Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Coronavirus Update 8-25-2020: This example of WFH is WTF

Alison Green, who pens the super engaging and helpful Ask A Manager blog, reached out to me to help with a reader question.

You should jump over to Alison's post to read the whole bonkers scenario, but the TL;DR is that an employee's spouse asked about the legality of an employer-installed app on her work-from-home husband's phone that audio recorded everything happening in the home (whether work related or not).

My answer:

First things first. Legal or illegal I'd get away from that employer right now. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Just get your resume in order and start job hunting ASAP. This is a horrible HR practice that tells me this is not an employer I want to work for any longer

As for the legality of the practice, it depends on the state in which you live. Recording or otherwise listening to the conversations of others are covered and regulated by state wiretap statutes. These laws come in two flavor – one-party consent laws, and two-party consent laws.

Most state wiretap statutes are one-party consent laws. This means that as long as one of the parties to the conversation has consented to the recording, no law has been violated. In the scenario presented, I'd want to know whether the husband has consented (expressly or implicitly) to the recording. If so, in a one-party consent state, no statute has been violated. I would still, however, have concerns over a common law invasion of privacy tort claim since the employer is unreasonable intruding into the private lives of your family, legal wiretap notwithstanding.

A minority of states (11 to be precise — California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington, plus Hawaii, which requires two-party consent if the recording device is in a private residence) have two-party consent laws. This means that unless all parties being listened to or recorded have consented to it, an illegal wiretap is occurring. If you are in one of these states, the recording described would likely be illegal, since the spouse and anyone else within earshot of the phone other than the employee would not have provided consent. In this case, I'd raise the issue with the company, and if you can't get satisfaction, I'd talk to an attorney.

A recent story in the New York Times asked if COVID-19 has forever changed the office. It has, and largely for the better. For example, lots of companies who were resistant to work-from-home have had to bend. 

But this example bends so far that it breaks the employer/employee relationship. 

If you have so little trust in your employees that you need to monitor everything they do by eavesdropping on conversations in their homes, you shouldn't be in the business of employing others. You are simply not suited to be an employer. The employer/employee relationship is one of mutual trust, and without that trust there is no relationship of value, period.

* Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash