Employers have a right to protect their workplaces from the destructive forces of gossip. There is indeed a line between behavior that is relevant to an individual’s employment and behavior that has no place in the office. Employees can easily cross that line when they bring their private lives into the workplace.
A recent lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Cumberland County demonstrates that employment litigation can result when employees spread gossip about their co-workers throughout the office. The lawsuit filed by an employee of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office claims that she was demoted to a position of lesser salary following an internal investigation into a conversation between her and several co-workers. The conversation in question concerned a county prosecutor having visited a high-end adult store.
The demoted employee states that upon discussing the official’s visit with a co-worker, she was questioned by investigators from Internal Affairs about the shopping trip. As a result, her employer sent her a letter of reprimand for communicating the details of the store visit with co-workers and not being truthful with investigators. She was penalized by the county and demoted in rank for allegedly reading drafts of letters that were related to the investigation and not authorized for her to see. In addition, she failed to disclose the letter viewing to her superiors.
As we discussed last week, a good defense to lawsuits brought by disgruntled employees is to maintain clear and accessible employee behavior policies. However, once an employer is facing a lawsuit, it is important to work closely with an attorney experienced in employment litigation matters.
Source: Asbury Park Press, “Lawsuit: County penalized employee,” Joseph P. Smith, Nov. 15, 2013