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For a while now, a tutor at my college has been bullying and threatening my friend and she told me today that she did not feel safe around him at all. When no one is around he raises his voice and gets up in her face to try and intimidate her for absolutely no reason. With this attitude being aimed towards her, is my friend well within her rights to protect herself and record the incidents without him knowing? If not, what do we do to make him stop? He seems to be trying to do the same with myself and another friend of mine. We've tried going to the college about this but they refuse to do anything as well.

  • It depends on the jurisdiction. Where is this happening? – phoog Jun 18 '18 at 14:54
  • @phoog Within college grounds. – Rachel Jun 18 '18 at 14:55
  • So should we assume that the college is in South Africa, Belize, or some other country? – phoog Jun 18 '18 at 14:58
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    No its in England. Essex – Rachel Jun 18 '18 at 14:59
  • Aha! I've updated the tags to reflect that. – phoog Jun 18 '18 at 14:59
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It is not clear whether a secret recording (e.g. a recorder running in your pocket) would be legal: see this Q. It is not a crime, but it could be a civil wrong, and if the recording resulted in damage to the tutor, the person making the recording could be sued. If A records B threatening violence against A and complains to B's supervisor, B might get fired and B could try suing. Under those circumstances the firing would be justified, so with unclean hands, B is unlikely to prevail in court. Alternatively, suppose B was doing nothing wrong; then B didn't get fired, and A didn't cause damage to B, so nothing to sue over. The question of whether there is a civil cause of action depends heavily on the facts of the case, so that it is possible but unlikely that B could sue A for making a secret recording. (I do not offer an opinion as to whether GDPR could provide a path for a suit against the recorder, there being insufficient case law regarding how the courts interpret the new language. It is also unclear whether secret recordings could be entered as evidence in a court proceeding, if such a recording was made "in the public interest").

With or without a recording, the first step would be filing an official complaint with the employer, outlining what wrongs the employee committed. It appears that you've done something like this and didn't get the result that you wanted. Perhaps you didn't present the case appropriately, for example you may have casually said to a supervisor "Smith is bullying Jones", when what Jones needs to do is file an official grievance. It is a virtual certainty that an employer would not terminate an employee simply because someone reported "Smith is bullying Jones": the aggrieved party would have to make an official accusation. In that context, making a surreptitious recording would only be useful for establishing that Smith threatened violence against Jones, if that is what happened, and Smith denies the threat.

If the employer does not take action, one would have to sue the school and the employee for some reason. The reason would have to be more specific than "going after" a person, or "bullying" (which now has a very broad range of applications). You would need to say exactly what wrong the tutor committed, and why you think it is an actionable wrong (your attorney would in fact be the one to identify the specific legal wrong).

Since the legality of secret recordings in this situation is unclear, it is risky to make a secret recording, and you should get informed and paid legal advice from your attorney.

  • Would there be an issue if the recordings were nominally made for a different reason to avoid the tutor's refusal, like for studying use after the session? – IllusiveBrian Jun 19 '18 at 2:08
  • When you say suing for damages: If a tutor loses his job, that job would be lost because of his bad behaviour, and the damage would be entirely self inflicted by his behaviour. Not by the recording. – gnasher729 Jan 22 at 9:24

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