Labor Law: Sending “heat of the moment” message to co-worker can … – Richmond Times-Dispatch

RTD Metro Business law columnist, Karen Michael.
A lawyer’s text message to his colleague who planned to work elsewhere after her maternity leave ended garnered widespread attention on social media and, ultimately, resulted in the lawyer leaving his firm.
The lawyer sent his colleague what was described by the firm as a “heat of the moment” text message after he learned about her upcoming departure.
In his text to her, he said he had “suspicions” she was interviewing during her maternity leave. He texted, “What you did – collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your a**, except to find time to interview for another job – says everything one needs to know about your character.” He added, “Karma’s a b**ch. Rest assured regarding anyone who inquires, they will hear the truth from me about what a soul-less and morally bankrupt person you are.”
The text was posted on social media and went viral, after which the firm made a variety of statements and then later announced that the lawyer who sent the text was no longer with the firm.
There are several takeaways from this situation.
First, don’t sendmessages or post online when angry, and definitely don’t send “heat of the moment” messages to a colleague. Employees have been advised for years to not send an email when upset, but to print it and leave it in a drawer overnight. Things might look differently in the morning.
Now, with direct messages, instant messages, texts and social media, communicating instantly has become too easy and familiar.
My best advice: If you are angry or intoxicated, don’t communicate via text, instant message, social media or other platforms. Take a pause. Think about how that message would be viewed by others if it went viral, like the one described above. It’s tempting to tell someone how you feel, but sometimes those emotions don’t need to be memorialized.
Furthermore, the lawyer’s text message demonstrates the sad state of affairs for how women are perceived. After giving birth, women must have time to recover and to be with their babies. That anyone views maternity leave as “sitting on your a**” shows a complete lack of appreciation for the exhausting work of birthing and parenting a newborn.
Normalizing maternity leave, including paid time off, needs to be built into organizations’ business plan. Although the Family and Medical Leave Act requires only unpaid leave, employers of choice will offer some form of paid time that will run concurrent with any FMLA or other time off.
Finally, another way to show the value of parental leave is to make it normal for men to take paid paternity leave. As former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in 2001 , “Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”
Over 20 years later, it seems as if we’ve taken only baby steps. Men fear how they would be viewed if they take paternity leave, and women are punished when they take maternity leave. This vicious cycle must end, and only through cultural change will we move the needle so that women and men can achieve the necessary true work-life benefit to which they are entitled .
Karen Michael is an attorney and the president of Richmond-based Karen Michael PLC and author of “Stay Hired.” She can be reached at
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RTD Metro Business law columnist, Karen Michael.
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