The settlement of a recent case brought by an in-house attorney against his former employer highlights the importance of great care in any public statements about an employee’s termination.
The case involved a public statement made by the employer (specifically statements made to a regulatory group) that, arguably, portrayed the employee’s voluntary departure as being tied to alleged corporate wrongdoings. The resulting public impression, at least as was contended by the former employee, was that the corporate wrongdoings ended with the employee’s departure. The case was complicated by the complex rules of defamation law, such as presumptions of damages, degree of malice and the like, but it settled for a substantial sum and that’s the point for all employers – a former employee’s reputation needs to be protected against defamation.
Takeaway: An employer needs to take care in any potentially harmful descriptions about the nature of the former employee’s departure in any statements to third persons or the termination may be followed by a defamation suit.