Have you ever wished you could have a verbatim record of an HR conversation, just as a hedge against a “he said, she said” dispute in court?
Don’t hide a tape recorder under your desk until you’ve considered this: Recording a conversation, even with the best intentions, may be illegal and could backfire. Get expert legal guidance before you hit the record button.
Recent case: Roger Pattee was fired from his job at the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) for allegedly lying during a disciplinary meeting with his supervisor. Unknown to Pattee, two other GPA employees were listening in on the conversation via a speakerphone strategically placed in the room.
Pattee sued and asked the federal court to exclude the two eavesdroppers’ testimonies. Without them, the case came down to Pattee’s word against his supervisor’s. Pattee’s attorney told the court that listening in was a felony under the federal wiretapping laws.
The court refused to toss out the overheard conversation. The judge concluded there was no evidence Pattee thought the conversation was just between him and his supervisor. Had either Pattee or his supervisor said “this is off the record” or “I’d like to discuss this in private,” the court said it might have ruled it as a federal wiretapping violation. (Pattee v. Georgia Ports Authority, No. 406 CV 028, SD GA, 2007)
Final note: Illegal wiretapping is a criminal offense. Always get an attorney’s opinion before proceeding with recording or listening in on a conversation.