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Can Companies Control What You Say After You Leave?

Cliff posted more than 13 years ago | from the corporate-spin-control dept.

The Internet 282

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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retaliation... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#446819)

if your former employer contacts your present employer to try to make trouble for you, well, that is illegal. if you get fired because of retaliation from your former employer and no fault of your own, you have the legal right to pursue them legally.

Don't put up with that. Have a lawyer contact them if they are trying to get you fired....

Re:Umm... (1)

Wakko Warner (324) | more than 13 years ago | (#446820)

some days, you just get lucky.

--
* CmdrTaco is an idiot.

Re:Their [sic] overstepping their bounds. (1)

Doctor Memory (6336) | more than 13 years ago | (#446822)

As long as you don't commit libel, anyway.

You're free to say you think they suck, and you wouldn't be surprised if the company officers performed unnatural acts with rodents. Everyone (in the U.S., anyway) has the right to express an opinion, but you don't have the right to spread false information. Just watch your phrasing and you don't have a thing to worry about (well, one less thing, maybe!).

Your Former Company (1)

jjr (6873) | more than 13 years ago | (#446823)

Is just tring to scare you into not talking if they continue on a course and try to sue the counter sue for harassment charges.

Free Speech and sigining rights away (1)

ncc189 (8613) | more than 13 years ago | (#446824)

Even if you did sign a "Gag" policy or what ever, in the US you can not sign away your rights. Even non-complete contracts are worthless, I don't know why companies insist on them. Personally I would tell the audit dept of your former employer that if they some much as peep one thing to your current employer that is not favorable, you will sue them until there eyes pop out.

It seems that companies these days have gotten so used to stepping on peoples rights that they do it with out second thought. Maybe some laywer can answer this but where in the US Constitution does it guarantee a company any rights? Our media and big business have been getting away with it for so long that big business think that they are right. Unfortuneatly most judges in this country seem to agree with them.

I would not let them get away with it, but then again it is not me being threatened.

Freedom? (1)

dso (9793) | more than 13 years ago | (#446827)

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), manipulation of stocks is also infringement because it's not an real opinion! If I choose to say I hate Microsoft, there is no recourse because that is a real opinion. Companies cannot create laws to suit their needs, they must work within the boundaries set by the legislation of the country they operate in.

They Can Try (1)

sjvn (11568) | more than 13 years ago | (#446828)

But so long as you avoid libel, spilling company secrets covered by an NDA, misrepresenting yourself as a company spokesman, and other dumb instant loser tricks, you're in the clear.

That isn't to say that a company won't try to make your life miserable. Giving someone a case of FUD works better on individuals than it does on operating systems. In exceptional cases, a company may try to take you to court. Such cases almost never make it to trial. That's usually because the threat is more than enough to make most people hush up.

Everyone has freedom of speech, few has the courage to use it.

Steven

Re:Free Speech Maybe? (1)

WilyHacker (14378) | more than 13 years ago | (#446831)

Slandering the company would imply that he lied about the company. I think that it was pretty clear that he was expressing his opinions, which were based on fact.

They would not be telling the story EXACTLY if they implied slander.

Re:It could be a scare or.... (1)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 13 years ago | (#446832)

You should have mentioned who the ISP is, and what the defense/rationalization for their deletion action was.

The ISP probably should not have caved in. I would be furious if my ISP did this. And, due to the trust/reputation that they have earned from me over many years, I know that they wouldn't.

I'm serious, ISP's reputations need to be on the line for things like this. Make fortitude and integrity become a market force.


---

Re:They're just trying to scare you. (1)

SpacePunk (17960) | more than 13 years ago | (#446838)

I agree. If they pursue you, sue their asses off for harrassment.

NDA's are your friends... (1)

macgeek (22429) | more than 13 years ago | (#446841)

A former employer tried to integrate a clients NDA and non-compete into "his" NDA/non-compete. When I started (as a contractor), I was only ever given the clients NDA. I was then hired full-time, and was never asked to sign anything. The day I left (on good terms), I was reminded to honor the various NDA's and whatnot. I didn't remember until the next day that I hadn't signed any of them...

