'Hello? Is This Thing On?'

Sara Lau discusses the use of surreptitious recordings in employment disputes.

A manager at a local telco company was recently said to be "suspended indefinitely" following the 'viral' sharing, on various social media platforms, of a video of her scolding her subordinates at work. As a result of the 'viral' video, the business in question suffered reputational harm and had to perform damage control. After all, if a picture tells a thousand words, a video must tell a million.

While netizens focused on the conduct of the said manager, there was little interest as to who recorded the incident, which was clearly carried out covertly. Surreptitious recording of workplace exchanges is on the rise. A decade ago, one would need a stealth recording device to secretly record verbal exchanges - a wiretap hidden in a trouser pocket or a camera disguised as a shirt button. With the advent of technology, recordings can now easily be carried out without detection: just a finger tap or swift swipe on any mobile device. For this reason, coupled with social media-fuelled obsessions for sensation and scandal, it is important to acknowledge that covert recordings may make or break your day or case.

Recording conversations at work can be appealing. In a work-related dispute between colleagues, a covert recording of the dispute would conclusively determine a he-said-she-said deadlock. It can also serve to discredit character. Likewise, an employee claiming to have been bullied, defamed, discriminated against or mistreated by his employer can use a covert recording to prove his claim, simultaneously ravaging the reputation of the employer. Even employers can find covert recording a helpful weapon, especially in cases where an employee confesses to a misconduct that he later denies. Covert recording is powerful evidence indeed.

The million-dollar question is: should we be secretly recording conversations at work?


The matter of secret recordings was recently the highlight of a case in Denmark. The matter started with a work-related dispute between a customer consultant ("Employee") and a managing director over commission payments. As the conversation grew heated, the Employee threw a computer mouse in the direction of the managing director, but accounts differ as to whether the Employee threw the computer mouse at the managing director intentionally. The Employee then left work early, but not before some amends were made between him and the managing...

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