One of the harsh realities of work life is that an employer can do practically anything that's not specifically prohibited by laws such as the Federal Labor Standards Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But, when employers engage in unethical and unfair, but not necessarily illegal or unlawful acts, it's difficult to convince them of the enormous impact their actions have on employees, clients and the company's reputation. An employer who discloses the circumstances of an employee's termination -- or, even that the employee has been terminated -- puts everyone at risk, but mostly the company's reputation is on the line for irresponsible behavior.
Termination vs. Resignation
Some employers use "termination" to describe any type of employee departure, whether you tendered your resignation in a timely and professional manner or whether the company laid you off because business was slow. However, "being terminated" has a different connotation because it suggests that the employer ended the working relationship and that your departure was involuntary. Understanding the terminology is important if you're wondering whether your employer can announce your termination. It's customary for an employer to announce when someone has resigned or retired, but in the interest of sparing employees the humiliation of being fired, it's not often an employer will post a notice that says someone has been fired.
When you leave your job -- of your own volition or not -- you might leave work to be assigned to another employee. In this case, if your former manager needs someone to take on your duties until the company finds a replacement, it's not necessary to explain the circumstances of your departure. The only thing that counts is that the work gets done. The company's goal is to enlist the expertise of another employee to handle the job that you once performed, whether that's taking over a client list or assigning someone to produce weekly team reports that were part of your job. Your manager could post a notice explaining why you're no longer there, but it would be be counterproductive because posting such a notice doesn't ensure that the job will get done. It only ensures that employees will have something to talk about at the water cooler.
Employers who dare post details about an employee's termination can do irreparable harm to employee morale. That is, if they post a notice that you've been terminated, the chances are that they'll post a notice when another worker loses her job. Plummeting employee morale is a concern for practically every organization. Low morale can translate into low productivity, poor job satisfaction and workplace conflict based on employees being humiliated in front of their peers. Employers pay a high price for low employee morale: turnover. Therefore, before an employer posts that you were terminated or why, it would be in the company's best interest to consider the cost to its reputation and its pocketbook.
Few employers are anxious to become embroiled in litigation that can cost even small businesses tens of thousands of dollars. The time it takes to defend employment decisions can be costly, considering legal fees, time devoted to defending the employer's actions and bad publicity that can turn a business upside-down. Therefore, posting that you've been terminated isn't a good move, especially if the employer's information is the slightest bit incorrect, mean-spirited or just doesn't make sense. News -- rather, reports like that -- could ultimately affect your chances of getting another job and expose the company to a defamation claim if you chose to seek redress for its actions.
HR best practices suggest that the appropriate way to handle an announcement about why an employee is no longer with the company is to simply say, "Mary's last day with the company was Friday, April 5th, and we wish her well in her future endeavors. Until we find a replacement, you can direct work-related matters to Susan." If an employee raises questions about the circumstances of another employee's termination, the most appropriate response is, "We don't discuss employment decisions with other employees. I'm sorry."
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.