The important thing to remember is to review any and all paperwork they make you sign when you start. I'm always more than happy to sign NDA's, but I always read them and occasionally check them with a lawyer friend. A co-worker at the company above didn't like some of the language, so after checking with her lawyer, she got quite creative with her black marker. They didn't say a word, just accepted it. (which means that they probably didn't even notice her changes - guess they now owe her the Crown Jewels.... :)

If you're discussing them (anywhere: public, private, in your head) they can't control what you say. As long as you don't breach your NDA (and it doesn't sound like you did) then you should be fine, so don't worry about it.
-=-

Public is public (1)

joshwa (24288) | more than 13 years ago | (#446843)

Well, those message boards ARE public. If you say something in public, it's only reasonable to assume that it might be used against you. I don't know if they can retroactively dock your pay or anything, 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.

Seems to me that you were right to leave your old company. They're basically blackmailing you (and THAT'S not legal, right?) into shutting up by threatending to bad-mouth you to your new employer. I don't know if it's legal, but it certainly doesn't sound right to me.

Re:Well...NO (1)

cjsteele (27556) | more than 13 years ago | (#446844)

...lets not be so exclusive here (unless you've got your J.D. and have read the paper-work.)

Chances are good that he signed numerous documents ranging from non-competes to the corporate handbook, but the wording of each of those determines the legality of his actions to follow.
-C

Re:Well...NO (1)

alkali (28338) | more than 13 years ago | (#446847)

IANAL

And it shows. Nondisclosure, confidentiality and nondisparagement agreements are in most cases perfectly legal. That you have a right to free speech doesn't mean you can't bargain it away.

Consult a labor Attorney. (1)

mcwop (31034) | more than 13 years ago | (#446849)

I would consult with an attorney on this one. It may cost a few hundred bucks, but may save you a few headaches.

-1 Ignorant (1)

ebbv (34786) | more than 13 years ago | (#446850)


uhh, no, they don't. did you not read the part where he said he did not sign anything stating he could not say what he wanted to about the company?

i myself have never signed such papers either and i've had quite a number of jobs. while some places do *request* that you sign such documents in order to get your severence pay, they can never force you to sign them, and many companies do not have such documents in their severence process.
...dave

Free market at work (1)

revscat (35618) | more than 13 years ago | (#446851)

Before all you liberals start loudly complaining (yet again) about the inadequacies of the marketplace, 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. The market is the best place to vent these frustrations, and whining incessantly about it like some fussy-headed Naderite or Democrat does no one any good whatsoever. Money has its own morality, and when you live in a society such as ours certain sacrifices must be made so that corporations can continue to thrive and grow. Your right to be free from coporate intimidation is something that is certainly desirable, but in certain situations (such as this) it is nevertheless unattainable. We must never forget about the bottom line. As Clinton said and as Bush learned: "It's the economy, stupid." Cross paths with corporations at your own -- and your nations -- peril.

- Rev.

Re:Well...yes (1)

??? (35971) | more than 13 years ago | (#446852)

But usually not in perpetuity. Most perpetual clauses in contracts are not enforceable in many jurisdictions.

That said, there are no restriction on the company's collection and aggregation of information that has been made public. If they try to get him fired by his new employer, they may be treading on thin ice though... There's nothing stopping them from grumbling and threatening, and gathering information, but if they interfere with his new contract, they may be getting in too deep.

Re:Well...NO (1)

??? (35971) | more than 13 years ago | (#446853)

But perpetual contract clauses may not be binding, depending on the jurisdiction.

Re:Their [sic] overstepping their bounds. (1)

??? (35971) | more than 13 years ago | (#446854)

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

Free Speech for Them (1)

west (39918) | more than 13 years ago | (#446857)

If they're not attempting anything illegal, is there anything that should stop a company from attempting to speak with its critics or even one's current employers?
Certainly there's nothing stopping an individual from doing the same.

