There’s an old(?) Bonnie Raitt song that my parents used to listen to when I was in college called “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About”.  It’s about a crush, but the intro could be just as applicable to a new court decision. The lyrics start: “People are talkin’, talkin’ ’bout people, I hear them whisper, you won’t believe it.”

The short lesson? Don’t give your employees something to talk about — namely when a lawsuit is filed, caution is strongly advised in distributing information about that lawsuit.  Interested in more? My colleague, Gary Starr, shares more:

A recent Connecticut district court decision (EEOC v. Day & Zimmerman NPS) is a cautionary tale for in-house lawyers and human resource managers who want to tell employees about an investigation into discrimination claim brought by a former employee, and that investigation may involve those employees.

Following a disability discrimination charge, the EEOC sought contact information about other employees as well as information about their employment.

Rather than simply advise the employees that the EEOC was being provided with their job title, dates of employment, home address, and phone number, the company also described the accommodation that was requested and information that the former employee’s doctor had indicated that without the accommodation, the employee could not perform the essential functions of the job.

The EEOC viewed this as retaliation against the former employee by disclosing the information and interference with the rights of the employees receiving the letter as the agency thought it would discourage others from making claims in the future out of concern that their personal information would be shared widely.

The Company’s efforts to justify the letter were rejected by the court, which decided that a jury will have to decide whether the letter was retaliation and/or interference.

In communicating with potential witnesses in an agency investigation or lawsuit, employers must be clear on why the notice is being sent.  And employers should exercise caution on deciding what information is being shared.  What the decision suggests is that employees do not need to know what the medical condition another employee may have, what accommodation has been requested by that employee, or what recommendation a doctor has made about the employee.

Letting employees know that their contact information has been given to the EEOC and that they may be contacted would likely have have been sufficient and not opened up the employer to criticism.  And the decision does suggest that offering them the choice of having a lawyer present should not interfere with their rights.

In this instance, less information is better than more.

In any case, in the unlikely event you do need to inform employees about a lawsuit, check with your counsel about the details you should (and should not) be sending.

437px-BillCosbyI loved Bill Cosby.

When we first got cable TV as a kid, I must have watched his movie “Himself” a few dozen times after school. His “Chocolate Cake” routine was even something I showed my kids a few years ago.

And I don’t think I missed many episodes of his sitcom either.

When the accusations about him popped up, I did what many people did – just thought they couldn’t be true. I mean it’s BILL COSBY.

And now? I’m just so thoroughly and completely disgusted by him. Repulsed.  The New York magazine article with testimony from so many women is just sickening to read.  The pain that they have endured through the years and the courage they have now is hard to fathom.

But here’s the thing: I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Time and again, my colleagues and I will hear of clients with their own “Bill Cosby.”

I don’t mean it from the drugging women sense. That’s horrible in its own twisted way that hopefully isn’t repeated.  Thankfully that’s one story I haven’t heard in the workplace.

What I mean, though, is the teflon person. The person in your workplace that just couldn’t be what a rumor suggests perhaps they might.  That person who is the complete opposite of what you’re now suspecting.

And what might such a rumor look like? It might be that their resume doesn’t add up. Or those corporate expense account bills aren’t making sense anymore.  Or someone is looking at child pornography on your system, but it seems to linked to your top sales person.

That couldn’t be true. I mean it’s “Joanna!” or “Mike!”

But as I’ve seen and I’m sure other employment lawyers have seen, in our careers, there will be a time or two when it is true.

It’s a kick in the gut. It’s that sickening feeling that you’ve been duped.  You’ve been lied to in your face.

And then you have do the most important thing you can for your company: Instead of ignoring it or getting angry, you need to get your wits about you and investigate.  Get to the bottom of it. Sooner rather than later.

You probably won’t like the findings. But then comes the interesting part: You can decide what to do from there. In some instances, you’ll have to go to the police (in fact, the police may be brought in as part of the investigation even before then).  Or you can work out a deal with the employee. Perhaps allow them to resign with an agreement to repay funds. Or maybe it’s just a straight firing and lawsuit against them.

But the fact is you do have options.

Obviously, it should go without saying that bringing legal advice in to assist is critical. But that’s besides the point here.

May you be lucky to avoid a situation of a model employee who may not be what everyone thinks they are. If you do, though, remember that feeling many of us felt when we learned that even Bill Cosby isn’t who we thought he was.