"כל המספר לשון הרע נגעים באים עליו" (ערכין טו:)
Shlomi eased himself into his office chair, and turned on his computer. He had been working for the iTech company for three years, already, and he had a fairly set routine. The ringing phone in his office gave no hint that his routine was about to undergo a dramatic change. It was Shlomi’s boss, with instructions to appear in his office.
Shlomi sat opposite the boss. It was obvious from the look on his face that something was wrong.
“Shlomi, I’ve been reviewing your performance lately.” The boss paused. “Shlomi, for a long time now, you haven’t been handing your reports in on time. But that’s not the main issue. You cause an intolerable amount of distraction to the other workers. Yesterday’s behavior was inexcusable, with the friction and dissention that you incited among the members of our team. I built up this company with these ten fingers, and I can’t allow you to destroy it. I’m sorry to say that I have no choice but to fire you. Naturally, you will receive all the compensation that is required by law.”
With that, the boss left Shlomi to pack his belongings. It didn’t take long for Shlomi’s coworkers to find out the news. The exact reason wasn’t clear, but everyone knew that Shlomi wouldn’t be coming back to work anymore.
At the end of the work day, all of the remaining workers received a message from the boss
To my great distress, I had no choice but to fire Shlomi. Every worker in iTech, without exception, must appear tomorrow at a staff meeting, at which I will discuss precisely what Shlomi did, which rendered his dismissal an absolute necessity. Any worker who is not present will be fired immediately. You have been warned.
Meir read the message from his boss with great consternation. How could Meir attend a meeting at which he would be forced to hear lashon hara (gossip) about his former coworker? Certainly this was a matter that should be kept between Shlomi and the boss. But did Meir have to lose his job over this?!
The whole way home, Meir mulled over his options. Suddenly, it came to him. He would go to the doctor tomorrow and get a sick note! He wasn’t sick at all, but this way he could be spared from hearing lashon hara!
Is Meir’s solution permitted? The sick note would be completely false! Which is the lesser of two evils: to come to work and hear lashon hara or to request an unfounded sick note?
Answer of Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, shlita:
(From Chashukei Chemed, Yevamot 65b)
The Gemara states (Yevamot 65b) that it is permitted to lie for the sake of peace. Seemingly, this line of reasoning would apply to our case as well, and Meir would be permitted to lie in order to avoid hearing lashon hara. However, I once asked my esteemed father in law Rabbi Elyashiv, zt”l, a similar question, regarding a worker who was being compelled by his employer to work on Shabbat, or be fired. If the man were to get a sick note from his doctor, he could avoid having to work on Shabbat. (Nowadays, it is standard for doctors to issue sick notes upon request, without any protest.) Is the doctor permitted to write the note, knowing that the man is not sick, and is simply trying to avoid Shabbat desecration?
Rabbi Elyashiv responded that the doctor should not issue a sick note, because we do not perform mitzvot by lying. In the end, the doctor will be caught, and it will result in chillul Hashem (desceration of G-d’s name). Rather, the worker should tell his superiors that he is only prepared to continue working for them, on condition that he not be required to work on Shabbat, and if that is not possible, he is willing to be fired. As a result, may he be treated according to the verse (Rut 2:12) “may G-d reward your actions, and may your salary be complete, from Hashem the G-d of Israel.”
Similarly, in our case, if there were a problem of listening to lashon hara, Meir would be obligated to tell his employer “it is forbidden to hear lashon hara, and, therefore, I can’t come to work tomorrow. If you wish, you may fire me, and G-d will provide me a living through another means.”
However, in truth, there is no lashon hara involved in our case. It is permitted for Meir to attend the staff meeting. The information serves a purpose, as it allows the workers to learn what Meir did wrong, and how to avoid being fired, as well. Additionally, the workers might think that the boss is being unreasonable, and that he fires workers without sufficient cause. Therefore, it is permitted for the boss to discuss Shlomi’s behavior, in order to remove suspicions that the boss acted unethically. (See Chafetz Chaim, laws of lashon hara, klal 10)
Answer of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita:
It is forbidden for the employer to publicly relate why it is that he chose to fire Shlomi. It is lashon hara. If it is important to the employer that the other workers be careful in regard to those areas of concern, he may warn the workers, in the context of “reviewing company policy,” without stating that the warning has any relation to the firing of Shlomi. There is no reason for the workers to suspect that the employer frivolously fired Shlomi. They know that the boss has his own reasons. The other employees know that it is illegal to fire someone without any reason.
Therefore, it is forbidden for Meir to come to the staff meeting. However, he may not lie and obtain a sick note. (This is also against civil law.) Rather, Meir should approach his employer, and tell him that he cannot attend the meeting, due to the rules prohibiting lashon hara.
That being said, I heard from a certain individual that, nowadays, sick notes are not limited to literal sickness. Rather, according to civil law, a person may request a sick note when he has some pressing need to miss work. I have not verified this, but if it is true, Meir would be allowed to get a sick note.
Answer of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzal, shlita:
Meir is permitted to obtain a sick note. (Even if it is technically permitted for him to hear why Shlomi was fired, Meir may still get a sick note, if he wishes to avoid hearing this information).