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Legal Issues
Jan 1, 2015

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, But Employees Deserve The Truth

Sponsored Content provided by Benton Toups - Attorney, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP

Dull Donna has been employed for two years with Smiley Sam’s Salon. She gets to work on time; she doesn’t steal, and she doesn’t lie.  She’s even OK at cutting hair. Despite all this, she is dragging the place down. You see, Dull Donna just doesn’t fit in at Smiley Sam’s. She doesn’t make small talk with her customers. She doesn’t mingle with her co-workers. Heck, she works at Smiley Sam’s, and she doesn’t even smile!
Throughout her tenure at Smiley Sam’s, no one addressed Donna’s demeanor with her. When it came time for her yearly reviews, the “satisfactory” box was checked in every category. After all, how do you tell someone she just doesn’t fit in? Finally, though, after two years, Sam has enough, and he decides to let Donna go. The conversation goes something like this:

Sam: Donna, I’m afraid we are going to have to let you go.

Donna: But why? I show up every day. All my reviews are good. I’ve never broken any rules. I’m good at cutting hair.

Sam (stammering): It’s not you at all. It’s the economy. Times are tough, and we just need to downsize a bit. We’ve decided we need to eliminate your position.

Donna: Are you sure this isn’t about me?

Sam: No, absolutely not. It’s just the circumstances.

Two weeks later, Sam hires Donna’s replacement, who is significantly younger than Donna. Donna finds out about this. Now she knows Sam lied to her. At this point, let’s for a moment consider human nature and its impact on Donna’s reaction. Knowing that Sam lied to her about his reason for letting her go, will Donna jump to the conclusion that:

  1. She is a dullard, and Sam was simply trying to spare her feelings; or
  2. Sam must have fired her to hire a younger woman.
I can tell you from experience, the answer is #2.

I truly believe that, in the vast majority of employment discrimination cases, there was no intentional discrimination on the part of the employer. I also believe, though, that in many of those cases, the employee bringing the lawsuit truly believes that he or she was indeed the victim of discrimination.  More than any other reason, I find this dynamic exists because the employee isn’t given the real reason for the action taken by the employer, and once the proffered reason turns out to be false (or worse, no reason at all is given), the employee is left to speculate on the real reason. As with Dull Donna, the result of that speculation almost certainly will not be an acknowledgment of personal shortcomings. Much more likely, the employee will see himself or herself as a victim. Once that mindset takes hold, the chances for an employment claim skyrocket.
The Takeaways

Employees deserve the truth, even when the truth is uncomfortable. This applies to performance reviews, disciplinary actions and terminations. Really. To everything.

Employees who don’t get the truth are left to draw their own conclusions, which are often worse than the truth.

This content has been prepared for general information purposes only. This information is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. The information provided cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel by a licensed attorney in your state.

Benton L. Toups is a partner at Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP and serves as vice-chair of the Employment Law Practice Group. His practice concentrates on representing businesses in all aspects of labor and employment law. A firm believer in the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Toups counsels employers on day-to-day issues and assists them in developing and implementing policies to avoid employment litigation. To contact Toups, call (910) 777-6011 or email him at [email protected].

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