Office chatter has long been a staple of the workplace. While such occasional chit chat can serve to enhance the atmosphere and collegiality amongst fellow workers it can and often does lead to gossip.
This past May the town of Hooksett, New Hampshire fired four people for gossiping about their boss. Not surprisingly the fired employees are fighting their dismissal in court. Primarily the issue from the perspective of Jewish law revolves around the question of whether a company fire someone for what is essentially an offence which has no direct correlation to the quality of one's work. Perhaps one could even argue that one should not even be allowed to fire such a worker, especially one who provides services to the public, as the dismissed employee may be replaced by a worker of inferior quality, thereby hurting the public they were hired to serve. It is not surprising that such firing took place in the non profit sector; it is (unfortunately) hard to imagine a successful business letting someone go for such "private matters".
A company has the right, perhaps the obligation, to let people know in advance on what grounds employees may be dismissed. These ground rules may be somewhat extreme and even irrelevant to the task at hand, however by accepting a job one accepts the conditions of employment even if they are somewhat unusual. Yet Jewish work values would rarely support a zero tolerance policy and would expect that due warning and hence an opportunity for correcting the wrong be given for any offence deemed worthy of dismissal.
The issue at hand then is whether a firm should have as a general policy the dismissal of those who gossip. In reality gossiping is not just a personal flaw unrelated to business of business. Such nefarious talk corrupts the character of those engaged in such speech, both the speakers and even more so the listeners, and can serve to undermine the atmosphere needed for utmost productivity. Backstabbing, putting down colleagues or the boss, besides a misuse of ones times (and thus raising the issue of "theft" as one is being paid and not working) can do serious harm to the company's bottom line. Those companies that mange to create a sense that workers are part of a team and not competitors for promotion have a step up on their competition.
Judaism demands that all aspects of our life be integrated into one panorama whose goal is a life of sanctity in world where justice and righteousness are the societal foundations stones. Judaism does not recognize a divide between the secular and the religious, between workplace and the synagogue, or between our private and public lives. All aspects of live are vehicles for elevating ourselves, our communities or the world around us. Work, no less, and perhaps much more than our synagogues and study halls enable us to serve our Creator and those created in His image. Jewish law even states that one should not give charity to those who callously and habitually sin (for a variety of reason this law has limited applicability today).
Why would one want to employ one who gossips, whether about work related affairs or about other non-related matters? While hiring the most technically proficient workers is a necessity having the most morally sensitive ones is more so. The Talmud teaches that all to some degree engage in gossip, it is almost part of human nature. Thus it is even more crucial that we to the best as we reasonably can to create environments in which speech will used to reflect the Divine image in which we were created.