Having said that, I'd certainly publicize the name of any jerk who tried to get me in trouble with my employer for remarks I posted elsewhere. And it's not that infrequent, especially if you're commenting about areas of high controversy (think abortion...)

Re:They can sue you... (1)

dubl-u (51156) | more than 13 years ago | (#446862)

This is true. A lawyer of mine was fond of saying, "They can sue you for anything; they just are unlikely to win." It's an important distinction, as defending a lawsuit isn't cheap.

Still, that shouldn't scare you too much. Many companies are very sensitive to public image, so you can counter this by raising a ruckus if they threaten you. Publish their correspondence with you, contact reporters, open a legal defense fund, post again to slashdot, and so on.

Make sure you discuss this with a lawyer first, and make sure you have a clear idea of how far you are willing to go. But I encourage you not to give up quite yet; many more people threaten to sue than are really willing to do it.

Oh, and if they do actually sue you, I'm in for $100 for your defense fund.

Offhand, I would say you're in a bit of trouble. (1)

Fleet Admiral Ackbar (57723) | more than 13 years ago | (#446863)

As above posts have said, in order to really judge what's happened, the content of the posts has to be known.


However, if you said, "I'm an Initech employee, or was, anyway, not any more, because they suck," you have probably gone too far. This is not the first time that Yahoo! boards have been the subject of ligitation. What you have done, in the eyes of the court, is substantially similar to picking up a megaphone and broadcasting your opinion about Initech.


I don't like it, America shouldn't be this way, but it's probably the way it's going to be. Don't forget, there are laws in place now that would have given every one of the Founding Fathers of America, were they to reappear tomorrow, the death penalty.

Dude... (1)

TheSnakeMan (59408) | more than 13 years ago | (#446864)

Talk to a lawyer, not these jokers on here.

Re:Well...NO (1)

rossz (67331) | more than 13 years ago | (#446866)

Bullshit. The ONLY thing the company could possibly do is sue you for slander. Even if you sign something, they can't make you give up your Constitutional rights (Free Speech).

BTW, IANAL

If you can't say something nice ... (1)

threaded (89367) | more than 13 years ago | (#446873)

If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all.
Alternatively make sure you have a good lawyer.

Freedom of speech (1)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 13 years ago | (#446879)

As an ex-employee, without signing anything, you are not legally bound to withhold your opinion. Microsoft has employees sueing them because they feel they were unfairly treated. Microsoft can't sue them for having that opinion and stating it publicly. Your former employer in the same manner has no right to censor your opinion.

That's what freedom of speech is all about. Even if you had signed something with them, I've never heard of any employment agreement that restricts a person's right to publicly speak their opinion about that company.

Now, that said, I don't know what you signed when you became an employee, but my guess is that they have no grounds with which to restrict your speech. I would do the following:

Ask them on what legal basis they believe they have to restrict your speech. Get it in writing.

If they continue to harass you without proof of some legal basis for their actions, send them a letter stating that if they refuse to stop harassing you, you will sue them. Keep a copy of this letter and have it dated.

If the harassment continues. Go to a lawyer. That's what they're there for.

Good luck.

Re:Well...NO (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 13 years ago | (#446881)

Which are things that not everyone signs, or is asked to sign. While its a standard practice for many jobs, he doesn't say what he is doing and many technology jobs (like sysadmin) don't require them.

Course, This is one of the many reasons that I refuse to sign NDAs and their ilk. I wont bargain away my free speech, never have and never will. Its worth a hell of alot more to me than some silly green peices of paper.
(well ok, I would sign an NDA if it only covered stuff that would be unethical to disclose anyway - like individuals medical records and such)

-Steve

Thinking like a child (1)

garoush (111257) | more than 13 years ago | (#446887)

Yet another example were a company is out of touch and acting like a 10 year old child.

