on your cubicle that says "Please do not enter OP's cubicle or touch anything inside".

We love our Foscam FW8910s. If you get them on sale, they can be had for as little as $59 (though $79 is more par for the course). I'd also suggest protecting the camera and the connection - this guy sounds like he might walk into the cube and rip the connection out of the webcam (so it wouldn't record).

If I were doing this, I'd run the ethernet cord behind a heavy file cabinet and run it in through the back of a file cabinet, then have the webcam secured in place (so shaking the webcam wouldn't make it fall over) inside a locked file cabinet door with a small hole drilled.

But - my method would definitely start by getting explicit boss consent and his assurance that he'd let me telework once I proved my assertions.
posted by arnicae at 5:52 PM on December 5, 2013

manything is a smartphone app that does exactly what you want. FREE!
posted by ajackson at 7:40 PM on December 5, 2013

Mostly addressing the last part of your question. I've been in the position of working in a very small office environment where it was most often just me and my tormentor. I became very afraid of Creepo, spent days at a time not sleeping and having nightmares when I did. Creepo had been friends with boss long before I came along. I thought boss didn't believe my claims but I think he had his suspicions. He spoke to Creepo several times. In the end, after a year and a half of frequent hell, he quietly fired Creepo and let it be generally believed by the rest of staff that it was a mutually agreed-upon departure. I was just glad to resume life, while also still watching my back in the parking lot after hours and practically hyperventilating and breaking into a sweat the one time Creepo visited the office at a later date. Bipolar, as it turns out. Go figure.

My advice:
-It's okay to be freaked out and paranoid about this.
-PROTECT YOURSELF from potential harm, whatever that means to you.
-Document everything by date as it happens in a Google Doc that you share with at least one person close to you. Write immediately. This has benefits beyond the obvious. On work time? Yeah. Fuck. Them. Amazing how therapeutic it is to pound on the keys, even if it is something as freaky as "ohmygodCreepojustthreatenedonphonetoKILLownspouse!!!" And put your claims to your boss in writing.
-Avoid this person whenever possible. Reason obviously does not work. Above advice is good on taking measures around your workspace.
-Video if you want. Share anything damning with a confidant and consider later what to do if you actually capture something useful. Consider how likely this is to help, but there is GREAT value in it even if the only thing it does is make you feel better or safer. And you know what? Even if you don't video, I love the idea of a sign saying you are. There'd always be a seed of doubt in creepo's mind.
-Take good care of yourself outside of work. Eat well. Get some seriously mad cardio to tackle the stress head on and it will also help you to think more clearly.
-Finally, consider the possibility that your boss is listening and might do the right thing. If you are indispensable your boss obviously knows this and he is definitely listening. If you give him things in writing, if you let him know you are documenting everything, if you express fear for your safety, if you post that sign, he will take notice. He may not handle it the way he should, buy then again, he may. But do give him enough information and the benefit of the doubt to do the right damn thing.

Good luck. I'm sorry. I feel for you, I really do. If all else fails, preserve your sanity and get the hell out.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 3:32 AM on December 6, 2013

One thing that may backfire on you with this is that the guy may play it off as a joke. Much like Jim in The Office was always messing with Dwight, and we all know how endearing Jim was!

So you may still catch him in the act, show your boss and still have it laughed off and you'll only have succeeded in pissing off your co-worker.

I'll suggest to you that now would be a good time to find a better gig. There's ALWAYS a better gig out there. You're in a position to be picky, since you're resigned yourself to being where you are now anyway. You can hold out for great money and a great situation.

January is the time when companines hire, with their fresh budgets and fresh years ahead of them.

You are right that we can't know your situation 100%, but I do know that if there was only one place where I could make the money I needed to make, and that needed my skills, and only one, that I'd be learning some new, more transferrable skills.

You already know that in a battle of "it's either him or me," that your boss has picked him. He's probably surprised that you haven't left already.

In the end, if you feel unsafe, no money or indespensibility is worth feeling like you have to look over your shoulder.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:00 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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