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Can An Employee Invoke A Right To Privacy When Speaking Horribly About A Customer? Ask Jack

By Jack McCalmon, The McCalmon Group, Inc.

Dear Jack:


I have an employee, Bill, who was commenting to another employee about a customer's appearance in the most negative manner. What Bill did not know was that he accidentally pocket-dialed the customer, and the customer heard every hateful word. Can I fire Bill or does he have a right to privacy in this matter?




If Bill is an at-will employee, you may fire him with or without notice or for any reason, so long as the reason is not an illegal reason. Your reason for terminating Bill is because he spoke negatively about a customer in the customer's presence. Even though Bill may have expected that his conversation was between him and another employee, by his own negligence, he shared the conversation with the customer, who relayed that conversation to you. The customer simply answered the call and listened. Further, a right to privacy exists only as to governmental intrusions to privacy, of which there were none in this situation. While all terminations carry risk, the risk of a charge of a violation of right to privacy does not exist in this matter.

Jack McCalmon and Leslie Zieren are attorneys with more than 50 years combined experience assisting employers in lowering their risk, including answering questions, like the one above, through the McCalmon Group's Best Practices Help Line. The Best Practice Help Line is a service of The McCalmon Group, Inc. Your organization may have access to The Best Practice Help Line or a similar service from another provider at no cost to you or at a discount. For questions about The Best Practice Help Line or what similar services are available to you via this Platform, call 888.712.7667.

If you have a question that you would like Jack McCalmon or Leslie Zieren to consider for this column, please submit it to ask@mccalmon.com. Please note that The McCalmon Group cannot guarantee that your question will be answered. Answers are based on generally accepted risk management best practices. They are not, and should not be considered, legal advice. If you need an answer immediately or desire legal advice, please call your local legal counsel.

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