We regularly receive questions from potential clients about whether they should audiorecord work meetings, and whether recording meetings is even legal. The vast majority of the meetings in question relate to investigation or discipline of the potential client. Occasionally, potential clients ask whether they can – and should – record team meetings or other standard, regular conferences.

Does the Law Permit You to Audiorecord Work Meetings?

Some readers may have familiarity with the term one-party consent as it relates to recording conversations. In short, this Wisconsin state law provides that it is not a crime for a person to record – or, “intercept” – a communication if the recorder (the person doing the recording) is a part of the conversation. In other words, as long as the recorder is a party to the conversation, the conversation may lawfully be recorded.Marco Shot of Digital Voice Recorder

This law has an exception. The recorder is not immune from criminal liability if the purpose for making the recording is:

(c) “…to commit ‘any criminal or tortious act in violation of the constitution or laws of the United States or of any state or for the purpose of committing any other injurious act.’”

Of course, some employers will argue that the purpose of an employee recording a communication is always “criminal,” “tortious” or as a catch-all, to commit an “injurious act.”

The recorder may be subject to criminal penalties if he or she violates this law. Finally, the Legislature provides injured parties the right to pursue the recorder for actual damages, punitive damages, litigation expenses and actual reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Should You Audiorecord Work Meetings?

The answer to this question is largely dependent on the facts and circumstances of your particular case. However, it is worth considering the way in which a federal appeals court – the U.S. Seventh Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin – handled this question when it was central to the fate of a terminated employee’s employment discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. The employee, Christina Argyropolous, was terminated after 10 months as a jailer for the City of Alton, Illinois. Prior to her termination, Ms. Argyropolous filed a sexual harassment complaint against a co-worker. At some point during the investigation of her complaint, Ms. Argyropolous was summoned to a meeting with two of her superiors. When Ms. Argyropolous realized that the meeting was not about the status of the investigation of her complaint, she turned on a recorder that she had hidden in her coat. Upon learning about the recording some days later, the City pursued criminal eavesdropping charges against Ms. Argyropolous and terminated her employment. Calling her conduct “workplace espionage,” the Court upheld the dismissal of Argyropolous’s complaint, thereby rejecting her retaliation and harassment claims.

While the validity of the criminal charges were not addressed by the Court and those at issue in the case were the laws of the State of Illinois, not Wisconsin, the Argyropolous case is instructive because it endorses the employer’s reason for terminating Ms. Argyropolous as being legitimate and non-discriminatory.

A Safe Way to Approach Recording a Work Meeting

So, while an employee may not face criminal charges for recording a workplace meeting, he or she could potentially be lawfully terminated for doing so. Perhaps a common sense solution would be to request the right to record from the employer, before the meeting begins. If the employer refuses to allow the recording, an employee should take the time to report to the employer, in writing and after the meeting, about what was discussed at the meeting. For more discussion on this last topic, see Attorney Colin B. Good’s recent post, 4 Steps to Protecting Your Employment.

For questions you may have regarding recording work meetings, or any other questions you would like to discuss surrounding your employment or work situation, please contact the employment attorneys of Hawks Quindel, S.C.

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Nicholas Fairweather