We have often spoke about the importance of documentation and the need for outlining your reasons when it comes to terminating an employee. But a recent case shows why you should also be careful exactly what you say. In Baez v. Anne Fontaine USA Inc., an employee went to HR complaining about co-workers who were gossiping about her. In particular, coworkers were spreading a rumor that the employee, Rochelly Baez, had worn a sheer shirt with nothing under it in a recent meeting with the boss. The employer said that the matter was investigated but no disciplinary measures were taken.
The issue was that at the time of the complaint, the employer had already been looking to terminate Baez due to performance issues. Sometime after the complaint, she was terminated, with supported performance reasons given. But at the termination meeting, the employer’s representative also listed an additional reason for Baez’s termination: that she was involved in “too much drama.”
Baez sued for wrongful termination, claiming that the “too much drama” comment indicated that the termination was an unlawful retaliation for Baez’s HR complaint. The employer sought to dismiss, claiming it had lawful reasons for letting Baez go. But the court disagreed, finding that the “too much drama” statement gave Baez the room she needed to move forward with her suit.
If not for these three little words, Baez’s claim likely would have been dismissed, had she filed it at all. The lesson is that when it comes to termination, having a script on hand and being careful with your language is extremely important. Otherwise, you risk saying something off the cuff which could later come back to haunt you in case of a labor claim.