What is the law regarding recording a conversation?

UPDATED: Aug 6, 2011

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What is the law regarding recording a conversation?

I have been recording conversations at work to prove harassment by my manager. Another employee recently made a claim about this same manager and harassment and she was fired because the boss lied. In the midst of listening to these recordings I learned my boss is coercing another employee to trump up sexual harassment charges on me. The recording goes into their plot detail. Can I get in legal trouble for the recording although it proves my claim?

Asked on August 6, 2011 Virginia


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Possibly.  First of all, federal law allows recording of phone calls and other electronic communications with the consent of at least 1 party to the call. A majority of jurisdictions have adopted similar wiretapping statutes. Additionally most have extended the law to cover in-person conversations as well. These are known as "1 party consent" states (i.e. as long as the person recording the communication is a party to it, the recording is legal; the other parties need not be informed). The minority of states require that all parties to the communication consent to its recording, otherwise known as "all party consent" states.  VA is the former - an 1 party consent state.

Therefore, as long as you are a party to the conversation you may record without the other party's knowledge or permission. However, for example, if you are just leaving a recording device in a room to record the conversations of others when you are not there, this would be illegal under VA law or any state law for that matter; it would be a federal offense as well.

That all having been said, if you are an at will employee, you are risking dismissal for doing so. Most employers would take exception to an an employee secretly recording their co-workers.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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