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It is common practice in many companies to request 360-degree or upward feedback, whereby employees are asked to share (positive and negative) feedback on some of their colleagues, subordinates or bosses. This feedback is used for developmental purposes (to help people improve their performance) and sometimes to set compensation (e.g., bonuses). Personnel evaluation is a fundamental core process in many companies, especially in professional services (e.g., consultants, lawyers, tax advisers) who couldn't function without.

Are Jews allowed to share positive or negative feedback (assuming it is real and fact-based) on other people with their evaluators? Would the laws of lashon hara apply differently if the feedback is entered in an IT application or discussed with a live person in a confidential conversation?

  • AFAIK the laws of Loshon Hora contain contain no exemption for 360-degree or upward feedback. – Avrohom Yitzchok Mar 29 '16 at 21:07
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    @AvrohomYitzchok Obviously not by that name, but giving real evaluation of employee performance could be a To'elet for the company to function. – Double AA Mar 29 '16 at 22:37
  • R Ari Wasserman asked this shaila to R Yitzchok Breitowitz (the Rav of Kehillas Ohr Somayach and a senior lecturer at Yeshivas Ohr Samayach in Jerusalem) who responded "360 degree feedback is lashon hara ltoeles as long as there is no exaggeration, the person reports only what he knows and points out the good as well as the negative" – mbloch Aug 30 '18 at 14:07
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אין לך תועלת גדולה מזו!

Chafetz Chaim writes that if Al is looking to go into business with Bob and I know that Bob will ruin everything, I am absolutely allowed -- and possibly required -- to tell Al my concerns; assuming my concerns are factual and as tone-neutral as possible; my intentions are to help rather than hurt; that speaking up will actually accomplish the outcome, and this is the least-damaging way to accomplish that outcome; and that Bob will not suffer disproportionately. (Bob not getting the deal -- proportionate. Al firebombs Bob's house -- disproportionate.)

(An example of "will speaking up actually accomplish the outcome?" I hear that Alice and Bob are dating, and I think that relationship is a total train wreck. But if nothing I say is realistically going to make them rethink where they're headed, then I might as well remain quiet.)

So the same should apply here, assuming all the conditions are met. And that's where it gets tricky.

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    Very helpful and well written. Thanks. The challenge and complexity is that giving feedback is helping the company rate an employee (e.g., between very good and excellent, or poor and good). It is hard to imagine that this is a situation of "succeed or go bankrupt". But what I take away from your answer are the ideas of factual, tone-neutral and wanting to help which are in any case the foundations of good feedback – mbloch Mar 30 '16 at 10:55
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    @mbloch True, it's not quite a dichotomy, but giving an underperforming employee a raise is bad for the company both financially and culturally, poisoning the well for others when they see someone being promoted for mediocrity/connections rather than value to the company. It seems like it would be a clear To'eles even if it's only "by degrees" rather than extremes. – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 30 '16 at 11:29
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According to R. Menahem HaMeiri the definition of l'shon hara, is speech that is meant to be defamatory or hurtful. Thus, statements of a negative nature that are said for a specific reason (in this case providing useful feedback to one's employer), and not in order to hurt others, are permissible since by definition they are not l'shon hara. These are his words in is Hibbur HaTeshuva (Meshiv Nefesh I:4):

עקר לשון הרע הוא המתמיד לספר בגנות האחרים ויתן דפי בענינים או שילעג להם למעוט הצלחתם...ומעין זה מי שילעיג על חבריו למעוט השגתם בידיעה...לכונת לעג וליצנות...וכלל הדברים כל אשר יתן מום באדם...ללא כונת ענין נבחר הוא ענין לשון הרע...שאין לספר במומי בני האדם על דרך לעג וליצנות, אם לא יעשה כן...לאיזו כונה

The archetypal l'shon hara is one who frequently relates embarrassing things about others, and adds falsehood to what he says, or he defames them on their lack of success...And similarly one who defames his fellows on their lack of intellect for the purpose of defamation and mockery...The rule is that anyone who ascribes a fault to others...without some specific intent is l'shon hara...For one should not relate the faults of others in context of defamation and mockery, unless he is speaking for some purpose. (Translation my own).

This also appears to be the opinion of this is also the opinion of R. Elhanan Wasserman, who generalises this to all interpersonal mitsvot. He writes in Kovets Ha’arot (Yevamot: 70):

ולולי דבריהם היה נראה, דכל האיסורין שבין אדם לחבירו אינן איסורין אלא דרך קילקול והשחתה שלא לצורך... וכן בלאו דלא תלך רכיל, מותר לספר לה"ר על בעלי מחלוקת כדי להשקיט המריבה. וכן בלאו דאונאת דברים... ומוכח מכ"ז, דכל האיסורין האלו הותרו לצורך תועלת

If not for their words, it would appear that all interpersonal prohibitions, are only forbidden in the context of degrading and tarnishing others for no purpose...And so too with the prohibition of gossiping, it is permitted to tell l'shon hara on disputants to quell the dispute...And similarly with the prohibition of onaat d'varim [verbal abuse]...And it is evident from all this that all of these prohibition are permitted to achieve an end. (Trans. my own).

Thus even with a live person it would be permissible.


Importantly, they do not attach conditions to to'elet, as the Haffets Hayyim famously does.

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