As a general rule, you should only discuss a worker’s termination with those who really need to know about it. That’s especially true in sensitive cases involving alleged fraud, theft or falsifications. You don’t want to lose a defamation case because a manager decided to make an example of a fired employee.
Recent case: Karen worked for 10 years as a social worker in a dialysis clinic. She counseled clients, working with their doctors and updated their insurance information on a quarterly basis.
Company rules stated that the updated forms had to be “fresh,” filled out from scratch before a patient signed them. Karen, however, apparently took shortcuts for over five years. She would photocopy a completed form, then verify the information and have the patient sign the photocopy. The clinic received an anonymous complaint that Karen was not following company procedures.
That started an investigation, including an audit of Karen’s files. When confronted with the photocopied records, she explained that the practice saved time, but that all the information was accurate and up-to-date. Still, she was fired.
HR then informed the medical director at the clinic that Karen had been fired for “fraud” and “falsification.” Karen sued, alleging defamation.
But the clinic won after it explained that the medical director had also received a detailed explanation of exactly what Karen had been doing. The court considered the entirety of the conversations. With that as context, the court concluded using the words “fraud” or “falsification” wasn’t defamation at all. (Eckstrom v. Bio-Medical Applications, et al., No. 11-812, DC MN, 2013)
Final note: When explaining a termination, stick to the cold, hard facts. Don’t feel compelled to explain a discharge to anyone other than those who really need to know.
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Temporary condition might be disability if severe enough
- Make sure HR reviews each firing in advance
- Special performance measures deviate from usual practice? Be sure to document reason
- Poke holes in your absence policy before a court does