TMI: Speak No Evil About the Fired

TMI: Speak No Evil About the Fired

By Jerry Ballard

It never fails: A manager finally gets rid of John Doe, the problem employee that “everyone” hated and then says to a couple other employees, “I know he stole money out of the register, I just couldn’t prove it.”


A few days later another employer calls an employee at John Doe’s former company to ask whether he should hire John Doe. The employee says that, according to the boss, “That guy is a thief!”

After two interviews and a drug test, John Doe gets a call he doesn’t expect: The hiring manager says he can’t hire John because he was a thief at his last company.

Think this doesn’t happen? It happens all the time. It can be an even bigger problem in small towns where everybody knows everybody and your manager has effectively made someone unemployable.

John Doe can sue your company for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and slander, just to name a few. John can also pursue claims against your manager individually for the comments he made.

While company handbooks don’t often include specific policies concerning references for former employees, the old adage “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is the basis for a pretty good reference policy.

The circumstances concerning an employee’s departure from a company should be confidential and never discussed with other employees.

Managers can create a liability for their company if they allow themselves of an employee to make an offensive comment about a former employee.

Some industries are small and very close knit. You might end up rehiring an employee who left on his own or you could even end up working for that person in future. Keep comments about departed employees to a minimum.

So what if comments that were said about a former employee were true? What if John Doe was fired for using cocaine at work and you even have a drug test to prove it?

The truth might allow you to win eventually but not before possibly spending thousands of dollars defending your manager’s right to share the information with your employees or with other employers with whom he didn’t need to share.

Many companies outsource their reference checks to third-party vendors who charge the company requesting the reference.

The third-party vendor usually will only share non-controversial information such as dates of employment, last title held and salary information. Even this information is shared only if the third-party vendor has a signed request form from the former employee.

The key to limiting your liability is to have a policy in place which makes it a disciplinary matter for anyone-including management-who says anything about a former employee.

(C) 2010 Jerry Ballard, Perfect People Solutions

About the Author

When not golfing, cooking, or fixing his kids’ flat tires, Jerry Ballard is the president and lead consultant at Perfect People Solutions, a cutting-edge consulting firm that provides businesses with creative solutions to their people problems. Feel free to contact him at [email protected] if you have any questions regarding this or any other people issue.

While people aren’t perfect, your people solutions should be.