Covertly recording meetings
A common question that is often asked by employers is what can I do if my employee has covertly recorded a meeting.
Only a few years ago employees would have to be very motivated to covertly record meetings and it was not uncommon to find employees producing devices James Bond would be envious of, such as recording devices hidden in pens, but now with modern technology and the easy availability of recording devices on phones, this is more and more of an issue.
The law around the use of covert recordings of disciplinary hearings has been relatively established for a while now. Essentially employees can use the recording of any meeting in a tribunal, but can't use recordings of any private discussions of an employer's panel. Whilst generally employees will not be allowed to use the covert recordings of disciplinary hearings in tribunal you should still be wary of this. Even if they can't use it within the tribunal process an employee knowing what was discussed in private at a disciplinary hearing puts them at a big advantage in the process. Therefore, always be wary of employees leaving jackets, coats or bags in rooms where discussions are taking place and always ask them to take their belongings with them.
However, whilst the law on this point has been relatively established for a while, a recent decision by the Employment Appeals Tribunal dealt with the issue of whether or not a covert recording of a meeting would be an act of misconduct.
When thinking about this issue it is not surprising that it has not come up previously. Employees will generally only reveal covert recordings during tribunal proceedings or settlement negotiations and so why would an employer be concerned about misconduct after an employee has been dismissed. However, if an employee is successful at tribunal then it could be relevant to try and determine the amount of compensation an employee might receive and this is the circumstances in which the Employment Appeals Tribunal heard the case of Phoenix House v Stockman.
In this case the EAT confirmed that the recording of a disciplinary hearing could be an act of misconduct namely, a breach of trust and confidence. The EAT determined that the purpose of the recording is important in these cases, an employee who records the meeting to entrap their employer is a more serious issue than a confused and vulnerable employee who wants an accurate record of the meeting. The EAT also felt there may be some rare cases where an employee is completely justified in recording a meeting.
The EAT's reasoning did provide some useful guidance to employers. So best practice now may be to seek to confirm to the employee that they are not recording the meeting at the start of any meeting. Employers should also consider their policies and listing the covert recording of meetings as an act of misconduct or gross misconduct. There are also some cases where recording will almost certainly be gross misconduct, trying to entrap an employer or recording sensitive confidential information is much more likely to amount to gross misconduct.