my ex-boss is telling my husband I cheated on him

A reader writes:

Long story short, my ex-boss was my best friend for ten years but we couldn’t work together. He fired me from the small delivery company we both worked at in May. In July, he sent a text message to my husband saying “If you want to divorce her, I can give you dates and times of the men.” He got this phone number from my personnel file.

I emailed him and another boss and told him getting into my personnel file was illegal, especially 2 months after I was terminated. He has a hot temper. THEN two more calls to my husband’s phone and three to our house. Can he legally do this?

This is a 15-person company with no HR. He does payroll and hiring through a company. Is there any legal recourse for his actions? I have documented proof from the cell phone and home phone company. Can he legally contact my husband at a phone number which was never given to him but he got out of my personnel file? Two months after I was fired?

I don’t usually publish letters just to say “I don’t know” but … I don’t know.  My hunch is that he probably didn’t violate any employment law, although he did violate the law of Don’t Be an Enormous Ass. But I’m not a lawyer and it’s entirely possible that there are legal ramifications here. It’s also possible that he’s violating harassment laws, or that you have an actionable invasion of privacy claim, totally separate from employment laws.

If you want to pursue this, I’d recommend speaking with a lawyer immediately.

Any lawyers want to weigh in?

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike*

    Isn't this clear sexual harassment or defamation?

    I would contact your state's bar association and ask for a referral for a lawyer that deals in either workplace harassment or libel/slander issues. They will steer you in the right direction.

    Best of luck! I can't imagine what that's like to go through.

  2. Mike*

    Just as an addendum, but you need to seek council as soon as you possibly can. Forget everything you've heard about "not wanting to resort to lawyers" and all the baggage that's attached. This is a serious matter, and you need to make sure that you have someone on your side who knows the law.

    I don't want to scare you, but how far is this going to go? It's clear that your boss doesn't respect your fundamental rights, so where is the line? Is this boss going to start following you around? Start contacting other members or your family? Start contacting future places of employment for you or your husband?

    Please, seek a lawyer before this already crazy situation gets even farther out of hand.

  3. Kat*

    The ex-boss sounds like a real winner. He's going all out to ruin your personal reputation, marriage and professional career. I would start with filing a restraining order on this crackpot and keep all communications. this seems like harrassment with malicious intention. Consider some kind of breach of privacy claim, but that's what I did when I was in a similiar situation many years ago. And I changed my number.

  4. Anonymous*

    I get the feeling there's more to this story than legal issues but the OP is asking what's legal. Well, that question is best asked to an Attorney that specializes in employment law. Good luck

  5. clobbered*

    Well I am not a lawyer but… what are you trying to achieve by asking this question? What is the if-then-else here?

    Seems to me the core of the issue is, some dude is harassing you by calling your husband and slandering you. Since you are not currently in any relationship with said dude, and since presumably your husband has asked him to cease and desist with no result, then you surely have a straightforward case for applying for a restraining order barring the dude from contacting you.

    Say a lawyer said "oh yes illegal" (which I kinda doubt unless he lifted your unlisted number from a medical record ) then what? It's not like anybody will throw him in jail for it, so you are still at Step 1, restraining order.

    Of course it might be that the sheer act of talking to a lawyer will dissuade him so I would join the advice above and pay for a consultation.

    I am sensing we are seeing the tip of the iceberg here…

  6. Anonymous*

    I'm a lawyer, and my answer is: we can't tell.

    It really depends on the precise details of the interactions. Also, it will have very different results depending on the state you're in (this is a state law issue, and laws are different in each state.)

    That said, you should consult with an attorney rapidly. If you're going to act, don't wait.

  7. Richard*

    There is missing information here that makes this a difficult call in some ways; we don't know if you actually cheated on your husband, or his reaction to the texts and calls. Instead, let's go straight to the information that we do know.

    In the UK, at least, he and his company would be violating the Data Protection Act by failing to protect your personal information from being used in a manner other than that which was agreed or implied when it was initially given. This would cover both your situation, and disclosing your personal information to third parties. I'm unsure if there are similar laws in the US, but it would be worth checking any documentation that you may have signed when you first joined the company. If he is violating some law, there is a good chance that reporting him may result is a massive fine, and you may be able to sue his company for failing to protection your information.

