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Whitmer Pocket Veto Bad for Nursing Home Residents, Good for Unions

Recently, Governor Gretchen Whitmer opted out of signing a bill that would allow nursing home residents to install surveillance cameras in their own rooms.

The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 77, was sponsored by Senator Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, and several other Republican co-sponsors who pushed the bill to give nursing home residents a check against potential abuse from employees and visitors. Sen. Runestad introduced this bill three years ago, and feels the legislation is finally gaining traction after more seniors infected with COVID-19 have been sequestered in nursing homes.

The growing problem of elder abuse in American nursing homes is nothing new; in fact, legislation addressing this issue dates as far back as the 1950s in the Social Security Act. According to NursingHomeAbuse.org, an estimated 5,000,000 people are affected by elder abuse every year, while only 1 in 14 incidents of elder abuse are formally reported. In addition, as of August 2019, 10 states had passed legislation allowing private cameras in nursing homes.

It's unclear what Whitmer's reasoning was behind this pocket veto, especially considering the bill had support from the Health Care Association of Michigan. The Democratic Governor's unexplained pocket veto was likely influenced by opposition from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union representing healthcare workers throughout the state.

A SEIU spokesman indicated concern that employers would use surveillance footage in a retaliatory manner. More likely, the union was concerned that the surveillance video would be used as evidence in disciplinary proceedings against union employees accused of inappropriate conduct.

The use of video evidence in resolving workplace disputes and complaints is not novel and, in fact, is common in law enforcement. One study referenced in President Obama's Final Report of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing found that the mere presence of body-worn cameras cut citizen complaints by 59 percent by making both police and citizens more self-aware of their own conduct. If video monitoring is effective to curb issues with police-citizen encounters, then wouldn't one expect similar results in nursing staff and resident encounters?

As technology continues to advance, more and more workplaces are electronically monitored. As an employer, you need to be aware of your rights and responsibilities in how you use these recording in making employment decisions. If you have questions or comments about safety and surveillance in the workplace, contact a labor, employment & HR attorney today.

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