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Can Companies Control What You Say After You Leave? 282

Posted by Cliff
from the corporate-spin-control dept.
anonymousByGoodReason asks: "I worked for a company doing IS support for about 6 years. It's been over a year since I've left them, and because I still have friends there, I keep an eye on the stock price and message boards, etc. on Yahoo! As it turns out, several ex-employees are up there, some with fair opinions of the company, some with not so fair. Conversation on the board turned to the ex-employees, and I posted my opinion, and why I left. The reason was less than glowing, but I really didn't go into too much depth - basically I gave the general overview. What I've found out now, is that the auditing department of that company has since been keeping track of those message boards, and has identified me. I've been told that they may speak to me, and may also talk to the company I currently work for." Umm...Yahoo!'s message boards are public, and the guy no longer works for them (and had no contractual obligations to stay silent when he left), so what precedent gives his ex-company the right to audit his opinions?

"My question is this - because I left the company of my own free will, and had never signed an agreement that said 'I will only say nice happy things about this company after I leave'... what recourse, if any, do they have to my statements? Their stock price has been rock-bottom before I posted, and actually was gaining, albeit slowly, as the postings went forward, so they didn't lose any money because of statements that I made. Should I be concerned? Am I no longer entitled to have an opinion about a place where I used to work?"

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Can Companies Control What You Say...After You Leave?

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  • A fired, terminated, or recently quit employee is hardly in a financial position to pay lots of attorney fees and take even more time away from finding a new job. Win or lose, the lawsuit itself is a form of punishment. And legal fees and time lost from your life are not always recoverable. Big loss to you. Part of the normal legal budget of your company.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    having sold a company last fall, part of my leaving was a non-compete agreement so i wouldn't run out and start another firm and steal customers. as it happened, things got ugly when the new owner(s) a defamation campaign as cheap insurance that i wouldn't try and steal customers. i spoke out in my own defense and got a love letter from their attorney quoting all sorts of legal BS and reminding me to shut up. the only evidence against them was hearsay... not necessarily admissible in court. legal? yes. fair? no way. did they win? yes. it just wasn't worth suing over. i guess the moral of the story is to choose your battles carefully and if you don't have deep pockets for frivolous suits, just move on quietly. welcome to America.
  • what's the name of this bozo company, so I'll know not to work for them?

    - A.P.

    --
    * CmdrTaco is an idiot.

  • I found a little article [strasburger.com] about Texas law in this area. It's only about 8 months old, so it should reflect the current state of texas law.

  • If you didn't disclose any inside information or sign something that says you won't talk about them. This is assuming that you are in the US, in other countries the law may be different.

    I think you need to get real legal advice. Spend the money and get real council. It probably will save you a bundle in the long run.

    And if they send you a threating letter, the first thing out of your mouth should be "Please speak to my lawyer".

    Good Luck
  • Anyone remember AT&T's programmers who were "Contaminated with Proprietary Secrets"?

    That's why the *BSD'ers re-implemented a whole load, to avoid nasssssty lawsuits with Sauron^H^H^H^H^H^H AT&T.

  • Ah, the American way! Free speech. If you can afford the lawyers.
  • If you post false information to a stocks discussion board for the purpose of trying to move the price of that stock, and then you trade that stock or have your friends do it, you can go to jail.

    If you post true information to a stocks discussion board and you are an insider, it also could be a crime (if the intent is to do it to make money on a stock deal), and it's perfectly appropriate for a CEO to check this out before the feds start pounding down the doors, if shady dealings to make a buck on the stock market are suspected.

  • Be careful. If you say something these crappy companies don't like, they'll think it's their fiduciary duty to sue you for liable. Never mind that it might be true, if you can't prove it they'll probably win because they can throw more money at lawyers than you can.

    --

  • Let me get this straight; you're wondering what gives his previous employer the right to read a public web forum, and express an opinion about something they read in it?

    Uhm, the First Amendment?

    -
  • In this fluid job market and company formation,
    there have been a lot of times former co-workers
    have become co-workers again in a different company.
    Else they become vendors and customers.
    Even if you move to other states and countries.

    So don't say too many negative things that may haunt you in the future. I know from experience.

  • Companies are made up of individuals. They can publicize the fact that an individual was slanding (IF HE WAS SLANDERING) his former employer. If he wasn't slandering, then they can still TELL THE TRUTH about what he was saying. e.g. "He publicly criticized the way management handled a release."
    This statement is neither slanderous, nor infinging on anyone's rights. It is simply holding him accountable for his actions. There is NOTHING wrong with holding someone accountable for their actions. In fact, it doesn't happen enough if you ask me...
  • If they're publicizing his actions, then there's nothing wrong with it. If his current employer feels that he needs to be held accountable for his actions, then they can fire him. There's just no argument there.

    If you trash your employer, especially in public, they can fire you. They can ALSO tell your current employer. There's no laws against holding someone accountable for what they have done in the past.
  • I'm speaking in the legal sense. If you believe this should be a moral right bounded by law, then move to France or some other socialist country.
  • Do you understand the definition of defamation?

    Defame: To damage the reputation, character, or good name of by slander or libel.

    Slander, as in tell his employer falsities. THAT is defemation. If he posted negative material on a website about his former employer, then they can tell whomever they want about it. If his current employer finds that he is untrustworthy as a result, they can fire him.

    He could sue. He would lose, because he DID post the comments.
  • He can say whatever he wants to. However, people can hold him accountable for his words because they're HIS words. Free speech protects you from going to prison or being exiled, not from keeping your job.

  • Only for actions that affect his job. Nothing else. What an employee does on his own time, that does not affect his current job is none of his employer's business.


    This is true in principal, but since an employer does not need a reason to fire you, they can therefore fire you. For example, a school teacher has a porn website and gets fired. Why? Because its "indecent". Can she sue? Hell yes, however she'll lose because they don't NEED a reason to fire you. They are not firing her because she's female, or a certain color or because she's in a wheel chair, they're firing her for her actions.

    As for "Anyone who does is asking to be sued", yes. You can be sued for picking your nose, and given a certain judge/jury could be found guilty and owe penalties. This guy said bad stuff in public. Some ex-employer can do the EXACT same thing to him by telling his current employer. Its that simple. Lawsuits will fly but there's nothing legally restricting them.
  • I think this depends on the state you live in. Most states they do not. But cause for termination could simply be "Budget does not allow".
  • On the contrary, it sounds like this company is out to criticize someone who is defaming them. They have every right to trash someone just like the individual does.


    es, you are right, a man may speak his mind and wag his tongue, but I don't think that he can be fired for it.


    Wrong. You can get fired for laying a smelly fart. A company doesn't NEED a reason to fire you; they only provide a reason as to prevent them from being sued. Just because its your necessity have a job does not mean that the employer is therefore obligated to employ you. If you're a jerk and trash your company publicly then they _should_ fire you.

    In my company, I criticize my superiors on a daily basis, but I do it in good faith. I tell them where I think they're going wrong, which is a healthy relationship. If you cannot have that type of relationship with an employer, then you bite your tongue, quit your job, or say something publicly and get fired. Its that simple.
  • Slander: Oral communication of false statements injurious to a person's reputation.

    _FALSE STATEMENTS_ is the key term here. They can tell his current employer exactly what he's doing. I NEVER said anything about them slandering him.
  • Thats precisely why I said "(if he did)".
    Basically you agree.
  • The company you used to work for has no 'legal' hold on you. However if you say something that makes its way to the public eye that they can constrew as slanderous then they can take legal action for slander. If you said something like the work atmosphere started to suck and the management had there head up there butts and you just couldn't take it anymore then I am not sure that is really slander.

