This week, Orange Township staff received a carefully composed memo that answered questions concerning an employee’s rights when a conversation is secretly recorded by a superior.
According to Joel Spitzer, Orange Township fiscal officer, Trustee Lisa Knapp has reportedly been secretly recording conversations with township employees, which has created some unease.
The Gazette asked Knapp if she had ever recorded a conversation between herself and a township employee without the employee’s knowledge of being recorded. Knapp did not answer the question.
However, The Gazette has obtained a digital audio file that appears to be Knapp discussing a sensitive matter with an Orange Township employee.
“Pursuant to (Ohio Revised Code) section 2933.52, Ohio is a ‘One-Party Consent’ State,” stated the Wednesday, Feb. 14, memo from Lee Bodnar, township administrator. “This means the recording of wire, oral and electronic communications is legal if the person instituting the recording is a party to the communication or if one of the parties to the communication has previously given consent.”
“Since Ohio is a ‘one-party consent’ state, the rights of the individual being recorded are very limited,” states Bodnar’s memo.“If individuals feel that their conversation may be being recorded, they certainly have a right to ask whether it is being recorded.” However, “it is possible that an individual may respond that they are not recording a conversation, but are actually recording it. Unfortunately, this is of itself is not a violation of any Ohio laws.”
Bodnar also stated, if it is confirmed that the conversation is being recorded, the employee can request that it not be or at the very least state they do not consent to being recorded.
However, he also states that in the workplace, if an employee refuses to speak because of being recorded, the refusal could be considered insubordination if the recording is conducted by a superior.
Bodnar states at the end of his memo, “I would suggest that as we are public-service professionals, we should always seek to conduct ourselves as if every conversation and interaction is recorded, and with the thought that the ‘public-eye’ is always upon us.”
After receiving Bodnar’s memo, Spitzer sent out a statement of his own expressing his views and intentions of how he will handle the matter if it arises with any of his employees.
“Please be advised that any employee who reports to the Fiscal Officer will not be disciplined in any capacity for refusing to answer any question if they do not feel comfortable being recorded,” Spitzer wrote. “It is certainly their choice to proceed, but I will not be initiating nor supporting any discipline for refusing to proceed with a conversation if they do not feel comfortable. A threat of being disciplined for refusal to answer a question, if uncomfortable with that prospect, while being recorded is detrimental to morale and frankly in contravention of any safe and open workplace.”
Spitzer told The Gazette, “A policy stance encouraging secret recordings from superiors on subordinates then further disciplining employees who do not wish to be secretly recorded only stands to degrade morale, is disrespectful to employees, and flies in the face of a happy working environment.”