CEO talks too much, ex-employee sues - by Tristam Price

DCB used to be a Policy and Strategy Manager at RTS and is now at another organisation. The HR Advisor of DCB’s new employer spoke to the CEO of RTS in April 2021, about six months into DCB’s new employment and seven months after she had resigned from RTS.

What the CEO said about DCB was damaging to her, and ERA Member Sarah Kennedy ordered RTS to pay $12,000 in penalties.

Trash-talking former colleagues could be a breach of the Privacy Act. Disparagement, blacklisting and backdoor references are usually very hard to detect, so legal action of this type is rare.

Where disparagement is strongly suspected, a scathing letter of complaint to the HR department of that employer is usually enough to make the disparagement cease.

For context, what DCB experienced was not nearly as bad as a 2015 case Hammond v NZCU Baywide where $168,000 was awarded, but it was serious enough to justify a $12,000 penalty.

While Hammond was a privacy breach and was heard by the Human Rights Review Tribunal, DCB and RTS had entered into a mediated settlement agreement at the time of her resignation. Breaches of settlement agreements (RoS) are handled by the Employment Relations Authority.

This case is the best example we’ve seen since Hammond, of a reminder that individuals have the right to go about their work, safe in the knowledge that any disparagement by someone senior from their previous job should not reach their current employer.

The parties were anonymised to protect the reputation of DCB. We don’t know why two-thirds of the penalty was payable to the Crown and will be watching to see if this suggests a trend.

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