Employers May be Held Liable for Workplace Gossip

March 04, 2019

The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that a false rumor that a female employee slept with her male boss to obtain promotion can give rise to her employer’s liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for discrimination “because of sex.” Employee learned another employee was circulating false rumors that she had slept her way to her new job. According to the Fourth Circuit, Employee “plausibly invoke[d] a deeply rooted perception — one that unfortunately still persists — that generally women, not men, use sex to achieve success. And with this double standard, women, but not men, are susceptible to being labelled as ‘sluts’ or worse, prostitutes selling their bodies for gain.” Gossip in the workplace serves no useful purpose. To the contrary, it can undermine employee morale and productivity and hobble employer efforts to recruit and retain dedicated workers. What’s more, employers may face liability if supervisors and managers spread gender-based gossip about employees and applicants and employers fail to take prompt and appropriate disciplinary action against employees who do. This is an issue that can and should be handled in each employer's Employee Handbook; please contact SESCO if you wish for your Handbook to be reviewed or if you wish for a new Handbook to be created.