    There is probably a case of someone saying something about a company after they left. I know that the company that I used to work for many people left and were laid off or fired, and many went to the press and told why they left.

    You must be careful what you say about a company after you leave. Make sure you do not slander them.

    I think it says something about the company though when they monitor people after they leave a company. The question is is it a public mailing list or private? Yahoo groups can be public (anyone can see the data) or private (you must be on the list). My suggestion would be to make it a private mailing list or to talk to the list moderator.

    Something to think about. If what you say on that list got out to the tech community and we find out the company name, and this causes them to have a tough time finding people to work for them, and thir business suffers. Then they can probably take action against you.

    I don't want a lot, I just want it all!
    Flame away, I have a hose!

  • IANAL, but it soundslike you should contact one _now_. Just threatening you like they did (and make no bones about it, that _was_ a threat) may be actionable. If they so much as breathe to your current employer, they're blown.
  • I've read several comments where the esential point is "they can't do that". Unfortunately they can. Here's my story:

    In February 2000 I went to work for Breakaway Solutions in Orlando, FL. (www.breakaway.com, BWAY). I left 87 days later in May, 2000. I got a good starting salary and stock options. I was told that the Orlando office was on track to become a solutions center, which is very high up in the pecking order. Along with that I was told my travel would be about 10%/15%, and that I had a pretty solid shot at becoming a team lead. All well and good. As I started to work on Breakway I worked on several side projects in defense, waiting for commercial work to start (I had done quite a bit of commercial development). Along the way I discovered that travel was 50% or higher, that Orlando would not become a solutions center because there was one in Boca (via the purchase of Eggrock Partners by Breakaway), and all those lovely options were rapidly turning into scrap paper. Other negative issues began to surface, and I eventually left Breakaway and went back to the company I worked at before Breakaway.

    I was angry at how it had all turned out. On the Yahoo stock message board someone who identified themselves as another former employee made a comment about the company. In support of that comment I related my own experiences. I got a phone call and a letter from Breakaway legal telling me I was in violation of Breakaway's NDA clause of my seperation papers. I have since watched in sadistic satisfaction as Breakaway's stock tanked and they've gone through two rounds of layoffs (see www.fuckedcompany.com for more interesting details).

    There is nothing more chilling when the legal cannons are shooting at you. At the very least I don't have the financial reserves to defend against, let along challenge this interpretation of their NDA clause. It's a hard choice sometimes when the choice is between being right and broke or knuckling under and staying solvent.
  • If he had committed slander or libel, that's a completely different topic. If, however, the company is simply attempting to shut him up for no good reason, then they should be stopped. In either case, the company in question has NO right to call his current employer and harass him in that manner. If they feel wronged, they should prefer charges, or shut the hell up.

    ---
  • A company has to show just cause for termination, however (unless you signed that away and are an "employee at will"). It is very hard for a company to fire somebody if they are actually doing their job well but the company doesn't like something else about them. -m
  • > What I've found out now, is that the auditing department of that company has since been keeping track of those message boards, and has identified me. I've been told that they may speak to me,

    In order to avoid any unfortunate misunderstandings, make sure they know your hourly rates up front.

    > and may also talk to the company I currently work for.

    That's what God invented lawsuits for.

    Ream 'em for what it's worth, plus a bit more for their better education.

    --
  • Just as anonymousByGoodReason continues to have the right to have an opinion and speak about his former employer, his former employer has the right to monitor things said about them in public forums. They don't need a "precedent" like Cliff askes. If anonBGR doesn't like the fact that people are paying attention to what he's said, well, tough luck, that's the consequence of exercising his free speech rights. I bet Judge Bork would have liked to have hidden some of things he said in various public forums.

    Now if his former employer starts running to his current employer to tell them all of the nasty things he's done, that might be harassment.

    To answer anonBGR's questions, 1) the only recourse that they have to your statements is to refute your allegations, 2) assuming that you didn't break any laws in your statements, you shouldn't be concerned, and 3) of course you're entitled to have an opinion about a former employer.

    I'm a bit uncomfortable when kevlar says that having a job isn't a right. Sure, having a particular job may be a privilage, but can I deny a job to minority because they don't have the right to a job?

  • IANAL, but I don't think they can touch you, aside from a threatening letter or two. If you didn't sign anything limiting your speech regarding that company when you left, then they really can't do anything about what you say. As long as what you say is true, you can't be sued for libel or slander. And if you don't have any stock or options, they can't hit you with insider trading or anything. My advice is to tell their lawyers to screw off.
  • It has nothing to do with whether you'd be "informing" (saying all that you know) on Ms. Harris at all, because such a comment reveals more about you than it does about her.

    Which is exactly my point. When you talk about other people, you reveal much more about yourself than you do about them. At the very least you are opening yourself up to people drawing unwelcome conclusions about you.

    In short, the reason you would never say such a thing around your legal or political office is because you wouldn't want to advertise the fact that you are an unprofessional superficial boob.

    Right?


    Right. You said it a lot more clearly than I did.

    The only thing I'd add is that when you say something that is embarassing it is usually preceded by the feeling that you are about to be clever. It always seems like a good idea at the time, but once its out of your mouth it's never going back.

  • Ah -- the false dilemma. It was not a gratuitous swipe nor was it a dumb example (at least I don't think so).

    I reread your post to see exactly where we agreed and where we disagreed. I think my original point is that when talking of others, there are varying degrees of need, and that one's probity in these matters reflects strongly on oneself.

    I think the issue here is that as a programmer who is logically oriented, I am inclined to examine the extrema of a problem to understand the various forms it can take. Laywers, by contrast, who work in the business of persuation, think analogically. They look for situations with parallels and striking similarities. If you were expecting a lawyerly exposition then I can see how my example would be curious to say the least.

    For me the K. Harris story represents one end of the continuum -- idle and malicious gossip that you never want traced back to you in a tangible way.

    The corrupt official taking a bribe represents the other end of the continuum -- the end that represents a strong imperative to speak out. Even under these conditions, you have to be careful. A better example might be Anita Hill. Suppose, for a moment, that her testimony was completely true. She would have a moral imperative to speak out. Since there was no corroborating evidence, the end result would have been the same whether she was telling the true or not -- an unsatisfactory denoument and an unpleasant, negative sort of notoriety. Nonetheless (again supposing it all happened) she HAD to speak out, but (at least if it were me) the results were painful and unsatisfactory.

    So, since in the worst of circumstances you don't want to be connected with talk about others and the best of circumstances it is extremely dangerous, it pays to be careful.

    Most ex employee grousing falls somewhere in the middle. Business, unfortunately, is full of daily ethical compromises. Things that are worse than wearing bad eye makeup but not as bad as taking bribes. Employees who do this might be doing a public service, but they aren't doing themselves any service.

  • Social psychology studies have shown that when you describe your former associates, people attribute the same characteristics to you.

    Then why is it that when I'm out with a woman and I talk about what great lovers my ex-girlfriends are, I never get anywhere? Birds of a feather, my ass.

  • if you're in California, if your former employer sues merely to keep you silent, you may be able to pursue legal fees and punitive damages under the state's "Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation" statute. Several other states have similar laws. Basically, a corporation, invididual or government body cannot use the legal process as an intimidation tactic to keep you from excersing your First Amendment rights.

  • So move. You do not have the right to work a particular job in a particular way for a particular amount of compensation

    Very easy for the middle class to say; very hard for the poor to save up moving costs, first and last months rent and security deposits, and enough to live on while looking for work in the new location - and to get time and money to make a trip to go search out a new place to live in the first place.

