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Professionalism During Terminations Helps Reduce The Risk Of Defamation Claims

A jury recently ruled that rapper Fetty Wap had defamed a former staff member. The rapper must pay her $1,167,065 in damages.

A former tour staffer alleged that Fetty Wap was supposed to reimburse her for tour expenses, which she paid with her own money, but stopped in 2017, leaving more than $242,000 unpaid. She further alleged that he defamed her by publicly stating that she stole from him, which hurt her business opportunities. She was awarded $980,000 for defamation, $66,294 for breach of contract, and more than $120,000 in interest.

The resolution of the case also required Fetty Wap to retract his accusations against the former staff member on social media and through advertisements in "prominent entertainment publications." "Fetty Wap Reportedly Ordered To Pay Former Employee $1.1 Million" vibe.com (Mar. 18, 2020).

Commentary and Checklist

Defamation is a civil tort that has certain elements a plaintiff must prove:

·      A statement is made;

·      The statement is false;

·      The statement is published – written or spoken to the public; and

·      The statement caused the person the statement is about injury, in reputation, job opportunities, etc.

 

Truth is a defense to claims of defamation, whether oral (slander) or written (libel).

Defamation charges may arise after a termination. To help avoid litigation backlash, employers should terminate staff in a professional and private manner. Have another manager with you to serve as a witness. When giving the reasons for the termination, make sure they are sound, fact-based, and documented.

Terminations require planning and professionalism to prevent impulsive angry behavior from both you and the terminated staffer.

Family employers can help reduce the risk that a staff member will leave angry or have reason to claim defamation by following these termination steps:

•      Consult with your household or business manager or other supervisor who works with the staff member to confirm that the termination is in your family’s best interest and is legally motivated.

•      Always have an attorney review the reasons for the termination and discuss the potential risks involved if you do proceed.

•      When terminating any staff member, always treat him or her with respect and fairness.

•      Anticipate how staff might react to the stress of termination and never have a termination conversation when you are angry or upset.

•      If a member of your staff is charged with terminations, make sure he or she performs the task with the utmost professionalism and stays calm even if the staff member erupts in anger.

•      Always perform terminations in private with one witness present.

•      Do not spread negative information about the staff member before, during, or after termination.

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