0

I recently resigned from the company I was with after some strong disagreements about the direction and architectural decisions of some senior members of staff, and started work for a new one.

During my time with the last company, particularly the last few months, I have been very critical of them both internally, and afterwards to some people outside of the company fold. Everything I have said is provably true and there has never been any implication it is not. All of the criticism is of systemic issues that led to or ignored catatrophic problems with software systems design. Something my previous company has had publicised problems with before. Nothing I said was ever personal.

After two days of my new job my current company's MD called me into his office to tell me he'd received an email. He said this was sent from a personal email address, but from someone at my previous company (from what he said the implication is someone very high up -- probably the Director of the project I last worked on, based on the details he gave, though he did not give the name). The MD told me this email said that they should be watchful I do not continue to criticise my last company publicly in future, because if I do then my new company might forfit any right to new contracts with them and might otherwise find things difficult. This email included a recent example (which took place in the short period between my leaving the last company and starting my contract with the new one) where I have criticised my former company on a publicly discoverable forum.

The Managing Director was very nice about this. He said he didn't think there was anything wrong with what I said from their perspective: that it was an expression of frustrations with my previous employer which I'd made clear to them before I took the job with them. However, he said they haven't decided yet whether they will be attempting to renew/rebuild prior relations with my old company, or to go for them commercially and to take them on, on the basis that a similar product we offer is, he believes, of higher quality (I agree with this).

Though he didn't ask me not to express myself I understood that the situation was a complex one for them. I told him, as is the truth, that I have a lot of respect for what they are doing and I don't want to complicate the landscape. Though I did not directly say I won't be criticising my former company in obvious public ways in future, and he did not ask me to, I believe there was a mutual understanding that at present it would not be politic.

Everything has been fine since and I've been settling in well and positive relations with the MD have led me to believe there is no damage. However, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in the mouth, particularly since my previous company are much larger than my current and have a lot more weight to throw around. The thing that keeps bothering me is: are there any laws or regulations that might disallow this sort of 'unofficial' economic bullying? I don't intend to challenge directly at the moment and I don't see there would be any benefit to legal action or anything like that, but I would really like to know what the law is here because something about it just seems really off.

  • What do you mean by "'unoficial' economic bullying"? Your criticism? or the efforts by the former employer to silence you? The sense of "to take them on" is unclear, so could you tell us about the [prior] relation that your new employer is thinking about resuming with the former employer. Is it a supplier-customer relation? or is it rather a partnership? – Iñaki Viggers Sep 25 at 19:11
  • The prior employer bought a license to a product from the new employer but the new employer has employed me to further develop the product, which the new employer still retain rights to. The idea, from what I've been told, is that the old employer is threatening that there might not be new licenses if I continue to criticise my old company. – Peter David Carter Sep 25 at 19:14
2

No

You are free to make criticisms of your former employer. They are free to take offence and take actions in response - including blackballing your current employer.its their choice who they do business with and why.

We maintain a client list with a status code - Green, Yellow, Orange, Red. What rating you get and maintain is based on a highly subjective algorithm involving profit to grief ratios and “what have you done for us lately”. This is a form of discrimination and discrimination is perfectly legal unless it’s on the basis of a protected class.

Discriminating against you on the basis that you are openly critical of them in public is perfectly legitimate.

You have freedom of speech; you also have freedom to reap the consequences of that speech

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    This seems like it might only apply in certain countries and jurisdictions. Can you reference any statute or other legal justification for your position and state where and under what circumstances it applies? – Peter David Carter Sep 25 at 21:56
  • It’s a foundational legal principle of the common law that everything that isn’t forbidden is allowed. – Dale M Sep 25 at 23:47
  • According to whom? I have never heard of that upheld in any court in any land. – Peter David Carter Sep 25 at 23:54
  • 1
    Have you heard of the Internet? The automobile? The telephone? None of those were permitted by law but people were allowed to invent them. The principle is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nulla_poena_sine_lege – Dale M Sep 26 at 4:11
  • 1
    @DaleM is there a law.SE wikipedia entry regarding Nulla_poena_sine_lege? I must confess that I may lose sight of this from time to time, too. One would assume this happens to be the answer to more than one question. It would be nice if this and other answer could point to it. – grovkin Sep 26 at 7:48
1

are there any laws or regulations that might disallow this sort of 'unofficial' economic bullying?

What you describe so far is not actionable. You have not suffered damages; your MD's statements are inconclusive on whether your continued employment is at risk if you continue your [valid] criticism; and the former employer simply is expressing how he intends to exert his freedom of contract.

In the event that you incur losses resulting from pressure by the former employer, the closest you could get to a viable claim is a theory of tortious interference with relation. From a strictly legal standpoint, your biggest obstacle would be to prove the element of "unjustified [and] intentional interference by the defendant inducing or causing a breach or termination of the relationship", Health Call of Detroit v. Atrium Home & Health Care Services, 706 N.W.2d 843, 849 (2005) (brackets added).

Unjustified interference means "an act that is inherently wrongful or an act that can never be justified under any circumstances", Knight Enterprises v. RPF Oil, 829 N.W.2d 345, 348 (2013). The problem here is that the old employer is likely to prevail as to justifying its actions. I personally identify myself with your standpoint, but ask yourself whether you as customer would retain a provider under akin circumstances. For instance, would you retain a plumber whose assistant divulges uncomfortable --even if truthful-- information about you? Clearly the more the plumber wants to keep your business, the likelier he is to sacrifice his assistant.

If you wish to resume your legitimate criticism, your best option is to get from your MD a sense of how to proceed. Being upfront with your MD will give you a clearer idea than the non-spoken mutual understanding you mention. Meanwhile you have no viable claim (i.e., in court) this time, and it seems unlikely that one of tortious interference would arise if the former employer merely exerts his bargaining power.

| improve this answer | |
  • Is there precident on grounds of unlawful interference in free competition that exists in law in any country other than the USA or state other than Detroit? I also note that in the EU and also the UK, unequal bargaining power has a history of being accounted for in law. The US could be considered almost unique in the extent of laissez faire. – Peter David Carter Sep 25 at 23:42
  • 1
    There are legal reasons why a physician has to keep your information legal. Maybe plumber would be a better example. And by "better", I mean an example that controls for the variable of whether the information can be legally disclosed. – grovkin Sep 26 at 7:43
  • @What'sinaGoogleSearch Surely there are many jurisdictions with precedent regarding unlawful interference, that would render your question too broad, and what you describe is very unlikely to fit those cases. In some jurisdictions, such as South Korea and members states of the EU laws are more restrictive also on freedom of expression. Furthermore, what matters is your [unspecified] jurisdiction rather than what happens in other countries. – Iñaki Viggers Sep 26 at 11:12
  • @grovkin Thank you. You are right. I adopted your suggestion because it withstands the legal constraints that arise in a medical context. – Iñaki Viggers Sep 26 at 11:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.