    And after all that, odds are that if you can afford to move there, the situation isn't any better.

    The "move if you don't like your job" philosophy is also responsible for the degeneration of family and community support systems for people who find themselves in difficulty - thus requiring those government welfare programs conservatives and libertarian capitalists love to loathe.

    if you don't like the terms, go elsewhere.

    The core of the problem is that, in negotiating the terms, a large corporation has all the advantages - thanks largely to acts of governments, which chartered the corporation in the first place, offered tax breaks to the corporation (meaning higher taxes or less services for citizens, and unfair competition against local businesses) to get it to relocate or open a branch there, allowed the owners of the corporation to escape liability for the corporation's actions, et cetera.

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms | http://www.infamous.net/

  • If you post your opinion publicly, you are doing so specifically so it is read. It seems that all the old employer is doing is spreading what you said -- and that you said it.

    If I were the new employer, I'd probably be quite unhappy with Mr. Employee. Why? Because loose lips sink ships. You, as the employee, have every right to badmouth former companies, but if you do, new companies are going to be less likely to hire you. All the old company is doing is informing other places of business of your propensity to badmouth, even if said gripes are legitimate.

    The old company has incentive to do so -- they'd rather not have their dirty laundry aired. But they are not stopping you for saying anything; rather, they are going to make it know that you tend to blab. Just as you have the right to speak, so do they. But you do not have the right to a job, and one's tendency to speak ill of (former) employers is certainly something worth knowing, from a hiring point of view.
  • My advice to you would be to actually approach your current employer and explain the situation with them. Explain what you posted onto the public forum and why, and maybe show them any written correspondence from your former employer.

    It'll sound much better coming from you and your current employer may actually see this as an extremely positive thing. I don't know what your current employer is like, but I would think that most sane employers would appreciate this gesture. It will also GREATLY reduce the impact of them hearing it from an external source.

    Management is usually looking for employees who keep them informed of possible problems, and this gesture would only show maturity.

    Best of luck.
    Damien Byrne.

  • Amazon.com had a scheme where they provided employees with greater compensation to do this but backed off [nwsource.com] on it.
  • Most of country is a little less anti-business then California. Besides, California's laws would probably fail on Federal Appeal, as a restriction of Free Speech. The company has as much free speech as the individual.

    Federal law doesn't cover this stuff, only prohibits certain kinds of discrimination. Most states allow corporations reasonable leeway.
  • If you can sue an employer over harrassing you over fair (but unflattering) comments, could you do the same thing over them trying to get your web site pulled? In this case, I'm especially thinking of the overly broad "Cease and Desist" threats that sometimes result in "preventive site amputation".
    --
  • Why not? What means is there to legally prevent company A from talking to company B about employee Z, product Q, or the weather?

    As long as the companies don't slander or libel the employee, they can say whatever they want, to whoever they want. You can disagree, but that's the way the law is. Unless the companies involved are explicitly violating his rights, they're not restricted at all.

  • Yep, you're wrong. Many of the posts so far are wrong on one crucial point.

    THE COMMENTS WERE PUBLISHED ON A PUBLIC BOARD, AND THE COMPANIES INVOLVED ARE FREE TO DISCUSS WHATEVER THEY WANT!

    Why do so many people this morning seem to think that messages published publicly can't be held against the author? This isn't defamation (or diffamation?! :-), nor is it invasion of privacy. It's called ACCOUNTABILITY.

    I can hold against YOU anything you say on /.. So can anyone else, including present and past employers. If you say it, and say it in a public forum of any sort, you are accountable for those statements. Period!

  • From what I see, Anonymous posted something about a previous employer. Previous employer tracks what previous employers say about them (which I see nothing wrong about). Then, "I've been told that they may speak to me, and may also talk to the company I currently work for". Being cynical, I ask "By who?". We don't know that the company told him this, and even if they did, so what? If he is worried about his new company finding out what you said, posting it on a public board was pretty silly.

    Everyone likes to jump to conclusions and imagine that big bad company is trying to blackball him out of the industry, but I see nothing to support this. As far as we know, the company has found out that they can just use paranoid employees and ex-employees to do something they know they could never do themselves.

    So, as usual, we have several people trying to beat the world record for the long jump (to conclusions)

    Or, I might be on crack.

    MrTaz
  • Just ignore them, if they talk to your present employer, you can sue them, although IHAFL (I hate all freaking lawyers) their legal department will be aware of that, so they should say nothing. Probably just trying to shut you up.

    If they talk to you... what are they going to do? Tell you you are a bad person? BFD (Big Freaking Deal) If all you said was the reasons you left there is not much they can do about it.
  • The EFF is currently fighting a case just like this. In this case Yahoo is being compeled to disclose the identity of anonymous posters to message boards.

    This is a big consitution question since the framers were very big on being able to anonymously write about the crown. In fact is was British law that forbid writing anonymously.

    However, in the legal system, if you're not named, you're a Doe (as in John Doe), and as a Doe you don't have much in the light of legal representation. So, Yahoo gets slapped with this thing and the EFF is involved.

    Basically, at issue is this. Every message on the Yahoo boards has a disclaimer that the the message should not be taken as fact. Even with that, a company *should* have to prove they incurred damages and that the statements were lies before a Judge would compel Yahoo to disclose the source (Although with Doe cases this usually doesn't happen.)

    Check out the EFF press release:

    http://www.eff.org/Legal/Cases/RMC_v_Does/200102 07 _eff_pressrel.html
  • by Animats (122034)
    About the only real risk is a libel suit. If you're in the US, libel claims almost always lose in court, absent out and out malice. (This is not true in the UK, incidentally.) A useful guide is the Associated Press Style Guide and Briefing on Media Law [amazon.com].

    I get threats all the time, because I run Downside [downside.com], which reports on failing dot-coms. Companies huff and puff, but don't actually do much.

  • I'm taking a business law class right now (my main course of study is computational chemistry, as a side note). IIRC, most contracts (yes, including NDAs and noncompetes) cease to take effect when you leave the job. Now, if you sign an NDA or non-compete as part of a severance package it's a different story, as that contract is being made with the explicit understanding that the time period under consideration is post-employment. Time-of-hire contracts are on much shakier ground. (Basically, putting restrictions on your freedoms as an individual after you cease to receive compensation from the corporation is giving them something for nothing, and this is frowned upon in the judicial system.)

    The "Rights of Man" do not apply to corporations, and corporations do not enjoy the protections of the Bill of Rights in America than an individual would (e.g. corporations are not protected by the 5th amendment). Further, corporations have a much more limited access to the 1st amendment free speech guarantees than individuals do. Corporations only win cases as frequently as the do becuase they can afford better and more lawyers, dramatically underscoring that what is legal and what is just are widely divergent in many cases.

    In the end, the world is not perfect people, and though many of you seem to have a sweet undergraduate notion of freedom of speech being absolute, in the real world it is often not practical. And there is no world more real than the world of industry.

    Leaving aside your puerile assertation that undergraduates are somehow less clued than the work force, the freedom of speech is for all intents and purposes and absolute in America. There are certain very specific instances where this can be restricted, generally only when your excercise of that freedom presents a clear and present danger of harming the rights of another person. Eg. yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater when there is none impinges on the right of theater-goers to not be trampled in a mad stampede for the exit. Note that this DOES NOT in of itself imply that freedom of speech is taken away if if might cause a loss of money to the corporation, there is no constitutionally guaranteed right to make money.

    In short I suggest that you actually read the law at least somewhat before trying to base arguments on it.


