Can I Legally Record Conversations With My Employer?

Written by melanie j. martin
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If your boss has been bullying or harassing you, recording his inappropriate comments may have crossed your mind. Likewise, if your boss makes promises without following through, you might want evidence of what he promised. Recording conversations can have serious legal repercussions, however, so when in doubt, don't record.

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Federal Law

Federal law permits you to record a conversation if one party to the conversation has given permission, but you may need to show you have a legitimate reason for recording the conversation. The U.S. Department of Labor allows such one-party consent when an employee is acting as a whistle-blower, exposing a boss or company's wrongdoings, as long as state law allows such recording. Never assume that you have the legal right to do so; however, unless your state law explicitly permits it. You should also never record a conversation you're not part of -- typically, only law enforcement may do this.

State Laws

Thirty-eight states permit the recording of phone conversations if you're part of the conversation, even if the other parties don't know you're recording. Twelve other states require all parties to consent. These states include Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, California and Washington. States may have different laws on recording phone conversations than on recording in-person conversations, although similar laws usually govern the two. Usually, you must follow the law that applies to the state where the recording would take place. For instance, if you're in another state on a business trip, you must follow the laws in that state.

Considerations

If you cannot show that you have a legitimate reason for recording the conversation, you could be at serious risk. If your employer finds out you secretly recorded the conversation without a good reason, she could sue or even legally prosecute you. Your state law probably will not allow you to use a video camera instead of a tape recorder, and may impose harsher penalties if you attempt to do so. Consult with your human resources department or an attorney if you wish to find out whether the company's video cameras have recorded your employer's statements. Also, read your employee handbook to find out if your company forbids recording conversations, as this may override state laws that allow recording.

Alternatives

If you don't wish to incriminate your boss, just ask her if you can record the conversation. You'll save yourself the stress of wondering if you could get in trouble. If you just wish to remember her instructions more clearly, or to learn from her expertise, she probably won't mind you recording the conversation. Meanwhile, if you wish to gain evidence of wrongdoing, consult your human resources department to gain permission to record, or speak with an attorney -- and record only if the law permits. You might also use e-mails and other written correspondence as evidence of harassment or promises your boss has made.

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