Your customers and clients can become attached to your employees, and if you have to terminate a staffer, customers might wonder what happened. Handle the situation with professionalism and tact. This helps ensure that you protect the reputation of your company and avoid the potential for a slander lawsuit from a disgruntled former employee.
Termination for Cause
If an employee breaks the law or violates a serious workplace policy, you have to tread lightly when explaining the circumstances to customers. This is especially critical if legalities are associated with the reason for the termination that may become public knowledge, such as robbery, embezzlement or a violent crime. A simple explanation will suffice in this case: “That individual is no longer employed by the company. I’m not at liberty to disclose the reason for the departure.”
If you let a staffer go because he was not performing his job duties, customers may not be surprised and will rightly assume the employee was terminated for poor service. Even so, don’t confirm their suspicions or acknowledge the reason for the termination, which could be viewed as slander. Both management and other employees should refrain from saying anything about the terminated staffer beyond acknowledging the individual is no longer employed by the company. Customers who press staffers should be told, “I don’t have any additional information about the circumstances.”
If you terminate someone like an account manager who has close, personal one-on-one contact with customers, you’ll need to connect the departing employee’s customers with a new representative. These customers may be more likely to press for an explanation for the employee’s absence. If the customer has concerns, such as the way an account was handled or whether the staffer left with proprietary or confidential information, refer the client and his questions to your human resources office or corporate attorney.
When an Employee Talks
Disgruntled employees may bad-mouth your company to customers. Theoretically, customers will recognize that an employee who talks poorly about his former boss is behaving in an unprofessional manner, and will not give credence to his complaints. To reduce the potential for damage, consult your corporate attorney or an employment law professional about how to handle this type of potentially slanderous behavior from terminated employees.
If a high-profile employee is terminated, it may be in the company’s best interest to release a statement to the media explaining the terms of the departure. This type of statement should be vetted by a legal professional to ensure the company is not subjecting itself to potential liability issues.