    --
    Fuck Censorship.
  • Never send anything in writing/email that you don't want the world to see.
  • Yahoo!'s message boards are public, and the guy no longer works for them (and had no contractual obligations to stay silent when he left), so what precedent gives his ex-company the right to audit his opinions?

    You answered your own question. "Yahoo's message boards are public." They have every right to read them and use the information in them. And if you go saying bad (true) things about them on public message boards, they have every right both legally and morally to say bad (true) things about you to your current employer.

    As long as what you say is completely true, and not protected (trade secret would be the biggest worry), you shouldn't have any legal worries. It's usually a good idea to let bygones be bygones though, unless you yourself have nothing at all to hide.

  • This case is also discussed in today's SF Chronicle. Article Here. [sfgate.com] Also mentioned is an older case where "anonymous Web pages linked the town's weekly newspaper to lesbian pornography sites and called a columnist a child molester, the paper's editors traced the site to a former city councilman by using a subpoena to obtain records from Santa-Clara based Yahoo."
  • actually, you can't be sued for slander (or libel) if it is clear that either your comments are your opinion only or if you can prove your comments are true facts.

    on the other hand, if a former employer goes around making accusations to your current employer or prospective employer that causes you to lose a job or fail to get a job, then the former employer may be liable for damages. however, the threshold of prooof is high since you have to convince your current or prospective empolyer to testify and that your former employer behaved with malice.

    readers may want to go to www.sorehands.com for a case study on someone dissing a former employer.
  • A company doesn't NEED a reason to fire you; they only provide a reason as to prevent them from being sued.

    Even in the US, this varies from state to state. And even in states (such as Kansas) that require a "reason," the law may still be somewhat toothless (you can sue here, but IIRC all you're entitled to is unemployment insurance benefits, which the company probably didn't contest anyway).

    (Speaking of dissing former employers, I once worked for a company whose handbook stated that you could be fired for sleeping on the job, fighting, or doing something illegal. A lawyer I showed it to got a kick out of that particular line, because, as he pointed out, by stating that, the employer had limited himself to those reasons... and had also limited himself to firing you. So he couldn't fire you for not doing your job, as long as you didn't fall asleep. And you could embezzle all the company funds, and he couldn't take you to court (civil, anyhow) to get his money back. Duh.)

  • IAAL ... When I sign contracts I take this into account - I ignore, and anticipate breaking, all of those that are legally unreasonable.

    Still sounds dangerous. Even if you are legally right, and you know it, and you don't need to pay for a lawyer, since you are one, you can still lose if you get a corrupt or misguided judge. (remember the DeCSS fiasco?)

    The court systems never cared about what is moral, but lately, they don't even care about what is legal... (e.g. the complete discounting of fair use in the DeCSS trial in spite of the law)

    I know my examples are of something different than what is being discussed here, but the principle still applies. You can be legally right and LOSE even if you do fight it.

  • Truth is not always a defense in libel and defamation cases.

    I think it is in the US, but not in the UK. I may be wrong. And I don't know what it is like in other countries.

  • Free speech. If you can afford the lawyers.

    Well, given things like the conviction of Michael Diana [motherjones.com] for drawing a comic book, free speech doesn't exist in the U.S. On the other hand, if you're a famous football player and want to stab some people to death, it appears that you're good to go. Just don't expect to do a Hertz or Disney commercial afterwards.

  • Will you tell us the name of the company so that we can avoid it or avoid doing business with it?

  • If he didn't sign a legal agreement stating he wouldn't discuss the company after his termination, he has the legal right to talk about the company as long as he doesn't slander them.

    Legal rights are much different from ethical considerations - a company that doesn't require such agreements is trying to do the right thing by its employees, current and former. They generally don't plan to pro-actively slag off former employees (although they may give a bad reference if asked the direct question), and it's not ethically right for disgruntled employees to slag off the company they worked for previously just because the company wasn't a big enough bully to get a "don't talk" agreement.

    Where legal considerations do enter into this is with listed companies. There are scary laws around this, and if the SEC decides you are either disclosing inside information improperly, or you are trying to manipulate the stock price to your own ends (even if that end is self satisfaction) using inside information or by telling fibs, there is this possibility of both civil and criminal charges.

  • ...As long as the reasons that you cited for leaving are factual and provable, and not simply an expression of opinion. The only exception for this is that the factual information not be any legally protected trade secrets of comany. If your boss, for example, was asking you to come to work on your days off to do some extra work and not giving you any compensation for that, you _could_ say that. What you could not say is that your boss wouldn't pay you what you deserved, or worse, that your boss was a cheapskate. The former is a provable fact (that can be supported by the testimony of witnesses and the amounts on pay stubs), the latter is opinion. The worst that can happen when you state a truth that they don't want anyone to know about is that they threaten litigation. The important thing to realize is that this can be nothing more than a threat. Any attempt to actually follow through with their threat would be stopped cold in a court of law.
  • And isn't that a conflist of .org? shouldn't they be a .com if they are in it for commercial gain?
  • This is why we need government regulation to protect privacy and the right to unionize.

    I'm not sure how unionization comes into play here, but I'll set that aside.

    Government regulation is not necessarily the right answer to privacy protection. I think education, fighting apathy, and consumer action are higher on the list. In that order. The general public (of which the /. audience is NOT representative) doesn't fully understand privacy, or even really care all that much about a lot of the issues. In order to fight apathy, you have to educate the general public about privacy issues and why they SHOULD care about them. Only then will you have consumer/voter action to reverse some of the (scary) trends that we are seeing with respect to loss of privacy.

    By consumer action I mean not doing business with companies that have shady privacy practices. I don't mean a boycot -- that's too organized for what I'm talking about. I just mean that if people understand and care about privacy they won't do business with companies that don't take this into account; those companies wouldn't be providing the service that their (now ex-) customers require.

    Voter action is somewhat less powerful, because there are so many issues that voters have to account for when casting their ballots. Being vocal about privacy to their representatives would be a tremendous boost. But I still think that "voting with your dollars" is a more powerful statement.

    On a VERY small scale: For my part, I prefer to not do business with companies whose privacy activities (from what I can glean anyway) do not mesh with what I want. I don't shop at Best Buy in part because they insist on asking for personal information at the checkout -- which I refuse to give. I only shop at EMS if they're having a big sale and then refuse to give my phone number at the checkout. I ensure (as best I can) that my ISP is not going to monitor my online activities -- and even then I don't trust it.

    Anyway, sorry for the long rant, but I wanted to point out that government is not the best way to ensure privacy. But then again, I don't trust the government to do anything right...

    -bluebomber

  • Umm...Yahoo!'s message boards are public, and the guy no longer works for them (and had no contractual obligations to stay silent when he left), so what precedent gives his ex-company the right to audit his opinions?
    Well, the message boards are public, and "the guy" posted to them openly, assumedly without trying to hide his identity... what precedent stops a company from checking to see what anyone is saying about them -- ex-employee or not? As long as it doesn't become intrusive into the life of a private individual, I see nothing wrong with this. If the comments are well-founded, then his new company will not have a problem with it. If they are unfounded, then it's fair enough that he gets in a bit of trouble for it...

    rr

  • Just look at ROP [yahoo.com]

    or this little message [yahoo.com] on Yahoo [yahoo.com]

    TastesLikeHerringFlavoredChicken
  • If they're publicizing his actions, then there's nothing wrong with it.

    This is true, to an extent. So long as they tell the truth.

    If his current employer feels that he needs to be held accountable for his actions, then they can fire him.

    Only for actions that affect his job. Nothing else. What an employee does on his own time, that does not affect his current job is none of his employer's business.

    There's just no argument there.

    Untrue.

