No Compensation For Workplace Gossip!
Workplace gossip is an issue that confronts every employer. A court of appeals rendered a decision that basically stated “Don’t expect to engage in an extramarital affair with a coworker and expect to receive workers compensation because you’re stressed out over workplace gossip!”
The facts were simple enough. While working as a bus driver and instructor for a school district, a female engaged in a “not-so-private affair” with a coworker. After the affair ended, she learned from another coworker that her former lover and several other employees (including another married man she was pursuing) were spreading gossip about her.
At her request, her supervisor and human resources gave instuctions for the gossip to stop but she still filed for workers compensation alleging “cumulative psychiatric injury from a hostile work environment and sexual harassment.” She was diagnosed with major depression due to personal stresses including “spousal abuse” (I guess her husband was not happy about her behavior!), marital break-up, and the extramarital affair.
The workers compensation judge denied the claim (I didn’t think they ever denied claims!). The Workers Compensation Appeals Board revesed the decision because the source of the gossip took place at work. On review, the appeals court agreed with the original decision because the employee’s duties merely provided the stage for the injury and played no active or positive role, and the gossip was about the employee’s personal life and not part of the employment relationship.
What should an employer do under such circumstances!
As always take every complaint seriously. While the workers compensation claim was denied, the result might have been different, if after becoming aware of the gossip, the employer allowed it to continue. Second, always conduct a proper investigation and take remedial action action when appropriate, without prejudging the complaining employee. Had the employer not taken the action her claim for hostile work environment and sexual harassment may have survived the appeal.
I am glad the claim was denied. Gossip in the work place is a behavior that can be controlled with ones actions. Individuals that were involved felt the behavior was okay at the time other individuals were being hurt nothing good was to come out of this at any moment in time.