If this ex-company is so worried about what is being said on a public board by an ex-employee, than I think this company has spoken out by its own doing of how poorly they are doing that such a small wind would effect their bottom line.

But than again, not knowing *what* was said on the public board leaves allot in the unsaid.


---------------
Sig
abbr.

As long as you're telling the truth... (1)

Yekrats (116068) | more than 13 years ago | (#446889)

Firstly, IANAL, but my wife worked in a law office several years ago. Does that count? :-)

As long as you're telling the truth, I don't think you should have a problem. If you're telling lies about the company, then you could be sued for libel. However, if that was the case, the burden of proof would be on the accuser (that's them). Of course, if the company has spare lawyers to throw at you, they could try to intimidate you, but I doubt it would ever come to that. It would be a lose-lose situation for them to pursue it.

If you have evidence or witnesses backing up your claims against the company, so much the better for you. But if you're telling the truth, not to worry, buddy.

One final thing: please, let us know who you worked for, so we don't make a mistake and try interviewing there, eh? :-)

-ygp Yekrats

There's more than one way for revenge (1)

Wateshay (122749) | more than 13 years ago | (#446893)

Standard Disclaimer ==> IANAL

Unless you slandered them or broke an NDA/noncompete, then they don't have much in the way of legal or ethical recourse. However, based on what you've said here about why you quit, I wouldn't count on them being ethical. They probably can't sue you, but that won't stop them from talking to your current employer and saying things that could get you fired. Assuming that you have a decent relation with your current boss, it might be a good idea to go talk to him/her preemptively and explain your side of the story. That way, if you ex-company calls, your boss will be on your side.

Re:Lets Invert It, and look at the corollary. (1)

hiryuu (125210) | more than 13 years ago | (#446896)

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.

Says who? Suits who want to participate in having too much corporate control over every little detail. Assuming no personal/personnel issues, why would someone leave and take IP with them? Maybe the first company wasn't compensating them adequately. If someone else was willing to pay said researcher more to lure them away from you, capitalist principle alone says that you weren't paying what it was apparently worth on the market to keep them.

Just my thought on that li'l nugget.

Your rights (1)

maragato (127842) | more than 13 years ago | (#446897)

The good news is that your previous employer cannot prevent you from giving your opinion.

The bad news is that they have the same rights. You cannot prevent them from talking to your current boss and tell him that you spoke badly of your previous employers.

But that does not mean your boss has the right to fire you because of that. You have rights and if you are fired you can try to sue your company.

Just my opinion, of course.

Re:Free Speech Maybe? (1)

f.money (134147) | more than 13 years ago | (#446898)

Companies may not be individuals, but they are "people" in the eyes of the law (check the tax code). Why do you think they can contribute to political causes? They are people and have the right of free speech.

On the other hand, if what the poster said was true, the company should have very little recourse. If it was his opinion, the company has almost no recourse.

If I were the poster, though, I would talk to HR at my current employer to advise them of the situation; and talk to a lawyer (you can bet the former company has lawyers involved).

Jon

gagging ex employees (1)

zoonie (140054) | more than 13 years ago | (#446900)

I don't think they should be allowed, with the proviso that whatever you say doesn't land you in court for libel/slander etc. This smacks of more corporate Big Brother to me.... Zoonie

If you wouldn't say it on the PA at Yankee Stadium (1)

gimple (152864) | more than 13 years ago | (#446907)

IANAL. (There that's out of the way.)

Even if you signed a non-compete, a non-disclosure, or sundry other exit documents you should be okay. As long as you aren't spreading corporate secrets.

Legally your former employer most likely has nothing to go on. However, your current employer, may have something. Does your company have an Internet use policy in place? If they do, you may have violated this policy if you made your posting s while at work. If you are on good terms with your employer, I would probably give them a heads up. If you did the posting from home, neither your current nor your former employer has anything on you.

