Is It Legal To Record Your Conversations At Work?
So long as you’re actively part of the discussion, recording is usually lawful. But there are consequences to consider.
A decade ago you needed a stealth taping device to secretly record conversations. Today most people carry a mobile phone. Workplace discussions can be captured undetected with ease.
Is it legal to do so? Yes, so long as you’re actively part of the discussion. However caution should be exercised. Even if you have good reason to record unannounced, it’s potentially a cause for being summarily dismissed.
Circumstances When Recording Secretly Is Legal
You can record just about any workplace conversation visibly if another participant gives their permission. Canadian law also allows an employee to record phone calls and other conversations unannounced, under an exception known as “one party consent.” Careful because the following conditions must be met:
- You yourself participate in the conversation, though not silently. This applies for instance in a meeting with your boss where you chat about your work performance.
- You’re not acting as a member of management (they have separate Privacy Act rules).
- You are an intended recipient of the communication.
The law is also clear as to what isn’t permitted. In Canada, it’s illegal to willfully intercept a private communication. "Intercept" means listen to, record, acquire or acquire the substance, meaning or purport of the communication. This violation falls under section 183 of the Criminal Code.
As an example, you can’t secretly record a phone call or other conversation between your boss and another co-worker unless one of them gave their prior permission (preferably in writing). This applies even if they were talking about you and you were in the room as a silent bystander. Nor can you leave a recording device in a room and then leave, unless at least one person in that room consents.
When Should You Consider Recording?
If your rights are being seriously violated at work, it’s smart to gather relevant evidence. Mistreatment, such as harassment or the employer’s breach of oral promises, often takes place when there are no witnesses. Yet the onus is on you to prove a poisoned work environment.
Whistleblowing is another instance where surreptitious recording might be necessary. It may be the only way for you to get proof of misdeeds.
Note that situations this incendiary might end up going to court. Be prepared to use the recordings as evidence, if it comes to that. In the absence of documented confirmation (either written, audio or video), a judge would have to assess the credibility of parties based on their own word.
If you record conversation lawfully but on the sly, it can have major negative impacts. Imagine reactions at work once your secretive activity is revealed. The people involved may feel betrayed. At a minimum, issues of mistrust arise. Your reputation could take a big hit.
Then, there are possible legal repercussions. Despite being lawful, what you’ve done might constitute a breach of confidentiality, of privacy (intrusion upon seclusion) and/or of trust. Although your employer is allowed sometimes to spy on you, the reverse isn’t always true.
Discipline, up to and including dismissal, could be your punishment. The employer may claim that the employment relationship has been irreparably damaged, and that requisite trust to keep you on staff no longer exists.
Use As A Last Resort
So when is it reasonable to secretly record workplace conversations? When it’s not prohibited in the employer’s rules of conduct, for starters. Violating policy could hurt your case severely.
Essentially then you should be at a point where it’s OK to burn bridges. Maybe you’re on the verge of resigning due to mistreatment. Or writing’s on the wall that you’re about to be fired for cause, and the employer is trying to lie or distort events regarding your termination.
Your best intentions could be turned against you, like if a court compels you to release your recording and it implicates you in the misdoings. Before going clandestine, get some advice from an employment lawyer.
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Disclaimer: This article is not to be construed as legal advice. It is for general information purposes only and may not be applicable to your specific situation.