    If you trash your employer, especially in public, they can fire you.

    If you trash your current employer, they can fire you because it affects your current job. What you say about your former employer, on your own time, is none of their business.

    They can ALSO tell your current employer.

    Probably not, unless it affects his job now, and even then it's questionable unless it's reporting an illegal act. At best, it could be considered harassment. If it is done with the intent of having a negative effect on his employment, it moves towards defamation, and the fact that it's true is not a defense against defamation.

    There's no laws against holding someone accountable for what they have done in the past.

    There are laws against harassing people who have done nothing illegal, and there are laws against interfering with someone's employement. A job is a posession in the eyes of the law, just like a car or a computer. To say that someone can interfere with your job for no good reason is legally the equivalent of saying they can interfere with your computer for no good reason. The law says that's not allowed.

    I am not a lawyer, but I have worked in management positions, with direct supervisory responsibilities, most of my adult life. What you are saying is simply wrong, at the federal level, and in nearly every state. It is not legal to talk trash about someone to their employer becase they legally excercised their right of free speech. Anyone who does that is asking to be sued.

  • Having a job is a _privilage_, not a right

    This is not true. A job, legally, is your property. It's also the company's property, in some ways, but you are entitles to due process before it can be taken away from you. Even in "at will" states, such as California.

    And I would be very careful about contacting someone's employer with the intent of damaging their job. The truth is an absolute defense against slander, but it is not against defamation. And employees have special protections against being harassed at work, especially where constitutional guarantees are concerned. Consult a qualified employement attorney before assuming you have no rights.

  • Uhm...geepers. Have you read the first amendment? Has anyone here?

    Last I recall it didn't say that a company couldn't talk to other companies about its former employees because of things they've said. In fact, if we were to prevent one company to talking to another about an employee, wouldn't we be violating the company's freedom of speech?

    (Long ago the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same rights as humans. Not that I don't think that's a bit suspect, but they did.)
  • Let's look at this from a different point of view...

    Dude is totally within his rights to post his opinion about his old company. Let's not get into whether these opinions are well founded or not, because there is no such thing as a "truthful" opinion.

    Old company is totally within their rights to audit his postings.

    Old company is totally with their rights to communicate the fact that dude posted negative opinions about his old company to dude's current employer. Something along the lines of: "Our former employer posted opinions about us at this URL..." They are simply communicating a fact, and there's nothing wrong with that, right?

    Dude's current employer might not really appreciate the fact that they have an employee with a track record of voicing public negative opinions about a former employer. As an employer, I would have the same concerns. I mean, all employers at least believe that they do the right thing, right?

    His current employer, depending on the state laws, probably has the right to terminate his employment for any reason, at any time.

    So, without talking about ethics, and morals, there is no LEGAL reason why his old employer couldn't indirectly cause him to lose his job. Right?

    I think that this comes under the classification of not burning bridges.

  • And you call yourself a libertarian? Only a coward would use the government to bully someone.

    Yeah, unfortunately, I've got a little streak of that Murphy Brown need-for-revenge. It causes me to stray from my philosophies occasionally; like I said, I'm a moderate Libertarian. You may treat that as my disclaimer.

    Regardless, like any intelligent individual in an unpleasant situation, I use any tool at my legal disposal. Similarly, if I have to send an e-mail to someone and the only computer available is running Outlook, I'll probably do it.

    I expect I'd feel a compulsive need to wash my fingers in hydrogen peroxide afterwards, though.

  • Serious jail time is in order(up to 15 years).. Next time, ask them to repeat the statement for your tape recorder.

    ---- From Florida statutes ----- Your state may a have a similar law.

    836.05 Threats; extortion.--Whoever, either verbally or by a written or printed communication, maliciously threatens to accuse another of any crime or offense, or by such communication maliciously threatens an injury to the person, property or reputation of another, or maliciously threatens to expose another to disgrace, or to expose any secret affecting another, or to impute any deformity or lack of chastity to another, with intent thereby to extort money or any pecuniary advantage whatsoever, or with intent to compel the person so threatened, or any other person, to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his or her will, shall be guilty of a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

    ---------
    1. I've been told that they may speak to me,
    2. and may also talk to the company I currently work for.
    (1) is not bad, they want to talk.
    Maybe to know more about what you reproach them with.
    but...
    (2) *sounds* bad.
    because:
    • They should not use their knowledge of your current position to, for example look forward to inluence (probably a defavorable way your relationship with your new employer.
    • They should not even discuss this point with a third person. Not only your company representatives but also your mother or perhaps, maybe here on Slashdot if you and them remain anonymous ;-)

    But if you gave enough details about this company to let some private information concerning them filter out to the public, it is obvious you might have problems, so, ensure you remained politically correct or you might be sued for diffamation.
    --
  • RE: Freedom of speech is guaranteed so long as it does not infringe upon someone else?s rights. i.e. racism is considered infringement (Canada anyway),

    Canada, being the socialist haven that it is, prohibits free speech, as it does the right to self-defence, and the right to own property. If you don't believe it, check the charter. If the government decides tomorrow that modems are a threat to it, it will have them all confiscated without compensation, because you don't actually have the right to own them, anyway. You DO have the right to possess property for a while, and of course you are expected to pay tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax on it, so that a new singing fountain or a hotel can go up in Shawinigan.
  • I've heard of higher-ups (CEOs, etc.), who sign agreements not to disclose the circumstances of their leaving. These people often get big severance packages, to guarantee their silence. I'm assuming you are not one of these.

    If they go after you legally, the ACLU may take up the case, but I doubt they will. What kind of compensation could they expect? Was it slander? Otherwise, you could prove in a court of law what kind of stupid things they were doing, which wouldn't be that great for the stock price.

    At the same time, they could play dirty pool and call your current employer. If your current employer is close-minded, you may have to sign some sort of gag agreement, or you may get fired.

    These days, when you change jobs regularly, and they often take the contact information for your last two or three jobs, it makes good sense to stay on good terms with former employers. It's a little more professional, and a bit more courteous. You are hurting your former employee enough just by not working for them anymore.

    Besides, what kind of person gets stock tips from ex-employees? A little inside information may be good, but I'd have to expect a lot of bias. It almost as bad as getting legal advice from a bunch of geeks.

  • Providing your contract of employment had no terms restricting what you could say after you left the company, then they can't sue you for breach of contract. Even if you did have such a clause in your contract, I can't see that such a clause could be enforced for an indefinite duration.

    However, if you posted a view of the company which they perceived to be malicious, inaccurate and defaming the company, then they could certainly unleash their lawyers onto you and sue you for libel. I'm sure that your ex-company has deeper pockets than you and I'm equally sure that they could afford lawyers who could win a libel lawsuit against you. This may seem unfair, but that's the way the legal system works.

    Contacting your new employer about this seems rather petty of them. Of course, if they did this you could always counter-sue them for slander/libel. The legal system is fair after all! :)

    Your best course of action is to deny that you posted the comments. There's no way that they can prove otherwise.

    I hope you learn an important lesson from this incident - bitching about your previous employer is unproductive, immature and is bound to lead to trouble. You must think of the consequences before you post anything - if you aren't prepared to live with the consequences, then don't post it at all.

    --

  • Bingo! I had a good laugh at one previous employer. First, their non-compete/non-disclosure contract arrived on my desk months after I joined ... illegal in itself. Next, several of the points on it had already been shot down in the courts. And this was before the weasels started adding the line 'One thing wrong with this contract does not invalidate the rest' (which is completely contrary to what the courts held.

