Workplace Q&A: Part 15

Q: Can I stop a co-worker from spreading lies about me?

“I attended a work-related event at a bar. Unfortunately, I had too much to drink. I didn’t do anything terrible, but I did some silly things. Now one of my co-workers is going around telling everyone at work that I can’t hold my liquor. What’s worse, he has been embellishing his account of my silly behavior in order to make me look really bad. He keeps spreading more and more lies about me. Can I do anything to stop him?”

A: Yes.

Your co-worker’s behavior is a form of bullying. You need to bring his conduct to the attention of management in factual, unemotional way. Request that the co-worker be instructed to stop his objectionable behavior. It’s best to have a face-to-face conversation with your manager. But if that’s difficult, then write down all the facts along with your requested remedy, and send your manager a letter or an email.

Any form of gossip, teasing, or sharing of personal information by a co-worker is a form of bullying, even if it would be considered innocent in another context. Managers are not the only individuals who can engage in workplace bullying. Abuse on the part of a co-worker can be just as destructive to your career.


Q. Can I cross out the non-solicitation clause in my severance agreement?

“My job was eliminated and I was given a release to sign in order to receive severance pay. The release contained a “non-solicitation of employees” clause that covered a period of six months after I leave the company. I’m planning to start my own business, and I’d like to ask some of my subordinates to join my new venture. My new business would be much smaller and serve only the local market, but technically, it would still be a competitor of my former company. Can I still get severance pay if I sign the agreement but simply cross out the non-solicitation clause?”

A. Probably not.

It is highly unlikely that the company will accept a release that contains a section you’ve crossed out. At the same time, don’t try to hide behind the fact that your new company will be smaller or only a local competitor. Your former company may very well sue you in an attempt to stop your solicitation of employees or even shut down your business.

You have two alternatives. The best option is simply to wait out the six months before you solicit any of your former subordinates. The second alternative is to approach someone at the company who would have authority to waive the provision. If you’re really not a competitive threat and you aren’t proposing the poaching of employees who are critical to your former employer’s business, the company may very well agree to some sort of compromise.

It is quite common for employers to insert standard non-compete and non-solicitation clauses in their offer letters and severance agreements. However, when faced with specific requests for exceptions, they are often willing to be flexible. For example, your former employer may allow you to solicit its employees as long as you give it three months notice to hire replacements.

Q. Can my manager refuse my request to replace my four-month maternity leave with a four-month paid vacation?

“I am pregnant with my third child. I had easy pregnancies and deliveries with my first two children, and now I have the help of a full-time nanny. I’m really not interested in taking the four-month maternity leave that my company offers. So I asked my manager if could forego the maternity leave and instead take a four-month vacation next year. After all, I had it coming to me. My manager said No. Can he really get away with this?”

A. Yes.

Your manager is within his rights. Technically, you do not have a four-month vacation “coming to you.” Maternity leave is a specific form of paid absence that is justified by the birth of a child. It is not bankable time to be used for any purpose whenever you want.

One option is to take a vacation trip during your maternity leave, that is, during the four months after the birth of your child. Maternity leave does not require you to sit at home for four months.

If you don’t take your maternity leave, your employer’s rules on paid vacation time will still apply. If you are entitled to one month of paid vacation, another option might be to ask your manager to extend your paid vacation for six or eight weeks. If that doesn’t work, then perhaps he’ll accept an unpaid extension.



Copyright © 2013–2014 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This post contains numerous questions describing common recurring problems in the workplace. The circumstances described in these questions, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently an executive coach and CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.


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