When you terminate an employee, how much detail should you give them about the reason for the decision? Human resource professionals and employment lawyers don’t agree on this issue. Some suggest giving a minimal explanation, because the more you say, the greater the chance that you may say something wrong.
In a case from the early days of California wrongful termination law, See’s Candies terminated a 31-year employee without giving a reason. When the employee asked for one he was told to “look deep within [him]self.” Pugh v. See’s Candies. The problem with that type of response (aside from it being sanctimonious and cruel) is that it makes it too easy for the employee to conclude that the employer is hiding an unlawful motive.
If you’re an employer, you want the employee to leave the termination meeting with a clear understanding of the reason for the decision. They don’t have to agree with it. But they should understand that it’s a decision that the company has given serious thought to and that the company believes is justified.
There’s one caveat, however. The reason you provide needs to be accurate. As one California court of appeal put it:
[E]vidence that the employer’s claimed reason is false—such as that it conflicts with other evidence, or appears to have been contrived after the fact—will tend to suggest that the employer seeks to conceal the real reason for its actions, and this in turn may support an inference that the real reason was unlawful.
So give a reason, but tell the truth. It won’t necessarily set you free. But it could help you to avoid a lawsuit.