    After I left, I made a few calls back to former co-workers. Through the switchboard, doh! And received a message from my former boss, who, as it turned out, was under the impression I was trying to poach. (Actually, I was moving out of state, and two co-workers had expressed an interest in my house). But not trying to lure co-workers was part of the non-compete contract. He did have a legitimate right to be concerned.

    Comments, OTOH, as long as they don't violate the non-disclosure, are perfectly legit. The simple act of them calling your current employer _might_ be considered grounds for harrassment ... I cannot think of a good (i.e. legal) defense they could raise. Talk to the people in your company they spoke with, and find out what was said. Depending on that, you may want to see a lawyer.

  • Perhaps the company in question would be doing better financially if they spent less time keeping track of comments by former employees and more time doing actual work.

    How to improve the bottom line? Fire everyone in the "Espionnage Department." Your shareholders will thank you for it.

  • "Before all you liberals start loudly complaining (yet again) about the inadequacies of the marketplace..."

    If no one complains, nothing gets fixed. And even then, things only rarely get fixed.

    "...if you don't like what this company is doing you can a) not work for them, and/or b) not buy their goods or services..."

    Ok, brighteyes, you tell me: HOW? What company is it, huh? Do you know? Do *I* know? No. We don't, and do you know why? Because the company is trying its best to gag anyone who speaks up about how much they suck. How does one boycott a company when one NEVER KNOWS THERE IS A PROBLEM? It is because of conscientious and brave people like this guy, speaking up, that problems are brought to the public's attention.

    Of course, it doesn't matter to you, and I'm not going to waste time flaming you because you're clearly expecting and desiring it. You're doubtless too busy right now despising me to listen to me. Whatever. But when your wonderful new president and his corporate friends decide a telescreen needs to be installed in your house to monitor you, you might finally start complaining about your "bottom line".

    The "bottom line" is freedom.

    -Kasreyn
  • by Eric Green (627) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @06:42PM (#447072) Homepage
    You have to remember that Texas is the most anti-employee state in the United States. Most Texas law is aimed at protecting employers from being responsible for their misconduct and at giving employers special rights at the expense of employees. Texas courts have held that employee contracts give employers the right to everything the employee does as a private citizen, even things that are done on private time and have no relationship to the employee's job, even employees' ideas that have never been set down in paper or expressed orally. See http://www.unixguru.com/ [unixguru.com] for a prime example.

    If I were a free software author living in Texas, I most probably would not be able to take a job in the computer industry, because Texas law, the way the Texas courts intepret it, gives employees the rights even to Open Source software that you write in your spare time on your own equipment.

    -E

  • by Q*bert (2134) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:22AM (#447073)
    As the subject says, intent to harm someone's reputation is only half of the legal definition of slander. The other half is that the accusation must be false! The same goes for libel. Actually, since this employee made his or her statements in written form, I think it's libel, not slander, that the company could charge.

    By the way, this is the way Liberace got back at reporters for implying that he was gay. He actually went to court and swore that he was straight! Since no one could find evidence to the contrary, he won the case.

    Vovida, OS VoIP
    Beer recipe: free! #Source
    Cold pints: $2 #Product

  • by kevlar (13509) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @06:53AM (#447074)

    Umm...Yahoo!'s message boards are public, and the guy no longer works for them (and had no contractual obligations to stay silent when he left), so what precedent gives his ex-company the right to audit his opinions?


    How about Freedom of speech. They can tell his current company that he slandered his former employer (if he did). They can tell the story EXACTLY how it is. Free speech does not cover your ass from getting fired from your current job because you can't hold your tongue! Having a job is a _privilage_, not a right. They have the right to say whatever they want and so do you.
  • by SoftwareJanitor (15983) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:17AM (#447075)
    I don't know if they can retroactively dock your pay or anything

    How could they possibly do that? It said in the message that he hadn't worked at that place for over a year. Any paychecks from them have long since been cashed and most likely spent. Awfully hard for them to get them back now.

    but there's nothing to stop them (or me, if I wanted) from reading the message boards and calling up your boss to tell him what you've said.

    Well, they had better tread carefully there, because interfering with someone else's employment over something like this is not something that you should do lightly. If they aren't careful, they could find themselves being sued... And given that a jury might very well be sympathetic to the former employee in this case, they would have no guarantee they'd win.

    They'd be far better off to just brush this kind of thing off...

    I don't know if it's legal, but it certainly doesn't sound right to me.

    IANAL, but I'd have to say that this is probably in a grey area. However, companies should keep in mind that even if they know they will win a case, it will cost them money to defend themselves and it can cost them in bad publicity, so it is better for them to avoid getting into this kind of situation to begin with.

  • by Skapare (16644) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @12:22PM (#447076) Homepage

    I used to be employed by the Taco Bell Corporation. That is a Division of TriCon, which is a Division of PepsiCo. I hate Taco Bell. They Suck. They Suck. They Suck. They Suck.

    Uhm, Yeah

    mountain dew.... it's dew-riffic!

    And just who do you think makes that mountain dew [mountaindew.com] ?

  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @09:24AM (#447077) Homepage Journal
    Well, the information you impart should be at least a bit credible, don't you think?
  • by coyote-san (38515) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:16AM (#447078)
    Assuming you were reasonably accurate and didn't violate any (reasonable) NDAs, what are they going to tell your current employer? That's a legal minefield - <b>any</b> contact at this point runs the risk of you making a claim for slander or defamation.

    It doesn't even matter what they say - the mere fact that they contacted your current employer because you've kept in touch with former coworkers will cast a shadow over every "negative," or even "non-positive," decision for the next few years. Didn't get a promotion, maybe the company said something to your boss. Maybe that guy advertising on late-night TV can find out exactly what your ex-employer said.

    As for direct legal actions against you... again, what are they going to accuse you of? In the US, the truth is an absolute defense against slander, so the only concern would be NDAs. Maybe there was an NDA in the pile of papers you signed when you started working there, but NDAs almost always refer to clients and the company's process, not the working environment. They didn't review the NDA in your exit interview, it's a year later, you're discussing the circumstances of your departure from a long-term position....

    So again, direct legal action is a minefield. The mere fact that they're accusing you of some misdeed here opens them up to a countersuit. Their case may be frivolous, but yours will not since you're forced to hire a lawyer, etc.

    Overall, it sounds like its nothing more than saber rattling by the former employer. The "audit" department does have a legitimate interest in countering false claims about the company... but they have no right to counter honest-but-unflattering speech. Furthermore they should realize that empty threats don't work well in the IT industry - too many people like me consider it an "instant death sentence" for the employer if they try something like this. There are plenty of other employers who don't act like schoolyard bullies out there.
  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@nOspam.infamous.net> on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:32AM (#447079) Homepage
    I'd like to remind you that if you don't like what this company is doing you can a) not work for them, and/or b) not buy their goods or services.

    And I'd like to remind you that, thanks to the concentration of economic power and obfuscation or outright destruction of responsibility and liability brought about by the existence of large corporations (entities, I remind you, that are creations of government, not of markets)

    • not everyone has the freedom of choice in employment that many highly skilled technical professionals enjoy right now - many towns are still reliant on a single large employer,
    • there are markets where people have little or no choice, where single suppliers reign, and
    • thanks to interlocking corporate ownership one may not be aware of who one is ultimately buying from - if you're pissed at Phillip Morris over cigarettes, unless you're in the habit of tracking down byzantine corporate structures to see that they own Miller, who owns Plank Road, how do you know that buying Red Dog beer puts money in the pockets of the Marlboro men?
    ...and when you live in a society such as ours certain sacrifices must be made so that corporations can continue to thrive and grow.
    Thank you, no. I'd rather not make such sacrifices, let the corporations fall, and create a new society where people, not legal fictions, are of primary interest. Fsck corporations - they distort markets and destroy freedoms. Major reform is needed.

