Can I Put An Ad On Craigslist Saying My Former Employee Is A Thief?

Office worker wearing balaclava, standing behind office partition

In one of my rare questions from an employer (and yes, I'll answer employer questions here), an AOL Jobs reader asks:

I am a supervisor in a small company, and we hired a new employee that lied about his address, social security number, references, and overall job history. We eventually called the police to surveil him after hours and we found out he was stealing products, materials, and client info.
He is currently awaiting trial.

We have since put a new ad out to replace his position and the idiot applied to it. He falsified his references and everything in his reply to it is a bold faced lie. We would like other companies to know about him to not hire him.

Can we legally put an ad on Craigslist detailing how he is a thief and should never be trusted? (Using his name and his whole ruse). We have proof of everything, and want to protect other small businesses. We are in Illinois.

Wow. What a question. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. The answer, of course, is yes you can put an ad on Craigslist denouncing a former employee. Since Craigslist lets you pay the fee and design the ad so it goes up automatically, nothing would stop you. The question, then, is should you? Are there any legal problems you will encounter if you do?

Here are 4 legal problems I see with your proposal to slam your former employee:1. Terms of use: The first problem I see is that this might violate Craigslist's own terms of use which prohibit, "offensive, obscene, defamatory, threatening, or malicious postings or email." If Craigslist decided that your post was malicious or offensive, even if it wasn't technically defamatory, then they could take it down or even ban you from future postings.

2. Defamation: Defamation is where you post a false statement of fact. If you can prove that everything you say is true, then that should be a defense to a defamation claim. However, you could still find yourself facing a defamation suit that could cost you tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars to defend. If you win and get a judgment against him to pay your fees and costs, can he pay? Not likely. So you eat your fees and costs and get sucked into a lengthy and probably nasty legal proceeding.

3. Intrusion on seclusion: Even if you are telling the truth, Illinois and many other states recognize a claim for invasion of privacy if you intrude on the seclusion of another. The elements of this claim are: (1) an unauthorized intrusion or prying into the former employee's seclusion; (2) the intrusion is highly offensive or objectionable to a reasonable person; (3) you reveal a private matter; (4) you caused anguish and suffering. Would this publication illegally intrude on his seclusion? Is a pending criminal case private? Maybe not. But again, you have to decide if it's worth the hassle.

4. Public disclosure of private facts: Illinois recognizes another kind of invasion of privacy if you publicly disclose private facts about the former employee. The elements of that claim are: (1) private facts were publicly disclosed; (2) the facts were private and not public facts; and (3) the facts disclosed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. If anything you disclose is not in the public record of his criminal cases, then you might cross the line here.

These are just some of the potential downsides I see to this course of action. I'd love to hear from other employment lawyers who can think of more reasons why this plan is a bad idea. Post your thoughts in the comments section.

Bottom line is that you get nothing but the satisfaction of revenge against an employee who irked you, and have plenty of risk. If I were your management-side lawyer, I would advise against it. Although some employee-side employment lawyer in Illinois will probably rub their hands together with glee if you actually do it.

In general, employers who take revenge on former employees are just asking for trouble.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
Read Full Story