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Don’t try to block employee’s lawyer from talking with your staff

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in Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,People Management,Performance Reviews

If Disgruntled Don in accounting sues your company, his lawyer can talk with other employees and, under most state laws, there's not much you can do about it. So don't compound the problem by denying the lawyer access to other employees.

Your smartest move is to make sure Don's lawyer finds no dirt when he comes sniffing around. How to do this? Don't give employees anything to gossip about. Make sure you limit discussions and knowledge about employment decisions, employee discipline and performance problems to employees who have a reason to know.

Final tip: Say you're in the middle of litigation and a key employee with knowledge of the case, such as a manager who can confirm your side of the story, announces he's leaving. In such cases, it's wise to obtain a written agreement from the departing worker stating that he'll cooperate with future litigation.

Recent case: After nurse Ellen Patriarca sued for wrongful termination, her lawyer contacted four of her co-workers to discuss events leading up to her firing. The company asked for a court order barring such discussions without the court's or employer's prior permission. But the Massachusetts supreme court let the lawyer interviews go on. Reason: The state's attorney conduct rules say it's OK for a plaintiff's lawyer to contact current or former employees without permission.

None of the questioned employees had managerial responsibility, nor did they have the authority to make decisions about litigation on behalf of the employer. (Patriarca v. Center for Living & Working Inc., 438 Mass. 132, 2002)

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