Our Disgruntled in Chief's behavior reminds us about the risks a terminated employee poses once notified of an impending termination. Employers are justifiably concerned about keeping such employees on the premises (at least in pre-COVID times) given the literal and figurative damage the disgruntled employee might cause to the business and to employee morale. While an employer's fears regarding the theft of data or office supplies entirely fails to compare to the theft of democracy, the concept of personal accountability inherent in leadership - and human relationships - remains entirely relevant and informative.
I'm an employment lawyer, not a divorce lawyer. But it has occurred to me more than once that I am actually engaged in the practice of corporate divorce when I counsel employers and employees at the end of the employment relationship.
The statistics tell us that one in every two marriages ends in divorce. While turnover statistics vary by industry, people are leaving their jobs whether they want to or not. And judging from the state of our transient and what's-in-it-for-me economy, I think it is fair to say that most of us have experienced the end of an employment relationship or certainly will at some point in our lives.
Divorce has the well deserved reputation as a messy, emotional and life-altering experience. Sometimes corporate divorce can produce the same result. So it seems to me that the true role of a good employment lawyer is to help people end the employment relationship as gracefully, efficiently and equitably as possible and make it an amicable breakup.
Keep Your Cool
Whether your employment breakup is expected, suspected or out of the blue, it can be difficult to focus on what to say -- or more importantly -- what not to say while you are in that moment. But consider this: what you say and do from that moment on may impact the ramifications of your termination.
A cool, calm and collected approach to the delivery of the news might beneficially impact what happens next. Threats, irrational demands, and social media outings will do nothing but reflect poorly on you. And the moment you are fired is the first step in your search for your next position because it may fundamentally influence how future employers view you.
There is also a legal reason for the pragmatic approach. In the event you and your employer reach some accommodations about the terms of your departure (such as a severance package), your employer may ask you to refrain from making disparaging remarks about your employment experience.
If you have already done so, that point of leverage is not only lost, but it is quite likely you will have put your employer in an uncooperative frame of mind when it comes to discussing financial benefits associated with your termination, even if those benefits are contractually required.
Keep it Private
Here is another pain point for employers: the employee who not only disparages, but does so with incautious abandon. Most employers ask for confidentiality provisions with severance arrangements, particularly if an employee negotiates a sweeter deal (or any deal) to which he or she might be legally entitled. While those provisions always (or should always) allow you freely to share information with your spouse, financial advisor and attorney (and the government), those provisions will frequently restrict you from speaking to your friends, the business community, anyone following your blog or your million YouTube subscribers. So be judicious with your words or, as in the case of bad mouthing, you might derail discussions with your former employer before they even begin.
Of course there is yet another good reason to keep the details of your termination to yourself: In this day and age of social media, any comment you make – even seemingly in private – can go viral in an instant. Anything you post on social media that is even mildly controversial may itself become the story. You and your career (if you care about it) are the story. Keep the story close.
If You Don’t Own it, Don’t Take It
Here is another mistake people may make when they leave employment: helping themselves to things they don't own. Taking property and intangible things like data only sets you up for future embarrassment, conflict and even legal action. The best approach is to leave everything on your desk and in your employer’s computer system.
If you are like most people, you may have intermingled the personal with the professional when it comes to your employer's computer system. But make no mistake: in the vast majority of cases, it is your employer, not you, who gets to decide what to do with what that property. So don't engage in self-help.
Even if you are terminated with no notice whatsoever (whether for good grounds or not), most employers will cooperate reasonably in segregating personal property and data and getting you things like tax returns and family photos. This is one instance when it really is better to ask for permission rather than forgiveness.
Make it Amicable
Breaking up is hard enough to do under the best of circumstances. But adding legal and interpersonal conflict does not make it any easier. And even though it has become standard operating procedure these days to share detailed personal information widely and publicly, that behavior could have negative consequences for future employment relationships. So keep it cool, private and clean – and translate that amicable approach into a positive beginning for your next job.
*Jen Rubin is a bicoastal employment lawyer who counsels employers and employees in the break up process. This article is not legal advice –you should consult a qualified and licensed professional who practices in the relevant field for legal help. For more information on this and other topics, subscribe to Mintz Levin’s employment blog.