So, legally, you are okay, BUT, at this risk of sounding pedantic, I hope you learned your lesson. Seriously, contributing to a discussion about your former employer on a stock forum is just bad judgement, even if you were just telling the truth. I remember the best advice I was ever given about the Internet: If you wouldn't say it over the PA system at a football game, don't say it on the Internet. And as you have learned, these things have a way of coming back to you.

I think the worst thing that is going to happen to you is you will have the biggest regret hangover in your live.

My employer from 20 years ago still does! (1)

The Mutant (167716) | more than 13 years ago | (#446912)

But I was doing weapons research, so I guess its comparing Apples and Oranges.

Funny thing is, almost every project I worked on that was classified was documented pretty throughly at some point in Aviation Week and Space Technology, or similar publications.

1st Amendment (1)

taustin (171655) | more than 13 years ago | (#446916)

If they contact you directly at all, and threaten any action that is detrimental to you at all, contact an attorney, and sue them. If they contact your current employee at all, do the same.

public is public (1)

nerdsv650 (175205) | more than 13 years ago | (#446918)

If you chose to post in a public forum they (your ex-employer) should have the right to read it. If you post in a public forum devoted to discussion of your ex-employer you should EXPECT them to read it. If you have concerns WRT your current employer finding out what you have to say about your past employer you probably should not have picked a public forum. Accountability. -michael

Huh? (1)

Flat5 (207129) | more than 13 years ago | (#446929)

Did his former employer sign away _their_ rights to talk to whomever they please when the hired this guy? Why can't they voice _their_ opinions as well? Where is the lack of reciprocity here?

Flat5

Power Trippie Bosses (1)

TimCrider (215456) | more than 13 years ago | (#446934)

I have just recently left my position at I guess what you could call an 'internet firm'. One of the main reasons was the 'CEO/Owner/Savior' of the company was a total ass. He demanded all of our passwords so he could check our emails, and use our computers. There was even rumors that he was about to install a video camera system in the office.

My boss tried to make me sign a contract that would make anything I even thought of while I was working for the company property of the company. Even if I was not at work.

I can fully understand a company worried about people stealing code, spreading false rumors, and even worry about people competing with the company once you leave. But should they be able to use those tools that are meant to 'protect' them against employees who are trying to tell the TRUTH about a company. My boss even went as far as saying "I was not allowed to have any conversations with any employee if the topic of the conversation was negative in nature". But negative to what? If the people in a company are treated like shit, and the employees talk about it, is that forbidden in your contract? I would hope not.

Personally I would rather not have a job, than have to sign a contract that could possibly be used against me where my free speech is concerned.

~~R~~

Public includes your former employer (1)

hsquared (219832) | more than 13 years ago | (#446937)

Of course, public forums may also be read by a former employer. And of course they can take actions as they like when they read things they don't like. Why shouldn't they?

On the other hand, I can see why this company's stock probably went down, when they spend their shareholders' money on tracking down former employees on public forums and newsgroups...

Re:Free Speech Maybe? (1)

kenthorvath (225950) | more than 13 years ago | (#446939)

Yes, but this privilege (note the spelling)... is also a necessity. (Try telling your parole officer that you are just not privileged enough to hold down a job, so you had to rob a bank). In this case, the former company seems to be more on the edge of harassment and invasion of privacy. Yes, 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.

How's about a little objectivity? (1)

osgeek (239988) | more than 13 years ago | (#446947)

It's funny, just reading the first handful of messages. Most every one is filled with knee-jerk indignation. Sue... SUE! How dare they!

Face it, you guys have no idea what this ex-employee did or said. You have no idea what his employers did or said. Did the employee make up vicious lies that will damage the reputation of the employer? Is the employer unfairly targeting an employee for honestly expressing his side of the story? Did the employee sign any non-defamation agreements before leaving the company? Do those have a time limit? What does it mean that "they may speak to me"? Does that mean "sue"? What harm does it to speak to someone? What harm does it to relate facts to his current employer?