    As for the harassing phone calls, this is where it gets complicated for you: You are not receiving texts and phone calls, your husband is, and since the communication is between those two parties only, it is doubtful that you personally can make a legal complaint here – to give a similar situation, you would not be able to take any legal action to stop your husband from communicating with one of his friends because you didn't like what they talked about, for example.

    So, assuming that this communication is not welcomed by your husband, he will need to complain to the authorities that he is being harassed, if only to have it on file in case further legal recourse is needed. I would also advise that both of you get a restraining order on your boss, in order to deter any future contact.

    This all said, I am not a lawyer. Maybe somebody else here can comment, but you would be best seeking advice from a real lawyer, who you can freely ask questions in a confidential manner.

  8. Richard*

    Also to note: Most companies will store your details for a period of time after your contract with them is terminated, usually 6-12 months, so I doubt that you have any case against his company storing your details 2 months after you've left.

    This said, if he's dipping into the files to try and mess your life up, there's a good chance he isn't following proper procedures for retaining data.

  9. Interviewer*

    Can he legally contact my husband at a phone number which was never given to him but he got out of my personnel file?

    I cannot think of a single law that protects emergency contact information in your personnel file from being accessed or used by your manager. Even post-employment.

    The manner of usage is another story, and as other posters have mentioned, his version of usage may be grounds for involving lawyers and/or police. But getting into your file? Again, I can't think of a thing wrong with that.

    I emailed him and another boss and told him getting into my personnel file was illegal, especially 2 months after I was terminated.

    Why did you do that? Do you know exactly what law he violated? If so, why are you asking us for it after the fact? It sounds like by using the word "illegal" you threw gasoline on an already raging fire.

    I don't know what the "long story" is that you skipped, but there could be a whole host of issues here to address. The best thing you can do is talk candidly with your husband and decide if you need to involve lawyers and/or police.

    Both of you should consider getting your phone numbers changed, too.

  10. Mike*

    Hey Wilton Businessman, maybe we shouldn't sit here and speculate on the hypothetical sex life of a person on the internet.

    Maybe we shouldn't continue on and attempt to minimize the damage being done here because "she should have kept it in her pants".

    Simply disgusting.

  11. Anonymous*

    This is beyond "contacting an attorney".

    This is CRIMINAL.

    The only attorney you should be talking to is the attorney general, after you've filed police reports first.

    If you're looking to collect some moolah, then take a different approach.

    If you want the activity to stop and to see him standing before a judge, crying, "please don't send me to jail, I promise…" and see the cuffs put on him and have him hauled off to his "new fish bath and haircut" then do the right thing and file a criminal complaint.

  12. Richard*

    Anonymous @ 9:37AM:
    Perhaps, but this is about professional and legal conduct of a previous employer. I wouldn't say we're straying too far here.

    Anonymous @ 12:33PM:
    Perhaps, although it's probably best to that she gets proper legal consult first, rather than relying on us 'internet lawyers' – We have no idea where she is from, what state or even country this occurred in; there is no way we can say that this is definitely a criminal case.

  13. fposte*

    Talk to a lawyer quickly, too–if it is a viable EEOC complaint, that clock runs out pretty speedily. Don't lose your chance to time.

    Anon 12:55, I can see where this might be a civil breach, but I'm not sure of what would be a crime here. What crime were you thinking of?

  14. Anonymous*

    I get the sense that this is much more of a personal issue and not so much an employment issue. I am basing this on the "my ex-boss was my best friend for ten years" remark. I wouldn't be surprised that a friend of that long standing had other points of access to the phone number.

  15. Anonymous*

    Again, I think people are missing the point. They're viewing this as a business matter.

    When someone makes calls of that nature to family members, they are harrassing and annoyance calls.

    Doesn't anyone see — THIS IS A CRIME????

    I'm not a lawyer but I do know criminal activity.

    Don't call a lawyer — CALL THE POLICE.

  16. Speakeasy*

    Not a lawyer, but someone who has studied stalking and stalking-like behaviors. For those who are saying this is a crime – A couple of phone calls will likely not be considered a crime. Most state laws only consider this a crime if there is a threat to bodily harm.

    There are however states with telephone harassment laws. You could check with a lawyer or your local police dept. to see if these laws apply to your case

  17. fposte*

    Okay, it looks like some states do have telephone harassment laws that might make this a criminal misdemeanor. It's not entirely clear if this would rise to the standard or not even if it's in such a state, but you could always call the police and see what they say. I would imagine that the response of the OP's husband would again be relevant here, and that if they've ever called the ex-boss/friend back that that's going to complicate the situation as well.

