What should we have said—and say in the future—about an employee fired for theft?

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in Firing,Human Resources

Q. We fired a part-time employee for stealing a gift card out of the trash. We have a policy against taking anything of value out of the garbage. The next day, his supervisor announced to everyone that the employee had been fired for theft. I don’t think it was appropriate to tell others the reason. Was it? And what should we say if someone calls for a reference?

A. It is generally not advisable to disclose why an employee is no longer working for the company. That should be a private matter between the terminated employee and the individuals at the company who were involved in the termination or need to know about it. Telling other employees risks a defamation claim.

Regarding references, Pennsylvania law protects employers from liability for providing truthful information about employee job performance to prospective employers.

However, the law applies only to comments about job performance, and an employee can argue that an employer provided false or misleading information. Most employers confirm only dates of employment and position.

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