Without those facts, recommending action would seem to be naively premature and a reflection of more than a little bias.

they are going to talk with your new company (1)

kipple (244681) | more than 13 years ago | (#446950)

...but have your old company the right to do it? Isn't this diffamation? You said what you had to say on a *public* board, so if your new company would have known it they could have gone to the yahoo board and check it.

...or am I wrong?

Re:they are going to talk with your new company (1)

kipple (244681) | more than 13 years ago | (#446951)

exactly. if I say something on a public board, I have no problem saying it to a company. therefore if someone else goes there and quotes what I said, they only want to do it to put me under bad light.

oh well, it's almost 6pm here, and I'm getting bored.
Oh, did I said it out loud? :)

Re:Your big break! (1)

_N0EL (245472) | more than 13 years ago | (#446952)

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

If your reasons for leaving truly happened and are with merit, your current employer should have no problems with what the jerks say, better yet they may tell them to piss off, get a life, and leave their employees alone. On the other hand if you current employer starts bothering you over this problem, you may have found out that you ended up working in a bad situation again.

what's goos for the goose... (1)

omega_rob (246153) | more than 13 years ago | (#446953)

That whole "free speech" thing applies to everyone, y'know. It seems to me that in the absence of any legally binding obligations preventing you from talking about your previous employer, then you're free to post whatever you like about them on Yahoo (so long as it's not libellous, af course). By the same token, I see nothing preventing your previous employer from making comments about you on the same message board, or to your new employer (so long as their comments aren't libellous or slanderous). Freedom's a two-way street.

omega_rob

It could be a scare or.... (1)

Rosonowski (250492) | more than 13 years ago | (#446956)

They might actually be able to do something.

a freind of mine in a MUD I play, Nexus [nexon.net] got banished (his account was deleted) when he created a website that made fun of the admin. It was (mostly) harmless, and should have been protected under use of fair parody.

However, it wasn't that way. The company contacted his ISP and had the content deleted. He had backups, so it hardly phased him, with only about a 2 hour downtime.

His problem with it though, was that they deleted the content even after he was no longer under the EULA that said he couldn't do a site like his.

He doesn't want anyone blatantly giving away the URL, but his name was genji, it was works.org

I hope that's not too blantant.

"I have not slept a wink"

Spooky (1)

Prophet of Doom (250947) | more than 13 years ago | (#446957)

Most of the comments thus far correctly identify the company's actions as 'not much to worry about' or something along those lines. They are correct, the company really doesn't have any legal standing in threatening action over something like this.

The thing that strikes me is that in reality people do worry when they get C & D letters or when they hear rumors that some corporation is unhappy with their criticism. Since the vast majority of people don't have easy access to a forum like Slashdot they might be spending a lot more time worrying about it than most of us do. At the very least it might cost them a night's sleep or cost them a consultation fee with a lawyer. The company however, loses pretty much nothing. They pay a retainer or have a lawyer on staff so they might as well use him for something. It seems to make for an unfair advantage and I would imagine that it is actually a fairly effective tatic for most corporations. Only occasionally do they run into someone who is well informed enough to find our what their rights actually are. I ll bet that most people just shut up and hope the problem goes away, who has the time or money to fight some big company with a fleet of lawyers?

What it boils down to is that even thought the company really can't do anything legally, there is nothing to stop them from making it appear that they can. Well worded threats probably silence a lot of critics. The end result is that a freedom gets taken away without a fight, thus the company wins.

Their overstepping their bounds. (1)

V'alien (265475) | more than 13 years ago | (#446965)

You have the right to post what you want and say what you want about the company. You don't really have insider information anymore so there really isn't anything they can do to you (AFAIK).

Spam the link to /. so we can /. the site and take it down.

Who needs DDOS when you have /.? ;0

A contract is a contract is a contract.. (1)

rahl (292047) | more than 13 years ago | (#446966)

Until someone gets sued, anyway.

Re:Free Speech Maybe? (1)

RatFink18 (307720) | more than 13 years ago | (#446973)

There is one fatal flaw in your assessment of freedom of speech. Companies are not individuals, they do nor should not have the rights of an individual. They are powerful enough as is.

