How to Handle Secret Recordings in the Workplace?

We have seen high profile incidents of employees secretly recording conversations in the workplace and see the destructive impact recordings have on organizations.

Most recently, Omarosa Manigault has made the headlines after she secretly taped conversations in the White House.  While this makes for juicy daytime drama, what impact can an employee secretly recording in your workplace have on your business?

Secretly recording conversations that occur in the workplace, without permission, can expose proprietary and confidential information necessary to give you the extra edge against your competitors.  Secret recordings can potentially expose your customer to negative publicity and impact your bottom line.

Since secret recordings can have such a profound impact on your business, how can you stop employees from recording?

Under the Federal Wiretapping Law, it is illegal to record a person without consent. (18 U.S.C. § 2511.).  If that individual is overhearing the conversation and records, that recording is illegal and not allowed.  However, if that individual is party to that conversation, and an active participant, then they can record the conversation without giving you notice.  Twelve states offer an exception to this rule which makes secret recordings illegal and is not permitted unless all parties consent.  These states are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.”

How to Tell If You are Being Secretly Recorded?

In the age of digital technology, it may be hard to tell if you are being secretly recorded.  Many employees have the capability to record on their digital phones.  Then other high-end solutions are available to record a conversation unknowingly.  Therefore, the questions shouldn’t be “Am I Being Secretly Recorded?”  We should assume that all of our discussions can and will be recorded, at any time, without our prior consent. 

We should live our lives in a manner where anything we say can be used against us, and our organization, and shared with the public at any time.  Have you ever seen one of those silly videos where someone was recorded doing something silly, and recorded unbeknownst to them, and the secretly recorded video went viral.  The person never even noticed that they were being recorded.  Now that’s a demonstration of a light-hearted way in which secret recordings result in humor, but there are so many situations where secret recordings have impacted individuals negatively that plays out daily in the media.   Live in a manner like a camera is always rolling, because it is, and you never know who might be watching and secretly recording you.  Don’t do or say anything that you wouldn’t want to go viral or end up on the 5 PM news.

Update Your Employee Handbook?

Clearly outlining your policy will protect you from secret recordings and hold employees accountable for failing to adhere to the procedures established.  Include your recording policy in your employee handbook.  Failing to include your view on recordings in your employee handbook will give implied consent that the organization was okay with being recorded.  Outlining specifically, what can and can’t be done in your organization provides a roadmap for employees to follow.

We have all seen organizations that spend time developing an in-depth employee handbook, yet it is poorly communicated and shared with employees.  Ensure that you develop a process a process where your employee handbook is shared with employees, the policies are reviewed, and any questions employees may have about the policies are answered. 

Finally, have a point of contact where employees can reach out for additional questions or concerns on applying the policies in their workplace.  Reviewing the policies can be very different when it comes to using it in your day-to-day job, whether in the corporate office or out in the field.

Our Recommendation?

Employees tend to record conversations when there is an element of distrust in the work environment.  Employees may struggle with the organizational culture, and they may believe what management say vs. what they do conflicts, and therefore, utilize recording as a way to protect themselves.  In other cases, employees may have a lack of trust in their management, and therefore, feel the need to record their conversations.  Or the organization may be exhibiting bad behaviors and the employee may record the behaviors as proof of what is going on internally.

So, our recommendation is simple.  Instead of putting all these policies in place, pay attention to your organizational culture to keep a pulse on your employees.  If we can tap into the employees' motivation, their drive for getting up every day and coming to work, their experience with their team and with their manager, we can create an environment where employees feel valued and do the right thing.

It takes two.  It takes the employees to create the right workplace environment, and the managers as well.  We have to ensure that our policies, our goals that we are striving to achieve, are not in conflict with each other and promote behaviors which we are trying to prevent.

For example, if you look at Finance, which has a vast compliance culture, you may find individuals who violate the various financial policies do so in the spirit of the achieving their financial results and business performance.  Look at the system with a microscope to understand how the impact of your process and strategies impact your culture.

Our final recommendation is simple, communicate.  Employees who are left to perceive what is happening can become distrustful of the organization, and of you as their manager.  Therefore, as much as you can, share information, be transparent, and engage your employees.  Being inclusive, along with other strategies, will help you build trust.  Communicate to your employee in a manner that they can comprehend.  Using our DiSC® Workplace assessment can help you develop a tailored approach to communicating in your organization.  DiSC® profiles help you to enhance the communication within your organization, across teams and directly with individuals.

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Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst