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Can Office Gossip Get You Fired?

Can Office Gossip Get You Fired?



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Paul Nelson, KSL NewsradioCan a rumor end your career? It reportedly happened to four women in New Hampshire, but can it happen here? And when does a legitimate complaint turn into gossip?

We've all complained about our jobs. We've all had those gripe sessions with our co-workers about our complaints. But these gripe sessions can get you fired, just ask Heather Armstrong. She says, "My co-workers and I would go to lunch and we would complain about everything. I would take some of the stories that we talked about and turned them into funny anecdotes about where I worked."

Armstrong would then take these stories and post them on her blog site, Dooce.com, which many people would never dream of doing. She says, "This is six and a half years ago when nobody knew what a blog was. I didn't think anybody would find it, and if they did, I didn't think they would care."

She says an anonymous person found her site and sent a link to her bosses. Shortly after, she was fired. "I should have been fired. I hated that job, and I wasn't happy there."

This is an extreme case, and different from a recent story in New Hampshire. Four women, who worked for the small town of Hooksett, reportedly used to complain about how a new employee was being treated differently than they were. Some people in the town say there was a rumor about an affair between the new employee and the boss. They say, even though they did not start the rumor, they were let go because they discussed it.

Utah Employment Law Attorney Matt Durham says, "Generally, if this kind of conduct is occurring on work-time, while the employer is paying for it, the employer can consider that an issue that they can address through disciplinary measures."

Durham says if employees are talking about issues in a way to resolve a problem, the conversations may be protected. If they're griping just to vent, that protection may not be there. Of course, there are some exceptions. Durham says, "If the complaints are about sex discrimination or age discrimination or something like that, the conversations may very well be considered protected activity if they're made in the appropriate way."

Plus, Durham says if Johnny feels the boss is nicer to Becky, Johnny's just going to have to live with it. "Rightly or wrongly, there's not a general legal requirement that employers be fair."

Durham says workers always have the right to leave their job. But some employees would say that would make quitting their only choice instead of fixing a problem at work.

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