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Monday, Dec 16 2013 04:00 PM

ROBIN PAGGI: Silence is not always golden in workplace

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    Californian contributing columnist Robin Paggi.

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BY ROBIN PAGGI Contributing columnist

Employers and supervisors are often advised to say "no comment" if they are asked by their employees why one of their co-workers was fired. While it's important to keep the reasons for termination confidential, total silence can have a negative impact on the trust, moral and productivity of the remaining staff.

How so? Because staff members will spend their workday discussing what might have caused the termination and wonder if it will happen to them next. What follows are some suggestions for relaying the news in a way that protects the terminated employee's privacy while reassuring the rest of the staff.

In his article "After They're Gone: Communicating about employee departures with remaining staff is critical," human resources expert and author Paul Falcone says that what you say, of course, depends on the reason the employee was terminated.

For example, if an employee is leaving because his/her position has been eliminated, Falcone suggests gathering the staff together and saying something like the following: Unfortunately, we've had to eliminate Robin's position. It's sad to lose one of our co-workers and unnerving to hear that a position has been eliminated. I want to assure you that we have no plans to eliminate any other positions at this time. We wish Robin well and appreciate your help going forward as we determine how her responsibilities will be divided among the rest of us.

If an employee is terminated because of performance problems, chances are it will come as no surprise to his/her co-workers who have no doubt witnessed those problems. Even so, Falcone suggests holding a quick meeting and saying something like this: Robin is no longer with the company effective yesterday. We appreciate her contribution to the company and wish her well. Out of respect for her privacy, please keep this information confidential. We'll have a meeting tomorrow to reassign her duties while we recruit for the opening.

If an employee is terminated for misconduct that was witnessed by others (such as harassment or violence), the script is similar to the example above with a few modifications: Robin is no longer with the company. While I can't provide you with the specifics, I can tell you that we took appropriate action based on information that was gathered after the incident. Out of respect for her privacy, please do not engage in hearsay about her termination.

While you might think it's best to just say nothing after a termination, your silence at this time could speak volumes and communicate something that you don't intend. Taking a few moments to make a concise statement about the situation can put the remaining staff members' minds at ease and get everyone back to work. As award-winning author David Levithan said, "You'd think that silence would be peaceful, but really, it's painful."

-- Robin Paggi is the training coordinator at Worklogic HR Legal Solutions. Reach her at rpaggi@worklogiclegal.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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