updated 7/5/2005 5:11:47 PM ET 2005-07-05T21:11:47

Beer maker Anheuser-Busch Cos. may have to reinstate several employees fired for using illegal drugs at work because the company used hidden cameras without informing the employees’ union, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The brewer fired five workers in 1998 after hidden cameras showed them smoking marijuana in an area where employees sometimes take breaks at one of its St. Louis brewing facilities.

Four additional workers were suspended for leaving their work areas. Seven others, observed sleeping or urinating on the building’s roof, had to sign “last-chance” agreements saying they could be fired for any further violation of company rules.

A 2-1 panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a finding that the brewer committed an unfair labor practice when it installed the cameras in 1998 before bargaining with the union, Brewers and Maltsters, Local Union No. 6, as required under federal labor laws.

The decision by Judge Judith W. Rogers sends the case back to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington to determine what, if any, remedies the disciplined employees are entitled to, including the possibility of reinstatement for those fired.

The NLRB had ruled that the employees were not entitled to reinstatement or back pay because Anheuser-Busch had good cause to discipline them. But the court held that the company would not have known about the misconduct without viewing the unlawful hidden-camera tapes.

Judge David B. Sentelle dissented, saying the employees could still be disciplined for misconduct, even if the cameras were unlawfully installed.

The NLRB has long allowed hidden cameras in the workplace as long as the company bargains with the union, though a company does not have to say where the cameras are placed.

Anheuser-Busch argued that the cameras were a matter of internal security and that employees had no expectation of privacy in the elevator motors room and the rooftop, which were not official break areas.

A spokesman for Anheuser-Busch and an attorney representing the union did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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