Sometimes, a workplace rumor takes on a life of its own. And despite denials, it continues to resurface.
If that happens in your organization and the rumor affects an employee’s ability to work, she might be able to sue—even if the original rumor started years before. That’s one reason to crack down on rumor mongers.
Recent case: Corina Smith started working for the Los Angeles Police Department in 1988 after graduating from the police academy. The following year, she got engaged to a member of the SWAT team. The relationship broke up when he returned to his wife. Smith was distraught and, one time, even put her pistol in her mouth. But eventually, she got counseling and resumed her work, the fiancé forgotten.
However, rumors of her attempted suicide spread. Eventually, the tale was embellished to include an account of Smith allegedly standing naked on a swimming pool diving board with the gun to her head, threatening to kill herself.
Smith complained toafter losing out on a promotion, something she blamed on the rumors and the impression they gave that she was unstable. But then she was promoted. Fast forward half a decade: The rumor was still circulating when Smith lost another promotion. She sued this time, alleging that the uncontrolled workplace rumor created a hostile work environment that limited her professional opportunities.
The city said the time for Smith to file a suit had long passed, given that the rumor had been around for years.
But the court disagreed. It said that each time the rumor reappeared gave rise to a new potential lawsuit. Smith’s case now goes to trial. (Smith v. City of Los Angeles, No. B209861, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate Division, 2010)