Communication Between “Work Spouses” Given Legal Privilege in Massachusetts

Oh what a tangled web legal protections weave…

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts recently ruled that communications between “work spouses” are entitled to the same confidentiality as those of real spouses. From Shep Davidson of law firm Burns & Levinson:

“… Marcus Ayeprel was accused through an anonymous posting on his company’s intranet site of having embezzled funds from the company’s March Madness office pool. Believing that his colleague, Judith Phules, was behind the allegations of embezzlement, Ayeprel sued Phules for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Because Ayeprel knew that Phules had a particularly close relationship with another co-worker, Sidney Finch, Ayeprel sought to depose Finch to uncover whether Phules had admitted to him her involvement in the intranet posting… Finch refused to divulge the substance of his conversations with Phules. When pressed to justify his objection, Finch’s counsel said that the conversations were privileged because Finch and Phules were ‘work spouses who intended such communications to remain in confidence.’” (Emphasis added.)

The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, writes Davidson, “based on the following reasoning:

‘Many employees share confidential information related to their jobs and/or work environment with a work-place confidant whom they trust never to repeat what is communicated between the two. Today, we not only acknowledge that such ‘work spouse’ relationships exist, but we also hold that confidential communications between work spouses are privileged from disclosure unless both agree to waive that privilege.’”

What to do? Davidson suggests a couple of options:

“Some have suggested that companies should ask employees to formally declare who, if anyone, is their work spouse so that employers at least can know which communications might be privileged and avoid any risk of what has become known as ‘work spouse polygamy.’ Others, such as civil rights advocates in my office, insist that any such mandate would violate the Massachusetts Constitution.”

“Work spouse polygamy”? What a tangled web indeed…

Read the update: “Work Spouse Privilege” Recognized by Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court – Burns & Levinson LLP>>

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