When training managers and supervisors on how to treat subordinates, make sure they understand they should never make any belligerent statements that could be interpreted as defamation or slander. That goes for explaining to others why someone was terminated or confronting employees about misbehavior.
Recent case: Richard Gacek was fired from his job in a warehouse for breaking numerous rules. He sued, alleging in part that his supervisor had defamed him by allegedly telling others that Gacek was responsible for a co-worker’s suicide.
Apparently the co-worker who ultimately took his own life was allowed to work a special schedule and Gacek protested. That led to a meeting between the co-worker and. When the co-worker went home, he was apparently so upset he shot himself.
The next day, the supervisor told other employees that Gacek’s complaint pushed the co-worker “over the edge,” was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and that Gacek was “the reason” for the death.
When Gacek heard about the comments, he confronted the supervisor and asked, “What is this I hear you have been telling people I killed” the co-worker?
Gacek lost his lawsuit because the court said the supervisor never stated outright that Gacek had killed the co-worker (which would have been defamation), but rather expressed his opinion on the co-worker’s motivations. That’s a fine line best avoided. (Gacek v. Owens & Minor, No. 11-1417, 8th Cir., 2012)
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- Beware defamation claims based on discipline write-ups
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- Beyond business need, show why individuals got sacked