An administrative sales assistant at an insurance agency quit after learning that her personal phone calls were being monitored and recorded by her company through a hidden tape recorder.
She sued, alleging illegal wiretapping of her personal conversations and making related state law claims. The insurance agency tried to get the case tossed out, arguing that the nature of the business required what many companies routinely do, monitor calls for quality assurance and to gauge. Plus, the monitoring policy was outlined in the employee handbook, which put employees on notice and implied their consent.
But the court let the case go to trial. It said the company erred by monitoring every conversation on that phone line, business-related or not. Because of this, the recording wasn't subject to the "business extension" exemption under federal wiretapping law. (Smith v. Devers, No. 01-T-551-N, M.D. Ala., 2002)
Advice: Take this ruling as an important reminder of the guidelines for monitoring employees' phone conversations, something many firms do in the name of customer service.
First, remember that the business-exemption exception doesn't give your firm carte blanche to record all phone conversations conducted on business phones. The law provides that if a call is personal, no interception is allowed beyond the point needed to determine whether it's personal or business-related. Instruct supervisors to hang up the minute they make that determination.
Second, when relying on an employee's consent to monitor conversations, get it in writing.