Slander only applies if what he was saying was:
(a) Unfactual - Since he was relating his personal experience I doupt that was the case
(b) Deiberately used to hurt the company - This was not the case as he apears to be posting his opinion to counter the opinions of others.

Response to your sig (1)

Dick Richards (307933) | more than 13 years ago | (#446974)

I choose quick and cheap.

Mumbo Jumbo (1)

stigmatic (310472) | more than 13 years ago | (#446980)

If you signed a no disclosure agreement with the company the could turn around and say your offering priveledged information on a public place which could jeapordize their business.

Surely this is not likely the case, but companies are really leery about having anything negative said about them and will likely attempt to make it seem as if your somehow slandering them. This can be presented in court in a number of ways and most of the times a person does not have the resources as the company does to fight their case and voice their opinions.

Simplicity, use about 3 different proxies, a totally wacked out name, and have them waste resources proving their case. I've been bullied by some companies for the spoofs I pull on my site [antioffline.com] , and to be honest if someone asked me nicely to remove them I would. But when someone wants to be bullyish about it, I sit it out knowing it'll cost them more to be a pr#ck than to just be humane about the situation.

Depends... (1)

l0gichunt3r (311513) | more than 13 years ago | (#446981)

on what you said and what kind of contract you signed before you left. Often companies will have an employee sign an extrememly inclusive non-disclosure contract at the beginning of employment. Also depends on if what you said could be found slanderous. Honestly, if the company is not doing so well, then they're probably not going to have the legal resources to sue one ex-employee. As a piece of advice, never admit guilt.

What precedent? (1)

Schnedt McWhatever (313008) | more than 13 years ago | (#446983)

As was mentioned in the summary at the top:

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?


What precedent prevents his ex-company from auditing his opinions?

By 'audit' I mean: why shouldn't they be able to watch what he says??

Umm... (2)

Wakko Warner (324) | more than 13 years ago | (#446990)

what's the name of this bozo company, so I'll know not to work for them?

- A.P.

--
* CmdrTaco is an idiot.

I can't imagine they have much of a case (2)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 13 years ago | (#446992)

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

you will work with these people again (2)

peter303 (12292) | more than 13 years ago | (#446998)

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.

Re:Free Speech Maybe? (2)

kevlar (13509) | more than 13 years ago | (#447006)

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.

I smell lawsuit... (2)

Legion (15548) | more than 13 years ago | (#447010)

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.

Your big break! (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 13 years ago | (#447014)

> 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.

--

Can't touch you (2)

tongue (30814) | more than 13 years ago | (#447016)

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.

They AREN'T Controlling What You Say (2)

KingJawa (65904) | more than 13 years ago | (#447022)

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.

Re:they are going to talk with your new company (2)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 13 years ago | (#447028)

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!

Chill out (2)

MrTaz65 (113158) | more than 13 years ago | (#447029)

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

What I would do.. (2)

Steepe (114037) | more than 13 years ago | (#447030)

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.

Re:A perfect example (2)

The_Rook (136658) | more than 13 years ago | (#447037)

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.

Re:Umm... (2)

kuzinov (155239) | more than 13 years ago | (#447045)

And isn't that a conflist of .org? shouldn't they be a .com if they are in it for commercial gain?

fair enough! (2)

CarrotLord (161788) | more than 13 years ago | (#447047)

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

Re:Free Speech Maybe? (2)

taustin (171655) | more than 13 years ago | (#447050)

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.

Free Speech cuts both ways... (2)

hirschma (187820) | more than 13 years ago | (#447052)

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.

Pro and Con (2)

mirko (198274) | more than 13 years ago | (#447055)

  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.
--

Unfortunately, you both seem free to talk (2)

JWhitlock (201845) | more than 13 years ago | (#447057)

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.

It depends on how good their lawyers are... (2)

Donald Kerr (207020) | more than 13 years ago | (#447058)

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.

