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'Distasteful' covert recordings may be admissible evidence

Some employees are secretly recording meetings with managers with the intention of using them as evidence at employment tribunals. And with the prevalence of sophisticated portable recording devices - including on many mobile phones - it's a trend that looks likely to continue.

Employers may well wonder if such a practice is fair or reasonable. Certainly, tribunals have been describing covert recording as 'very distasteful' and 'discreditable'. But case law suggests that this in itself may not be enough to make them inadmissible as evidence.

Following decisions in one case, experts say that recordings of disciplinary hearings and subsequent meetings may be admissible provided the employer has been given the evidence before the tribunal hearing, including both the recording and its transcription so that its veracity can be checked. If there's a lot of material to go through, employers should be told which parts are relevant to the proceedings.

In the same case, secret recordings of private conversations were treated differently. They were not deemed to be admissible unless the recordings revealed evidence of discrimination.

Employers may want to prohibit recording in their procedures and policies, but experts suggest that this won't deter some. Better advice, they maintain, is for managers to assume they are being recorded and to remember that what they are saying may be admitted as evidence in a tribunal.

Better still would be to cultivate an open and supportive atmosphere in the workplace, where disagreements are dealt with swiftly and sensitively before getting out of hand. Where there's trust and mutual respect, employees would not feel any need to make secret recordings.

Acas can help your managers improve employment relations in your organisation by working with you to create an open and supportive environment. With Acas' training you'll be better equipped to deal with disputes so that they have the best chance of being resolved informally. Acas offers hands-on practical training in Dispute resolution and Mediation, and helps develop Skills for supervisors to boost essential people skills. Training in Discipline and grievance helps managers improve knowledge and skills in discipline and grievance procedures.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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