Drawing the line between slander, watercooler chat

The firing of four city employees in Hooksett, N.H., for allegedly gossiping about their boss prompted The Oklahoman to ask the question, “When does watercooler chat become grounds for termination?”

Employment attorney Natalie Ramsey was one of several legal experts interviewed for the story. While all agreed that employee chatter that negatively affects people in protected age, gender, race or religion classifications is grounds for termination, Ramsey commented that not all watercooler talk should be considered gossip. “Employees have the right to talk among themselves, even complain about things like inappropriate language in the workplace,” she said. “But things can morph into something they shouldn’t be talking about.”