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms | http://www.infamous.net/

  • by twivel (89696) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:01AM (#447080)
    I find this out of line as well, but it is a common practice. Especially with how important stock prices are to a company.

    One person had posted bad information on the same stock messages board. The CEO found this posting and had came down to the IT department to try and find out if there was any way to track them down. I believe they planned on sending the lawyers after him for whatever they could drum up, including libel.

    While not exactly the same as what you mention here, I think this is at least related: Anonymous posting on the internet isn't really anonymous - and it can come back to bite you. For example, linuxtoday recently posted an article about MS Astro-Turfing Linux Today. They actually revealed this persons IP address to the entire community because it was a Microsoft address. It sure was newsworthy to know who posted that article, but I tell you what - it's a serious violation of the trust of people who post anonymously on Linux Today. Is it a common practice for them to divulge this information? Not to mention it was against Linux Todays own policies (read their privacy policy). It looks like they have since pulled that article though.

    What if the CEO from a company who had been slandered had asked yahoo's message board service for the IP address of the person who posted it? What if the message board gave it out?

    I find it bad practice to use anonymous postings against the person posting in any situation. Whether for a news story in Linux Today's case, or to put pressure on someone to keep them from harming their stock values for voicing an opinion. --
    Twivel

  • by swordgeek (112599) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:02AM (#447081) Journal
    There are a lot of reasons that the former employer is entirely within their right to do many of these things.

    1) Did the employee sign a nondisclosure agreement which precludes discussing such things?

    2) Did the information he made public qualify as insider information? Was he trying to artificially manipulate the stock price? (doesn't sound like it, but the possibility is there)

    3) Did the employee's initial contract preclude discussing the company for a given period after termination? (this is entirely legal and legally binding, folks!)

    4) Was the material libelous?

    5) Even if none of the above are true, freedom of speech goes both ways. If he's within his rights to post such things publicly, then the company is within their rights to pass the information on to whoever they want, including the new employer.

    None of this should be taken as a justification for the former employer, but there's no sense in getting wound up in moral outrage over it.

  • by jon_adair (142541) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:24AM (#447082) Homepage

    Unless you have a lawyer in the family or another source of free legal work, your best bet is to keep your mouth shut. Yes, you might (and probably should) win if they took you to court, but is it worth doing that? You have to deal with the distraction, publicity, up front legal fees, etc. What do you accomplish by bashing the company in a Yahoo! forum?

    If you do insist on bashing them, do it verbally. Don't put it in a long-lasting public electronic document. Call your buddies that are still at the company or take them to lunch and vent. Get it out of your system in a way that's less likely to be read back to you in court while you're sitting next to a $250/hour lawyer.

  • by AnalogDiehard (199128) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @10:43AM (#447083)
    IANAL, but you should seek the advice of an attorney immediately. This falls under harassment. If you did not sign any contract of the sort, then no one can harass you into silence and deprive you of your first amendment rights. But you need to take legal action to prevent monetary disaster before your name falls on a blacklist, which does still happen.

    Your lawyer should contact your former employer with a cease and desist letter, and possibly advise the HR department or other at your current employer that the former employer is a hostile company out to ruin your name. Your career is your life - take charge of it!

  • by NecroPuppy (222648) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:05AM (#447084) Homepage
    Is some follow-up on this a couple months down the line. I mean, we're all worked up, figuratively speaking, about this now, but I would like to know what the resolution, if any, turns out to be....

    Or maybe I'm just rambling again...
  • by tewwetruggur (253319) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:27AM (#447085) Homepage
    Anyone can post whatever they want on the Yahoo message boards. Now, in this case, we have someone admitting to be an former employee of said company. This is irrelevant - again, anyone can post to those message boards. I believe that Yahoo has a nice disclaimer that says something like there is no guarantee to the validity of the statements made on the message boards. So... how can you believe anything posted there?...

    The fact that the company is even considering "going after" this guy is just funny (see: sick and wrong). Seems to me that they need a reality check - or they're afraid simply afraid of what was posted and are panicking. Either way, the company can do nothing.

    And if the former company were to contact the guy's current employer, well, that's just juvenile. Its one thing for a company to check your references, but it is absurd to think that a company would "tattle" on an ex-employee to that person's current employer.

    Simply put, what this is, is sad.

  • by mikethegeek (257172) <blair@@@NOwcmifm...comSPAM> on Thursday February 08, 2001 @08:46AM (#447086) Homepage
    I believe that if they (former company) contacts his current employer, it will be THEY who is in legal deep shit.

    There are laws that severly limit what your employer can say about you to future/prospective employers. For instance, I've been told that legally, all your former employers can say is:

    1. You worked there from X date to Y date
    2. If you are or are not rehirable.

    Since I'd assume that the person who submitted this story probably used the former company as a reference for his current employment, this would certainly apply.

    I'd get a lawyer to at least send the bozos a threatening letter stating that if they do anything to threaten your current employment, you will pursue them for all civil and criminal liability. As it would be harassment (at least), the company and officers would be personally liable for CRIMINAL charges.

    Also, keep in mind that the truth is an ABSOLUTE defense in any case of libel or slander. If you told the truth, there is nothing to worry about (unless, as other posters have said, the ex-company is the MPAA and the judge assigned is named Kaplan).

    Also, even IF you signed a NDA, if your former company was doing anything illegal, that you were talking about (such as violating labor laws, for example) this makes any such contract null and void.

  • Would it be right to ban companies from requiring that their employees keep public silence over their tenure at that company, even when said tenure is done?

    I would argue, with some regret, that it is not. If one signs an agreement with a company giving them carte blanche over your free speech for the rest of your life, then you have noone but yourself to blame should you find yourself being asked to shut your mouth at some later date.

    It is a matter of the fundamental Rights of Man in a free country that companies, organisations and individuals be able to ask their employees or dependants to sign contracts of this nature.

    Also, consider industrial espionage. This is an area where it is clearly in the interest of us all that the freedom of speech of employees be curtailed. You can't have your top researcher spend all your money finding things out and designing magnificient devices for you and then have them bugger off to the company down the road and give them all the info. There has to be safeguards against this sort of thing.

    In the end, the world is not perfect people, and though many of you seem to have a sweet undergraduate notion of freedom of speech being absolute, in the real world it is often not practical. And there is no world more real than the world of industry.

    In the end, freedom of speech is just another commodity. We shouldn't inflate its importance too much, less we lose our sense of perspective.

    You know exactly what to do-
    Your kiss, your fingers on my thigh-

  • by hawk (1151) <hawk@eyry.org> on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:49AM (#447088) Journal
    I am a lawyer, but this is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact an attorney in your jurisdiction.

    It is *not* a requirement in a slander or libel case to show the falsity if the defamatory statement. Truth is a *defense*--and a very good one, which will wine in almost all cases.

