As the pharmaceutical industry changes, it must take note of the impact such change has on employee relations and the potential for lawsuits.  Big Pharma has shed thousands of jobs in the past few years, with reports showing that the industry has lost more than 6,000 jobs from January –May 2013, up from the approximately 5000 lost in the first 5 months of 2012.  And there will be more to come as the industry continues to react to lab failures, pressure to cut costs and lower prices due to lower profits, and increased competition from generics.

The result is employee disruption felt not only by those displaced, but also by the remaining workforce which often finds itself under stress from having to maintain productivity with fewer numbers, and who may feel threatened by the culture of layoffs. Either way, employee relations becomes strained and confrontational.

A significant development in the technology age is the finding in claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state agencies that employees have been using smart phones or other mobile devices to surreptitiously record conversations with supervisors, managers and human resources representatives in lay-off meetings, performance reviews and disciplinary actions. And it should be no surprise that female employees are using smart phones to record male supervisors making inappropriate sexual comments and advancements. While most recordings reflect that management is engaged in proper communications with employees, the recordings are nevertheless being carefully evaluated by investigators to help determine whether or not to file a claim against the employer. Some recordings become smoking gun evidence of harassment or discrimination.

Employers should assume that employees are and will continue to record conversations with management, and should therefore take appropriate steps to protect themselves:

  • Do not say anything you would not want a jury or government investigator to hear;
  • Be on the alert for a set-up where the employee tries to get a supervisor or manager to repeat something said at another time;
  • Bring a witness to meetings with employees;
  • Ask the employee if he/she is recording the conversation, advise that it is not permitted, and get verbal assurance from employee that he/she is not recording;
  • Have employee sign a statement that he/she did not record the conversation;
  • Draft policies prohibiting unauthorized recordings in the workplace;
  • Train supervisors and managers to be on the lookout for employees using mobile devices to record conversations.

Remember, every conversation may be evidence in a government investigation or lawsuit.