Is it legal for your employer to listen in on your conversations with other employees at work via an unknown intercom without your knowledge or consent?

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Is it legal for your employer to listen in on your conversations with other employees at work via an unknown intercom without your knowledge or consent?

I discovered roughly a week or so ago an intercom on the counter behind where my coworkers and I work. I didn’t think anything of it at first, until today I noticed while working near it that a red light was on. I also realized I was able to faintly hear my bosses phone ringing which I’d never been able to hear before. I thought these conversations were private as no one but my coworker and myself were present. I no longer feel safe speaking about anything even some work related things.

Asked on November 21, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Ohio

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Employers have a great deal of discretion in monitoring its employees. The fact is that as a general rule an employee has a limited rights to privacy in the workplace (other than in the restrooms, changing areas, etc). So unless such activity is expressly prohibited by virtue of company policy or a union agreement or employment contract, your employer listening in to your conversations is in all likelihood legal.

However, that having been said, if your boss records these conversations he may be breaking the law. In OH, the person who is recording must be a party to the communication being recorded. Additionally, if your employer (i.e. boss, other supervisors or management) act upon an illegally recorded conversation (e.g. fire you over it) they, has well as the person who illegally did the recording, can find themselves in both civil and criminal legal trouble.

The exception to the above would be if there was no "expectation of privacy". In other words, where you record matters. If it is in an employees private office, it's illegal; if it's in an open lunchroom where the conversation could be overheard, it's legal. Why? In the former there is a reasonable expectation of privacy and in the later there is not.

Bottom line, this can be a gray area of the law and statutes vary from state-to-state. At this point, you can contact your state's department of labor for further information or contact a local employment law attorney.


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