    Being a defense rather than part of the tort makes a difference in the burden of proof--it changes who has to prove the issue.
  • by Shoeboy (16224) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @06:56AM (#447089) Homepage
    It's for the best that you take definite steps to preserve your anonymity if you are going to criticise a large company.
    Post anonymously and do it through an anonymizing proxy. Anonymizer.com [anonymizer.com] and evilemail.com [evilemail.com] are your friends.
    Blacklists still happen. There are a lot of steps that an employer can take to make it difficult for you to work again.
    A lot of these measures are illegal, but it's up to you to verify that any shady dealings are occuring. That's not easy.
    Trust me on this - as a member of the homosexual community, I'm far more familiar with workplace discrimination than I would like to be.
    This is why we need government regulation to protect privacy and the right to unionize.
    --Shoeboy
  • by still cynical (17020) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @06:55AM (#447090) Homepage
    ...for anything they want. Of course, they'll lose in this case, but that's not the point. See aclu.org for more info on Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). This is where you are sued for defamation or something else for exercising your freedom of speech. SLAPP suits are not brought to be won, they are by definition almost always groundless. They are brought to intimidate, harass, and drive you to bankruptcy. Fortunately, many courts are throwing them out, many states are looking at legislation to bring an end to this abuse of the courts.

    So they may not legally be able to stop you, but that may not stop them from threatening you and generally trying to make you miserable. In America, Land of the Lawsuit, you can sue anyone for anything. Whether or not you can win, or even have any rational basis for a case is beside the point.
  • by Otto (17870) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @06:48AM (#447091) Homepage Journal
    Tell them to buzz off. They can't control your actions if you didn't sign anything.

    And if they call your current employer, call a lawyer and sue their piddly little company into the ground.
    ---
  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @07:07AM (#447092) Homepage Journal
    say less than they know. I might think Katherine Harris dresses like a scarecrow, but if I worked in law or politics I wouldn't go around saying so. What goes around, comes around.

    Things would be different if, hypothetically, I saw Katherine Harris take a envelope full of money from W's camapaign manager -- then I'd have a moral imperative to speak out. But even situations where there was some moral reason I had to speak out, I'd do so very carefully. When you mess with a reputation, you're playing with fire.

    "My question is this - because I left the company of my own free will, and had never signed an agreement that said 'I will only say nice happy things about this company after I leave'... what recourse, if any, do they have to my statements?

    Well, did you make them sign something that said they wouldn't keep track of what you said after you left? What they're threatening to do is to tell your current employer what you are saying in a public forum. What you're afraid of is that your current employer will infer you're a loose talker who maybe can't be trusted. Since they are doing so on the basis of your public statements, you're screwed.

    Look at it this way. If your former girlfriend started talking about all your shortcomings in a public forum, you wouldn't like it. If you're smart you'll just let it roll past, but if you're dumb you'll start trying to get her back by contacting her friends and spreading her embarassing secrets.

    What your former employer is doing simply shows they're a bunch of jerks. But it is not illegal or immoral to be a jerk, just unattractive.

    There's another reason to think twice before you share your former employers' dirty laundry. Social psychology studies have shown that when you describe your former associates, people attribute the same characteristics to you. It kind of make sense -- bird of a feather.

    Like the bible says, it is not what goes into a person's mouth that defiles him, it's what comes out.

  • by 11thangel (103409) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @06:55AM (#447093) Homepage
    In this case, the guy did nothing wrong. Some people, such as myself, have signed NDA's with fancy wordings so I can't reveal the internal workings of the company, so I'd have to be careful how i worded any backings to my opinions. But if, as he says, he has no contractual obligation, this is just a company trying to make sure their stock price is nice and high and stays that way. This is similar to the little catch in California, where it is legal to perscribe marijuana for medicinal uses, but any doctor that does will loose their license to practice soon thereafter. I believe the basic wording would be "Yeah, you can do it, but we'll sue your ass as soon as ya do!"
  • by coupland (160334) <dchase@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday February 08, 2001 @06:55AM (#447094) Journal

    IANAL -- It's fairly common practise for companies who offer a generous severance package to wrap a non-disclosure around it. This often includes agreeing not to cast the company in a negative light after your departure. This doesn't bother me too much -- in return for a good package you agree to let bygones be bygones.

    Another common practise that I completely disagree with is insisting on a similar agreement at the time of hire. If an employee is forbidden to complain about real corporate issues, how will they ever be resolved? Very uncool...

    Then you have this situation. I don't think they have a legal or ethical leg to stand on. If you didn't sign a non-disclosure (did you?) I don't see how they have any right to restrict your ability to talk about your tenure there. Don't discuss genuinely confidential information like intellectual property or specifics of compensation and you should be fine.


    ---
  • by Razzious (313108) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @06:52AM (#447095)
    Of people going too far. Even at companies that asked you to sign over intellectual property (as though they can enforce that). or sign a NON-COMPETE clause. Bottom line is they can't stop you fom being you. If the comments from 1 former employee(sounds better than EX) would cause a stock price to drop that serious, the company has bigger issues than anyone can see.
    br? BTW non compete in MOST States is worthless because they cannot stop you from supporting yourself.
    Razzious Domini
  • I had the same thing happen to me. I worked at General Magic for a year and left as soon as I could get out from under the "repayment of signing bonus/moving expenses" clause. This was August of 1997.

    I stumbled on a stock trading board and posted my *opinions* about the future the company to counter some of the high flying "this could be another Microsoft" posters who really didn't understand what exactly was General Magic's product/service. They thought that General Magic had invented speech recognition, universal messaging, text-to-speech, etc. for crying out loud. I had to set them straight and bring a realistic analysis to the table. Of course some of this realistic analysis basically stated that some of the key people involved (and the company as a whole) had no experience developing any telephony applications and had no experience in dealing with cellular and wireline carriers (ie their target market). I thought that they were more interested in building a flashy network operations center to show off to investors and carriers than actually developing a usable service that carriers and users would pay for.

    I also detailed some of the reactions by certain employees to my resignation. The VP of Engineering (Kevin Surace of perfect.com and ZDTV's Silicon Spin) listened to my concerns about the direction of the company and why I was leaving and basically told me that I would never work in Silicon Valley again and that I would never get rich (another reason I left... people were more interested in getting rich than actually developing a service/product that would sell). My "boss" Gary Lang told me I was "stupid" for walking away from all that money. I thought the reason for the reactions I got was that my leaving General Magic really brought out some insecurities about what they were doing.

    I think this rubbed some people the wrong way. A few days later, I got a letter from General Magic's lawyers telling me that I violated my NDA. Or at least that was how the letter started out. They then proceeded to pull apart my post refuting everything I said. If what I said was false, how could it be a violation of my NDA?

    They also stated that I could be liable for any "damages" sustained by the company due to my posting. I'd like to see them prove that one in court. The company still has not made a profit in the three and a half years since I left and their direction seems to change about every 9 months (selling to executives, selling to carriers, free service based on advertising, turn key solution for enterprise, GM OnStar).

    I find it amusing that all of the people who were so gung ho about the product and how it was going to change everything and make everybody rich have since left the company.

    I hope it wasn't something I said.
  • by SethJohnson (112166) on Thursday February 08, 2001 @08:45AM (#447097) Homepage Journal

    I saw a documentary about this. Long. Came in about 17 episodes. Turns out this guy worked for an organization with some VERY proprietary information. The guy one day decides to resign. He seemed upset with the organization, but did not give a reason for his resignation. Next day, he finds that the organization has spirited him off to some remote village where they keep asking him why he left. Here's a poigniant selection of dialogue:

    PRISONER: Where am I?

    NUMBER 2: In The Village.

    PRISONER: What do you want?

    NUMBER 2: Information.

    PRISONER: Whose side are you on?

    NUMBER 2: That would be telling.

    We want information... information...information...

    PRISONER: You won't get it.

    NUMBER 2: By hook or by crook we will.

    PRISONER: Who are you?

    NUMBER 2: You are Number Six.

    PRISONER: I AM NOT A NUMBER, I AM A FREE MAN!

    No mention of the Yahoo message boards in the documentary, but I'd assume the organization was very concerned about what this fellow might post to the discussion boards about their activities.


    Seth

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