Not Everyone Should Know the Reason You Fired Someone

Posted on July 24, 2012.

Ever work with someone who was fired and no one tells you why?  There’s always a lot of closed doors, whispering and speculation but mouths are sealed and few people ever know what happened.  Why the big secret and when is it okay to spill beans?

Here’s when it’s not only okay, but worthwhile to make sure everyone knows the circumstances of someone’s departure:

  • They failed to perform.  There’s nothing wrong with letting other people on the team or the company know when someone is fired for not producing results. It’s not like everyone didn’t already know they were underperforming.  Usually, once you pull the trigger, the morale and productivity of the people left increases. After all, as long as management is putting up with poor performance, you’re sending the message that it’s okay to slack off. 
  • They stole.  Unless your attorneys have advised you otherwise, it’s okay to be public about the consequences of theft.  Stealing can take the form of outright cash theft, which I experienced working in bank branches. Or stealing can occur when someone falsifies an expense report, abuses corporate credit cards, or worse- embezzles.  It may be embarrassing to the company, but the message is loud and clear that there is zero tolerance for stealing. 

When it may be better to be discreet and keep your lips sealed

  •  There’s drug or alcohol abuse. People with addictions have the same rights to privacy that someone with a medical condition would have. If someone had cancer, it would be there choice to tell others, not yours and not the companies. Same holds true for addiction. The reality is that this one is hard to hide, but it’s still not up to you as the manager to tell anyone.
  • There’s been an affair.  Many people meet their future partners at work and that’s okay. But if a married boss is having an affair with a direct report, it’s likely someone is going to be asked to leave.  The gossip mills may be in overdrive, but you should still keep mum if the reason has to do with someone’s personal life.

There are times when as part of an agreement, the company has agreed to remain silent as to the reason someone was fired. In addition to what’s listed above, you may see this with sexual harassment.  Personally, I don’t understand the need for discretion here.  If someone has been harassing anyone, much like stealing, the message should be sent that there is zero tolerance.   So if you have to fire someone, be discreet, or not, depending on the reason.