The heart of the employer-employee relationship is pretty straightforward: an employer pays an employee a fair day's wage for a fair day's labor. In actual practice, the relationship between the employer and the employee is frequently very complicated. For example, employers must sometimes terminate employees, usually either for poor performance or because of economic issues. Regardless of the reason you've terminated an employee, it's important to deal properly with remaining employees after such an event occurs.
What Employers Can Say
By law, you cannot terminate an employee because of her age, gender, sexual orientation, religion or race. Beyond that, as long as what you're saying is truthful you can discuss an employee's firing as you think best. For example, if you've terminated an employee for excessive absenteeism, you can discuss that reason with other employees. That doesn't mean you should discuss it, however. The labor law firm of Frost Brown Todd advises that the employer "must ensure that its statements do not give the terminated employee grounds for a defamation lawsuit."
Handling an Employee Termination
Before terminating an employee, ensure you've planned in advance for how you'll respond to other employees asking about the termination. For example, it might be best to refer all questions about a fired employee to a single person such as a human resources manager. Frost Brown Todd recommends prohibiting managers and supervisors from discussing an employee's firing. As a general rule, managers and supervisors should be told to say they can't discuss an employee's termination, even off the record, with anyone.
Discussing a Terminated Employee
An employee's termination might cause workplace rumors about the firing to start circulating among other employees. If an employee's termination causes issues among other employees, you might need to make a statement in an effort to stop such problems. Before discussing an employee you terminated, it's smart to consult an attorney first to work out what you're going to say. Saying untruthful things, even inadvertently, about a fired employee could allow that employee to file a defamation or slander lawsuit.
Discussing Performance or Conduct
Unfortunately, the tendency to engage in workplace gossip about a fired employee is common. Workplace chatter about an employee fired for making threats, for instance, may quickly spread. When employees are terminated for performance or conduct issues it's important to discuss such matters only with those who have a need for the information. When preparing to discuss an employee fired over conduct or similar serious issues, ensure the room is cleared of those who don't absolutely need to know about the matter.
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