How to legally limit recording devices in the workplace.

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These days, it's safe to assume that anything said or done at work may be recorded, preserved and instantly played back. That's because just about everyone carries a device capable of photographing and recording their surroundings. Be it a smartphone, tablet or laptop, cameras and voice recording systems are everywhere. Most are even operational with a simple phrase like "OK Google," "Hey Siri" or "Alexa."

However, employers can take concrete steps to limit how much of the technology is allowed in the workplace. In fact, many employers prohibit employees from making recordings in the workplace. But those policies may violate state and federal laws if not carefully crafted.

Who records and why

Both employees and employers have their own reasons for recording workplace goings-on. Employers use video surveillance to reduce inside theft. Audio recordings may be used to defend hostile environment claims. Workers may want to document unsafe working conditions or record what's said by whom during a disciplinary hearing.

But state and federal laws strictly limit under what circumstances such recordings may be made, including whether they were made in the open or in secret, and with or without the other party's consent. It's not as simple as declaring that the employer can control what happens in the workplace or that workers have the unlimited right to document poor working conditions.

Pennsylvania wiretap rules

Unlike federal law, Pennsylvania's Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act--the Wiretap Act--prohibits recording of another person's oral communication without his or her consent. That applies to both employers and employees.

In addition, employers can implement a rule that bars recording in the workplace altogether, subject to potential problems under the National Labor Relations Act.

If an employer does tell workers they cannot record conversations in the workplace without both parties' consent, then the employer may even be able to press criminal charges under the Wiretap Act against workers who surreptitiously record conversations. Of course, employees may do the same.

Recent case: Talbot, a corporate vice president, used a voice memo app on his smartphone to surreptitiously record a conversation between himself and his boss at Unilife Corp. Presumably, he wanted a rock-solid record of exactly what was said during the meeting.

Talbot had filed an internal ethics complaint and was called into a meeting with the supervisor...

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