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

Jan 19 | 2021  by

On January 6, 2021, Governor Gretchen Whitmer opted out of signing a bill allowing nursing home residents to install surveillance cameras in their rooms.

The proposed Senate Bill 77, was sponsored by Senator Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) and several Republican co-sponsors. Who pushed the bill to give nursing home residents a check against possible elder abuse from employees or visitors. Sen. Runestad introduced the bill three years ago and feels it 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, considering it had support from the Health Care Association of Michigan. The Democratic Governor’s unexplained veto was likely influenced by opposition from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union representing healthcare workers throughout the state.

An SEIU spokesman indicated concern that employers would use surveillance footage in a retaliatory manner. More likely, the union is concerned surveillance video can be used as evidence in disciplinary proceedings against union employees.

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 the mere presence of body cameras cut citizen complaints by 59% 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 recordings in making employment decisions. If you have questions or comments about safety and surveillance in the workplace, contact a labor, employment & HR attorney today.