San Francisco Boba Guys accused by workers of illegally recording audio of employees and customers

San Francisco Boba Guys accused by workers of illegally recording audio of employees and customers
Ryan General
October 28, 2022
Employees of San Francisco tea chain Boba Guys are accusing management of recording audio of both employees and customers without consent at its store in the Mission district. 
The allegation comes weeks after the popular chain fired employee Madeline Urso, who was “documented in video” at the store making an inappropriate comment about co-founder Andrew Chau. 
Issues within the Mission location emerged last month after Boba Guys management decided to cut down shifts for the store employees, who were mostly making less than $20 per hour with less than 30 hours a week.  
On Oct. 16, over half of the staff at the Mission store expressed their frustrations regarding the cuts in a meeting with management. Urso was among those who spoke up in the meeting, saying the hours offered will no longer be enough to cover rent.
Urso told the San Francisco Chronicle that her managers informed her about a security camera inside the store that records “muffled” audio, but she did not know it was regularly checked. Urso said she was fired in retaliation for sharing information about unionization on the company’s Slack channel and pushing back against Chau during a meeting on Oct. 16.
While Urso’s firing resulted in online backlash due to Boba Guys’ alleged illegal union busting,” the fact that the company was listening to employee conversations went mostly under the radar. 
Four current and former Boba Guys employees, including Urso, told SFGate that they could not recall the company telling them that in-store conversations would be recorded. None of them ever saw signs that informed them of such a possibility.
Any indication of audio surveillance also does not appear in the Boba Guys employee handbook supplied by an employee to the publication. 
According to Urso, she can’t recall exactly where she was when the camera picked up her statement, but the small size of the location in the Mission District meant employees and customers have always been just a short distance from where the camera is situated.
Chau and co-founder Bin Chen did not respond to SFGate’s multiple requests for comment about the audio surveillance, but instead sent out an email to their employees that same day.
“A part of our security measures include audio/video recording within our retail stores,” the email read. “This is a well-established and commonplace practice within the retail and hospitality industries.”
Jim Wagstaffe, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment cases, told SFGate that while cameras are commonplace, audio recording is not. 
“Do you expect that someone’s going to use a surveillance camera not just to see you walk in, but actually listen to your conversations?” Wagstaffe was quoted as saying.
As California is a “two-party consent” state, the consent of all parties involved is required before a private or confidential conversation can be recorded, including conversations held in public spaces if no notice is posted.
Those found guilty of illegal audio recording face a fine of up to $2,500 or imprisonment for up to one year, with subsequent offenses carrying a maximum fine of $10,000 and a jail sentence of up to one year.
Featured Image via Giant Robot Media
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