While sitting in the Nashville Airport this weekend returning from the Advanced Employment Issues Law Symposium (AEIS), my employment-lawyer ears perked up. I’ve been known to eavesdrop when the conversation seems interesting (and sadly, that includes employment law/HR issues). However, in this instance, I quickly realized that no special effort had to be exerted. Sitting directly across from me in the terminal was a woman (I’ll call her VIHP – “Very Important HR Person”) speaking VERY loudly on her cell phone. It was absolutely impossible not to hear every word she said.
In just a few minutes, I learned that she was an HR Executive, the name of her employer, the name of the company who had recently acquired them, the operational issues with the (former) employer that led to the acquisition, her dislike of the new management (naming names), and the details of several personnel issues she was dealing with at the moment, including one employee (identified by name) who they were going to terminate and who was “definitely” going to file a discrimination lawsuit. She even repeated the alleged “stray comment” referencing the employee’s national origin. I will not repeat it here for fear someone will feel harassed, but I will say that neither J. Lo nor Eva Longoria would appreciate the comment.
Ironically, one of the personnel matters VIHP was addressing dealt with social media, regarding an inappropriate Facebook status posted by one of her employees. VIHP said (to what seemed to be one of her direct reports) : “you know how there’s a blackout on the whole [name of project]*? Well, [name of employee] posted about [contract award] on his Facebook status. I know he’s probably seen it elsewhere and thought it was public. But everyone in the [name of department] was specifically told to keep it confidential.” She then proceeded to say that the employee’s supervisor needed to call him immediately and tell him to take the posting down. This was a perfectly appropriate way to handle the matter. I know, I listened to Molly DiBianca’s presentation on social media at the AEIS!
However, let’s not forget the now old-fashioned, almost quaint form of communication: cell phone conversations. Granted, VIHP was blasting the information out to maybe 25 people in the terminal, whereas a Facebook page could go to hundreds or more. Nonetheless, confidential is confidential – regardless of whether the information is disclosed to a handful or a thousand. I found it more than a little ironic that VIHP was chiding the employee who posted the information on his Facebook page, while broadcasting that very same information to the entire waiting area. The lack of judgment here was astounding. Nevertheless, even supposedly smart lawyers have showed this same indiscretion.
There was a completely empty gate area just twenty steps from where we sat, that would have allowed her to discuss the matters privately, if she absolutely HAD to discuss them at that moment. It appeared the woman was rather self-impressed and thought she would impress her fellow passengers with her “shop talk.” I can tell you – NO ONE was impressed. Many smirks and disapproving glances were darting among the other passengers around her. It made everyone simultaneously uncomfortable and annoyed.
Whether talking business or kvetching about your boss, it should be obvious what types of information should not be discussed in public places: whether with “friends” on Facebook, or more traditional public forums. Don’t be a VIHP.
* Although I have omitted the proper names of companies and individuals involved, VIHP did not.