--

Re:Well...yes (2)

lrichardson (220639) | more than 13 years ago | (#447059)

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.

SLAPP Urls (2)

banuaba (308937) | more than 13 years ago | (#447067)

For some info on SLAPPs go here [aclu.org] or Here [aclu.org] or even here [aclu.org] .
This [thefirstamendment.org] is a handbook on SLAPP from firstamendemt.org, so take that for what you will.
And for the DIY out there, this [google.com] is the google search for slapp.

Brant
Brant

in a perfect world (2)

JohnnyKnoxville (311956) | more than 13 years ago | (#447069)

wouldn't it be sweet if your new company (if contacted by the old company)stood behind you, and told your old company: "Maybe if you didn't suck, people wouldn't say bad stuff about you."

Free speech doesn't cover slander... (2)

dissipative_struct (312023) | more than 13 years ago | (#447070)

for either the employee or his employer. 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. Likewise, his former company has a right to talk to his current employer, as long as they don't slander him. In either case, if the comments cause measurable harm to someone (his comments hurt his former employer's stock price, or his former employer causes him to lose his current job) AND it can be proven that what was said was untrue, either party could be in legal trouble.

Re:Well...yes (2)

Yoshi Have Big Tail (312184) | more than 13 years ago | (#447071)

IAAL, and if you use confidential information gained during the course of your employment, you are probably in trouble.

Simply describing incompetence or whatever is perfectly reasonable.

The only thing you could get in shit for is, for example, revealing confidential information (such as trade secrets), or dealing with their customers if the contract of employment reasonably (this is key in contracts in restraint of trade, which are enforced leniently by the courts).

Make sure:

(a) what you say is true
(b) what you say is not a trade secret

and you'll be fine.

But what you say is not true.

They do not have those rights. They can put that in the contract, but because it is considered a bad thing by the courts to restrain people's freedom of employment, they will not necessarily be enforced.

For example, forbidding you from working in the same employment would be unreasonable, whereas forbidding you from dealing with the company's customers for a specified period (not forever - that would be unenforceable) after the end of your employment would not be allowed.

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

In order for it to be slander, it has to be false. (3)

Q*bert (2134) | more than 13 years ago | (#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

Free Speech Maybe? (3)

kevlar (13509) | more than 13 years ago | (#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.

Re:Public is public (3)

SoftwareJanitor (15983) | more than 13 years ago | (#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.

Saber rattling (3)

coyote-san (38515) | more than 13 years ago | (#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.

Re:Free market at work (3)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 13 years ago | (#447079)

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/

Previous place I worked did this too... (3)

twivel (89696) | more than 13 years ago | (#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

Lots of caveats (3)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 13 years ago | (#447081)

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.

Just shut up (3)

jon_adair (142541) | more than 13 years ago | (#447082)

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.

What I'd like to see... (3)

NecroPuppy (222648) | more than 13 years ago | (#447084)

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...

This is oddly funny (see: irony) (3)

tewwetruggur (253319) | more than 13 years ago | (#447085)

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.

Lets Invert It, and look at the corollary. (3)

Urban Existentialist (307726) | more than 13 years ago | (#447087)

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-

Watch your step (4)

Shoeboy (16224) | more than 13 years ago | (#447089)

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

They can sue you... (4)

still cynical (17020) | more than 13 years ago | (#447090)

...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.

They're just trying to scare you. (4)

Otto (17870) | more than 13 years ago | (#447091)

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.
---

Wise people... (4)

hey! (33014) | more than 13 years ago | (#447092)

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.

Clearly abuse on the companies part... (4)

11thangel (103409) | more than 13 years ago | (#447093)

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!"

Only With a Contract... (4)

coupland (160334) | more than 13 years ago | (#447094)

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.


---

A perfect example (4)

Razzious (313108) | more than 13 years ago | (#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

Had that happen to me... (5)

Chris Parrinello (1505) | more than 13 years ago | (#447096)

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.
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