People are fired from their jobs for many reasons, including just not being the right fit for the company. Human resources professionals usually prefer to use the term "separated" instead of "fired" for explaining why an employee was let go, and sometimes that's for good reason. Even though employers can say anything they want about fired employees if it's true, doing it improperly may cause issues.
Labor law firm Frost Brown Todd notes that it's tough to know how much to tell co-workers when an employee is terminated unexpectedly. Good managers want their employees to know they won't fire them arbitrarily, while balancing the need for not tolerating certain types of conduct with avoiding defamatory statements.
Employee Defamation Lawsuits
You can say anything you want about an employee you fired as long as what you say is true. For instance, if an employee was caught stealing company property and you fired him you're free to tell that to other employees; just don't exaggerate or lie. In employment law, defamation can occur when you make an untrue statement about an employee you fired to a third party, such as another employee.
Discussing Fired Employees
Think before you speak the truth about a fired employee to other employees. Discuss a fired employee only with those who have a need for the information. Also, have a plan for what you'll say to employees who might ask about the employee, and prohibit managers and supervisors from discussing that employee. If an employee's termination is causing workplace disruptions, release a well-written statement to stop such issues.
Handling Employee Firings
It's usually smart to have a single person such as an HR manager handle employee termination explanations. References for any employees you have separated or fired should be carefully thought out. Though you can speak the truth when called as a reference, avoiding a potential defamation lawsuit is a priority. Providing an employee reference that provides only dates of employment and positions held is generally a good idea.
Tony Guerra served more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He also spent seven years as an airline operations manager. Guerra is a former realtor, real-estate salesperson, associate broker and real-estate education instructor. He holds a master's degree in management and a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies.