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Limit sensitive meetings to ‘need-to-know’ managers

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

During a management meeting, an operations director warned Karen Bishop, a human resources manager, not to share information with another employee whom she was dating. Specifically, the director told Bishop not to engage in "pillow talk" with her "bed buddy." The problem: The meeting door was open and at least five other employees heard his comments.

Bishop filed a sexual harassment claim. Two days later, she was fired without warning. A federal court threw out her sexual harassment case, saying the comments weren't nice but they were gender-neutral.

However, the court did allow her to pursue a slander claim. It said Bishop may ?be able to prove the comments damaged her professional reputation by implying that she couldn't be trusted with sensitive information. (Bishop v. Inacom Inc., No. 99-664, D.N.J., 1999)

Advice: The law recognizes that employers often must discuss their employees in order to conduct business. Therefore, employers have a qualified privilege in slander cases. But the privilege can be lost if damaging information is spread outside the circle of those who have a reason to know it. Thus, if you need to speak about sensitive matters, and perhaps even accuse an employee of something, limit the meeting's participants and, of course, shut the door.

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