Can my employer discuss the terms of my suspension from work?

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Can my employer discuss the terms of my suspension from work?

About a month ago I was injured at work. I failed a an alcohol and drug screening due to the fact I was a frequent smoker of marijuana. In the meeting discussing the terms of the suspension I was urged to keep the details of the suspension confidential. I was assured that the company and my union reps would not discuss the details of the situation with other employees. I recently went into my job for some paperwork and an employee immediately told me that basically the entire company was dragging my name through the mud and discussing the situation. It was floated around the company that I was addicted to hard drugs cocaine. This is not true as my drug screening can prove. What legal recourse if any do I have as I believe members of the company have been discussing my situation with other employees?

Asked on June 25, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, New York

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, you probably have no recourse under the circumstances. That is unless this disclosure violated the terms of a written employment or union contract. Also, it must not have resulted in any form of legal discrimination (which it does not appear to have). Accordingly, while unprofessional, discussing the terms of your suspension was perfectly permissable (even if it broke their promise not to do so). The fact is, absent the exceptions mentioned above, there is no right to privacy regarding a suspension (unless it would have involved disclosing a medical condition which would be protected under HIPPA, etc.). As a general rule, an employer can set the terms of the workplace much as it sees fit, including what level of discretion is given to the circumtances surrounding a suspension. That having been said, if you could find proof that a person or persons repeated the rumor that you were a drug addict knowing that such an allegation was false, then you may have a claim for defamation.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Unless they signed a confidentiality agreement, they were not actually required to keep it confidential--certainly, you could ask them to, and it would be much more professional to have kept your confidence, but in the absence of a written agreement to maintain confidentiality, there is no legal requirement to keep the reasons for a suspension confidential.
If someone is making untrue factual statements about you--e.g. telling people that you are addicted to cocaine, when you are not--that may be defamation and you may be able to sue that person for his or her statements. If you wish to explore this option, consult with a personal injury attorney about whether you have a case, how strong it might be, and what it might be worth (and what it would cost to pursue it).


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