The idea that an employer might set up a hidden camera in or around their place of business is certainly nothing new. This type of thing is especially important in a place like a retail environment, where cameras are used both to catch shoplifters in the act and to deter people from stealing before they ever have a chance to.Hidden Audio Recording

But installing surveillance cameras that your employees know about is one thing. Installing those cameras to spy on those employees without them being aware of it is something else entirely. You may think that the law is pretty clear on whether or not the latter scenario is acceptable… but unfortunately, that’s not really as accurate as you probably hope it to be.

The Legality of Secret Workplace Recordings

If you’re an employer and you want to set up something like a hidden audio recorder in your break room, whether or not that is legal depends entirely on where in the country you live. Many states like New Jersey and Delaware are known as “one-party consent” states, for example. This means that if you’re planning on setting up that same hidden audio recorder to monitor a group of five people, for example, only one of them has to give consent for everything to be totally on the level. As the person who purchased and installed that device, your consent absolutely counts if you’re also on the recording — meaning that everyone else has no basis to object from a legal perspective.

In an area like Pennsylvania, on the other hand, you’re looking at an entirely different story. That state has legislation that makes it a third-degree felony to “intercept or attempt to intercept any wire, electronic or oral communications.” Not only that, but you also cannot use those recordings in any way moving forward. For such a hidden audio recorder to be legal, you would need the consent of all parties on the tape… meaning that it wouldn’t really stay “hidden” for very long.

There are notable exceptions to this act in Pennsylvania, of course, like if you happen to be a police officer or if you’re emergency personnel “acting within the scope of your employment.” But if you fall outside the grounds of those scenarios, you could easily wind up on the receiving end of a criminal complaint if you don’t proceed with an extreme amount of caution.

Part of the reason why this situation is so murky in so many areas is that technology is advancing far faster than our laws were ever capable of. The legislative process in this country was partially designed to be slow because laws are important and we need to think very, very carefully about what we do and how we act to that end. But technology is the opposite — not only does it change overnight, but it does so in incredible ways.

A decade ago, it would be inconceivable to think that the majority of the population would walk around with portable little supercomputers in their pockets all day long. Yet we do — they’re called smartphones and there’s no putting that particular Genie back in the bottle again. When those smartphones also come with recording devices capable of capturing 1080p or even 4K video and crystal clear audio, the situation becomes even more precarious.

All told, there are a number of totally legitimate reasons why you would want to secretly record your employees at work. Maybe you think one of them is stealing from you, or you’re trying to collect actionable evidence for some other type of crime. The important thing to understand is that just because you own and run a business doesn’t mean you can do anything you want. You need to triple check the current laws in your area before you take any type of step like this. Make absolutely no mistake about it: This is one of those situations where the consequences of getting it wrong are far too critical to ignore.