Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Employer Recording Personal Conversations on Work Phones and Computers

If you work from home, there's a good chance your employer records your work calls and meetings for training or safety purposes. The tricky thing is that most laptops have speakers, microphones, and webcam capabilities. It makes you wonder if your employer listens to everything you do at home.

This article will discuss whether your company can legally do this. We will also explain what to do if you believe your employer is listening to your private phone calls. In other words, do you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the office and at home?

Is My Work Computer Listening to Me at Home?

It's one thing to ask if your employer can listen to you while working from home. It's another to ask if they're legally allowed to do this. From a technical perspective, most work equipment today can intercept, record, and retrieve communications. It comes down to what your employer can and can't do under the law.

Federal law governs whether companies can eavesdrop on their employees. According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), your employer must have consent to monitor employees' work calls or computer use.

The ECPA only applies to communications related to your job. Nothing gives your employer the right to record in-person interactions in your home. This is true for any personal communications, from conversations with a spouse or child to a call on a personal phone while sitting at your work desk. It even extends to listening to music on your cellphone or home speakers while working.

Finally, your company has no right to "bug" your home, eavesdrop, or spy on you through a work computer or phone. You have federal rights to privacy.

But, anything personal you choose to do with work equipment waives your rights to privacy. For example, if you message friends on social media from your work computer, expect that your employer can and will read those messages. We'll discuss this in further detail below.

Using Your Work Computer for Personal Use

Your employer can monitor or record anything you do on your computer. This includes the websites you browse, things you write in personal emails and chats, and personal calls you make on your work phone or Skype-type service.

Sadly, you have few rights or recourse if your employer decides to take action against you for something you do on a work computer. For example, your manager can discipline you if you have a phone conversation about illegal activity or browse inappropriate websites on your work computer.

A good rule of thumb is that anything personal you do on your work equipment will generally leave you in the wrong – not your employer. It will be difficult to argue that your employer had no right to use the information against you when you were foolish enough to engage in illegal behavior on company time and using company property.

Never do anything personal on your work computer or work phone. If anyone tries to handle personal affairs with you through your work equipment, hang up or disengage. Also, double-check that you hang up a work call before having a private conversation at home.

Technical Aspects of Your Work Computer

Learning about your computer's functionality may help put your mind at ease. Many laptops have "kill switches" that turn off the camera and microphone when not in use. Many also have mute buttons for the microphone or camera.

The microphone and camera should be inoperable while your computer is not open or turned off. To be safe, research the exact features on your phone and computer.

Why Would an Employer Listen to Their Workers' Private Communications?

A company would try to intercept their employees' communications for many reasons. If they're work-related, they have a legitimate business reason to listen to them or read them. It is a significant violation of employee privacy if they are personal.

Employers may try to intercept and record conversations involving more than just private phone calls. They may also have an interest in reading or listening to the following:

  • Reading text messages
  • Wiretapping your work cell phone
  • Listening to conversations in employee break rooms or restrooms
  • Observing employee activity while on company property
  • Watching what goes on in employee locker rooms
  • Videotaping employees entering and leaving the building
  • Activity that takes place outside business hours
  • Any communications made through company computers or other company-owned equipment
  • Messages sent and received through an employee's email account
  • Audio recordings of conference calls and disciplinary meetings
  • Video recordings of company retreats and gatherings
  • Listening to employee telephone calls and voicemails

It is hard for employers to justify a legitimate business purpose for most of these things. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It's one thing to place recording devices in common areas of your company's office building. Another matter is attempting to record workers in private settings, such as restrooms.

What to Do If You Think Your Employer Is Listening

Most people become anxious when they learn their employer has been listening to their phone calls and reading their emails. Even if you're confident that you've done nothing wrong, you'll start to second-guess everything you said and did.

To put your mind at ease, read whatever you can find about your employer's equipment use. Check your employee handbook for recording policies. It's also good to check your state's laws on employee privacy and video surveillance rights.

If you suspect your employer heard a conversation outside of your work phone or computer, you may need to take legal action. The same applies if your employer intends to discipline you for something they could not have learned from your work computer.

For example, if you email a prospective employer through your private account on your lunch break, you may have a valid claim. It will depend on whether you gave your consent to your employer monitoring this sort of activity.

Contact an Employment Attorney

Nobody has the right to intercept your private calls and emails. Unfortunately, many companies secure two-party consent upon hire. They may also require new employees to give written consent to the invasions of employee privacy discussed here.

If your employer uses your private communications to discipline, harass, or fire you, immediately contact an attorney with experience in employee and privacy laws.

Related Resources

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your privacy rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options