What is “tortious interference with prospective business relations?”

Question: Hi Alan I’ve been working at a job for the past 8 months that has been unpleasant, to say the least. I have a bad rapport with the boss and some other employees.

Recently a vendor of ours had a job opening which I applied for (after hours) and got. For the last 5 weeks I have been working both my regular job as well as this new job with the vendor on my days off. This past week I quit my first job entirely so that I can work for the vendor full time. Now my previous boss is contacting (and screaming at!) my new boss, telling him that he stole me away, that I am not a loyal employee, that he should fire me etc. He is also sending me insulting emails, saying that my new job will never last, that I made a huge mistake, that I’ll be crawling back to him etc. A real pleasant man, as you can tell.

My question is what can I do about this. Can/should I send him a cease and desist? How can I keep him from harassing me and my new employer? If my new employer takes heed and drops me, or fires me because he doesn’t want to deal with the drama of the old boss, can I sue the old boss for libel? My goal here is to keep the new job and silence the old boss. However, if I lose the job or he continues to cause me harm, something else will have to be done. Please help!! Thanks.

Newport Beach, California

Answer: Dear Matt: Though what is happening to you is extreme in its nature and intensity, I must admit that I have seen poor former-employer behavior such as this many times. In the law we refer to it as “tortious interference with prospective business relations” or similar words. Here are my thoughts in response to your questions:   

1. In almost all states, an “outsider” who interferes with another person’s business relations – including employment relations – can be sued for any resulting damages. The area of law that deals with injuries by one person to another is called “tort law.” The most familiar kinds of tort law are personal injuries, car accident and medical malpractice. Some tort injuries are caused by negligence – such as careless driving – and some tort injuries are caused by intentional conduct – such as a punch in the nose.

The law in almost all states recognizes and will permit a lawsuit for injuries to one’s business relations if the person who caused the injury had no involvement in the business relation, but only sought to interfere with it. We call that either “tortious interference with business relations” or “tortious interference with contractual relations” if the relation has a contract as part of it.

2. In most states, including yours, there need to be five things present (lawyers call them “elements”) in order to successfully sue someone for tortious interference. The five necessary elements of a successful claim of tortious interference: (1) an economic or financial relation of the plaintiff (the person suing); (2) knowledge by the defendant (the person being sued) of that relationship; (3) an intentional act by the defendant designed to disrupt the relationship; (4) actual disruption of the relationship; and (5) damages to the plaintiff (person suing) caused by the disruption of the relationship.

While the law varies a bit from state to state, these five elements are quite common.

3. By all means, you should send your former employer a “Cease and Desist” letter.” There are four important reasons to do so: (a) first, it just might bring your crazy ex-employer to his senses; (b) second, to make a record of what he is doing and that you object to what he is doing; (c) third, to let him know that he will be held accountable for any damages he may cause to your new employment relation; and (d) fourth, to serve as persuasive proof, just in case you do end up suing your former employer, of the fact that he knew he was damaging you, and went ahead anyway.

We offer a Model “Cease and Desist Letter” to Disruptive Former Employers, just like yours, on the Model Letters section of our blog. To obtain a copy, just [click here.]

4. Sending a Cease and Desist Letter might also show your new employer that you attend to problems in a professional, direct and honest way. A new employment relation, like any new relation, is a delicate flower. It will bloom if you nurture it, and protect it from harsh elements. Many people think that “It always takes two to tango,” until, that is, they are mugged. This can help show your new employer that you are not at all a cause of this crazy behavior to which the two of you are being subjected. 

Matt, if you should decide to hire an attorney to assist you, you can obtain a list of at least five experienced employment attorneys in the Los Angeles area. To obtain a list, just [click here.]

Thanks for writing in, Matt. I sure hope you get away from that crazy ex-boss of yours.   

Al Sklover

P.S.: Our Model Letters help people stand up for themselves at work. For a friend facing Job Loss, Severance, Resignation, Bully Boss, or Performance Improvement Plan, they are a “Helping Hand Gift for a Friend in Need. Just [click here.] 

Repairing the World –
One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time ™

© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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