Hey, did you hear… Those might be four of the worst words uttered on the job if the next few aren’t work-related. Gossip in the workplace can be a serious problem and expose a company to legal liability.

Chances are, if you have worked in a company ranging from just a few employees to hundreds, you have experienced gossip in the workplace. You might have even participated in the chatter. Gossip is damaging and shouldn’t be ignored.

What Is Gossip?

We need to understand the different meanings the term “gossip” may have. Some may believe that gossip refers only to the hateful talk about someone beyond the person’s hearing. Some believe that gossip involves untrue tales, while others think it can include truthful remarks. And still, others consider gossip to be any talk of a person’s affairs, whether personal or professional, harmless or insulting.   Regardless of how you may define gossip, most gossip can cause damage to individuals and your company.

Damages From Gossip

Employees who gather around the coffee maker and talk about their weekend, TV shows, or their child’s activities are participating in innocent socializing. However, when the conversation turns into negative chit chat about a co-worker’s personal life, negative comments about their clothing, talk of their weight, or work performance, this can cause much hurt to the individual. In addition, not only does gossip damage the person being talked about, but it also causes damages in your organization.

Workplace gossip takes away productive time from the company. It may also lower employee morale, reduce trust amongst employees, and create divisiveness. Other damages attributed to gossip include negative workplace reputation and the loss of talented employees who may have fled a toxic work environment.

People who gossip may think it will help them fit in with their co-workers or that it gives them a sense of importance, when in fact, it might be damaging their chances for advancement because they are considered untrustworthy.

Legal Liability

Employers may be liable for gossip in the workplace. Gossip could be viewed as creating harassment and/or a hostile work environment. Under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia found an employer liable for failing to effectively address and stop gossip and rumors of an alleged sexual relationship between a female employee and a male supervisor. Parker v Reema Consulting Serv., No. 18-1206 (4th Cir. Feb. 8, 2019)

Therefore, employers may face liability, under anti-discrimination laws, if supervisors and managers spread gossip and employers fail to take prompt and appropriate disciplinary action against employees who do.

On the other side of legal liability, you must be careful not to infringe upon the employees’ rights to discuss and complain about the terms and conditions of their employment. The National Labor Relations Board has made it clear that employees may talk about conditions of employment if it is a concerted effort to try and make changes to those conditions.

Steps You Can Take

  • Review Your Company Policy. A discrimination and harassment policy should be a part of your company policies.
  • Set An Example. Be a good role model for others to follow and don’t engage in the gossip. Be assertive, walk away, or change the subject when gossip starts.
  • Say Something Positive. Turn the gossip around by saying something positive about the person being attacked.
  • Be Direct. This will take some courage, however, confronting the person and telling him or her that such behavior is uncomfortable for you and other coworkers, and is against company policy, will likely make the individual stop.

Stopping Office Gossip

Gossip is very common in the office, however, management needs to be vigilant to control the negativity it can cause not only to employee morale but also for the company’s reputation. Managers and supervisors should be trained on what to do when rumors are spreading. Ensure that your policies are up to date, especially a discrimination and harassment policy. Resourcing Edge has HR Professionals that can provide training for managers and guidance on developing your policies.

Contact us at HRServices@resourcingedge.com for more information on stopping office gossip.

HR Services Partner Linda Bisca has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience in the areas of compliance, employee relations, and special projects. She specializes in creating win-win scenarios for employees and employers alike.

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