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Make sure not to defame an employee when issuing ‘Security bulletin’ after termination

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Preventing Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is a serious problem, and employees who have been fired may sometimes overreact. You probably take reasonable steps to stop discharged workers from returning to the workplace, which may include issuing a general security bulletin.

That can be a dangerous thing. You must make sure the bulletin doesn’t make accusations. It’s best to keep it simple and straightforward, such as stating that a former employee is not allowed on the premises. Period. Don’t go into specifics.

Recent case: Merri Wilson lost her job at American Airlines because of an attendance problem. Shortly after Wilson left the premises, her former supervisor received several threatening voice mails that she believed were from Wilson. One threatened to harm the supervisor’s car.

Security then issued a bulletin, which stated, “Ms. Wilson is a former SRO employee. Her former supervisor has reason to believe that Ms. Wilson may want to come on the property to damage her vehicle or enter the building.” The memo then told employees to call security if they saw Wilson.

Wilson sued for defamation. But the court looked at Texas defamation law and said only factual statements that are wrong can be the basis for a libel lawsuit. Opinions about someone are not libel. Because the memo used “may” and “has reason to believe,” they were not false statements of fact. The case was dismissed. (Wilson, et al., v. American Airlines, No. 4:05-CV-453, ND TX, 2007)

Final note: Even so, a better way to phrase the memo might be, “Former employee Jane Doe is no longer with the company. In accordance with our employee handbook, former employees are not allowed on the premises. Please call security if you see Ms. Doe attempt to enter. Thank you.”

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