This column is sponsored by the Lower Columbia Human Resource Management Association. LCHRMA represents a gathering of Human Resources professionals. Join us each month for a luncheon and training that covers many aspects of employment law and human resources.

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds converse about events. Small minds gossip about people.” — Socrates (loosely translated)

Q. What is gossip in the workplace?

A. Workplace gossip is a mode of informal communication among colleagues focused on the private, personal and sensitive affairs of others. Gossip is a failure of professional standards and creates a distrustful workplace culture. Often gossip is composed of partial fictions, misinformation, and conjecture mixed with exaggeration and sometimes spiced with an intent to harm. Gossip is a way to kick someone while they’re down or “shoot the wounded.”

Q. Is it harassment to gossip in the workplace?

A. Maybe. Indirect harassment also includes conduct/remarks or malicious gossip about an employee that may not be directed at him or her at the time. If the employee becomes aware of the demeaning remarks or gossip and is adversely affected as a result, then such indirect comments may constitute workplace harassment. If management or human resources is aware of the malicious gossip and does nothing to address the issue, the liability against the company becomes amplified.

Q. Is gossip a form of defamation?

A. It could be depending on whether it is false, results in harm to another’s reputation, whether the words are spoken or written. Spoken defamation (slander) is limited to very specific subject areas that damage reputation. Defamation as written communication (libel), conveyed to a third party (someone other than the subject of the gossip) has wider complications and potential for damage. Gossip is almost always unnecessary and human resources managers must strive to terminate gossip at its source.

May 3: Mary Hennessy, Cascade Centers — “Whole Person Wellness,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane Street Astoria.

June 7: Dianna Gould, SHRM — “Effective Workplace Communication,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane Street Astoria.

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