My former employee is lying to our mutual friends about the reason we terminated him. Can I tell our friends the truth?

I used to manage a former employee who was also a family friend. He was terminated for a couple different issues for cause. Since he was terminated he has told others we know that he was terminated due to a personal issue between him and me. This is not true. Can I talk about this to my friends and family?

Rita Risser Chai responds:

Generally speaking, employees and former employees have a right to privacy. Managers should not be talking to anyone inside the company about terminations who do not have a need to know, and never to outsiders. The right to privacy is waived, however, if the employee talks about it. The employee is making it public, and so you have the right to respond. Having said that, the employee also has the right not to be slandered, that is, you can’t make untrue statements about him. Of course you wouldn’t make untrue statements. But his perception may be that what you say is untrue. For example, let’s say you terminated him for poor attendance which is well documented. He could argue that other employees (your buddies) got away with worse attendance. So although you had cause to fire him, you only picked on him because of a personal issue between you and him. You see how perception can turn a true statement into slander. Bottom line, it is okay to defend yourself among close family and friends who you are confident will not go back to him and tell him your side, which could only stir up trouble. By the way, this incident is an illustration of why my father, an old Personnel Manager, always said: “You can make friends with people you work with, but never hire a friend.”

Posted 09-06-2017

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Rita M. Risser Chai is the founder of Fair Measures. An attorney in California for 20 years and now an attorney in Hawaii, she authored the Prentice Hall book, Stay Out of Court! The Manager’s Guide to Preventing Employee Lawsuits. She developed most of the curriculum used by Fair Measures, created the firm’s first website praised in HR Magazine, and wrote numerous articles on employment law including one on best practice harassment prevention training published in the magazine of the American Society for Training and Development (now ATD). She taught Law and Human Resources at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for eight years, and has presented four times at the annual conventions of the Hawaii Society of Human Resource Management.