  18. Anonymous*

    Gee whiz. Where I come from, blackmail is a crime. So are threats. So is harrassment.

    File the police report. Don't worry about professional repercussions …. if what you're saying is the God-honest truth, your local law enforcement might be very interested in what has transpired.

    At the best, you've got him for some type of crime. At the least, you have enough to get a restraining order against him.

  19. Anonymous*

    yes, I agree it's a crime, but if you need/want to go after it as an employment issue, it _is_ sexual harrassment. Sexual harrassment isn't just about the boss hitting on you; it's also about sexual gossip and making a person an object of speculation and harrassment based on their perceived behavior with others.

  20. Anonymous*

    Consult with a lawyer before your former friend steps further over the line.

    I think we are only getting one side of the story, especially about how the friendship went sour with the accompanying firing. But no matter how that happened, sending text messages or voicemails like those described has to be a form of harrassment, especially if it is persistent.

  21. Anonymous*

    The point is really being missed in most of these responses.

    This woman wants the course of action that will lead to the best available outcome. Legal responses aren't going to lead to that.

    The legal case for a civil action is dicey at best. What Mr. Boss did is certainly not blackmail, since he isn't asking for anything from Ms. Repeat Cheater. It may not even be dishonest.

    Finally, civil law is about demonstrable damages. It would be a difficult matter to demonstrate damages stemming from the described events to a judge.

    Furthermore, by doing so, the fact of Ms. Repeat Cheater's own questionable conduct will become a matter of public record. This I doubt she wants.

    Her best option is to deal personally with both the former boss and husband, rather than involve the police (who will not pursue such a thing) or a lawyer (who probably will, but certainly not for free or with much hope of success).

  22. Richard*

    This is the problem though; we don't know the extent of the situation, so all we can really offer is legal advice regarding the use of her information that the company was supposed to retain purely for administrative purposes.

    Other than that, it's a social issue, and since this isn't a relationship advice blog, it's slightly out of the usual scope.

  23. TT*

    Truth is the best defense against defamation, since op has made no claims of being defamed, it is reasonable to assume that there is some truths in the communications to her husband, this is furthered by the admission of the two “used to be best of friends” and therefore likely sharing details of personal nature.

    The above speculation is not irrelevant, since it builds on the legal basis of whether or not op have a case. IF her ex-boss is legitimately telling your husband the truth in her communications to him from a file that she’s legitimately entitled to. Then in my opinion there is not much legal ground for either a criminal and/or civil suit, despite her outright vindicativeness, since she’s merely telling the truths.

    Now I believe you do have a right to privacy, if she for example shares intimate details, even truthfully, of your life with the general public then she can be liable for civil charges. But she’s not doing that, she’s merely sharing the details with your husband, a party who holds a significant stake in your private interests, which is quite different than sharing the information with the public. The only way out of this I suppose is to have your husband agree to file harrassment charges for unsolicited and unwanted communications.

  24. Guy*

    Sounds like you’re a cheater and a bad worker. Maybe the best course of action would be to just vow to be a better person from now on.

  25. Debra*

    I worked for a company for over a year. I left the company to work for another company one of their competitors that took over the site I was posted at. I was laid off due to lack of work and recently got a text message from my supervisor at the old post harrassing me, calling me names and how my being discharged was like a second christmas to him. Is this legal?

      1. Debra*

        how legal is it that he found out I was terminated from my current supervisor is this not a violation of my privacy for my current supervisor that had me terminated to call a past supervisor that does not work for the same company

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Most people would consider it a violation of ethics, yes. But it’s not illegal.

            If you’re wondering if you can report the manager to the company and get him in trouble, I wouldn’t bother. It’s likely to just burn bridges and reflect poorly on you (fairly or not), and he may not get in any trouble at all, because the reality is that professional colleagues do talk to each other.

  26. Debra*

    Well I work in a field where ethics and confidentiality is supposed to be upheld to the fullest. This to me is not being done. I will be reporting it to both companies whether or not it reflects badly against me. This is not something that should be done and a supervisor making fun of an employee that was terminated is very unprofessional and one telling others personal and confidential information is not legal no matter how you look at it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s legal. Sorry, but what happened — as obnoxious as it was — didn’t break any law. But sure, go ahead and report it if you want.

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