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Can You Fire an Employee for Talking Bad About the Company?

By Ferdi Vol
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Every employee has experienced a bad day at work. Employees can sometimes say a mean word or two about their company. These remarks can be just some harmless fun in some cases. But there are some sinister cases of toxic employees who continue bad-mouthing the company and harm its reputation. Can you fire an employee for talking bad about the company?

You can fire an employee for spreading toxicity around the work environment. It is a valid reason to say goodbye to an employee if you fail to fix their problematic attitude. 

But there is plenty more that any employer or employee should know on the topic. Like the legalities behind firing an employee for slandering or when an employer can’t fire an employee for criticism. All of which I’ve discussed in detail throughout the article. So, without further ado, let’s get right to it.

Is It Legal to Fire an Employee for Speaking Ill About the Company?

Employees have their freedom of speech. But that does not translate into the employee being able to speak whatever they want to. It is good to remember that there are consequences to using your right of freedom of speech to the fullest. In most countries, there are different legal provisions against the employees for speaking ill about their company.

In the United Kingdom, every employment contract has implied terms of trust and confidence between an employer and employee. The contract sets out what you and your employer agreed upon and what you can expect of each other. This employment contract includes an employee’s rights and duties.

There might be nothing written on paper in the contract. However, there are implied terms that exist. They are apparent to both parties bound by the contract. Customs and practices always determine these implied terms. One of the main implied terms that every employee with a bad habit of gossiping should look out for is the “Duty of mutual trust and confidence”.

This implied term is commonly relied upon which means you and your employer rely on each other. You both should always be respectful to each other. Furthermore, without a reasonable and proper cause, you should not conduct yourselves in any manner that can destroy or seriously dampen the mutual relationship of confidence and trust between both parties.

Do note, this term of “mutual trust and confidence” exists in every contract of employment in the United Kingdom. So, when you agree upon a contract of employment, you agree to serve the employer loyally and in good faith. You can’t do anything that will go against the employer’s interest. You must never bring your employer and company into disrepute.

So, if you are writing a negative remark on your blog or just voicing them out to someone, the employer has the right to take action against you. Disrespecting your company will damage the relationship of trust and confidence you share with your employer. They have every right to take libel proceedings against you.

Such actions can also result in you being disciplined or worse, terminated from your job. So, the contract of employment and the implied terms it holds allows the company to fire an employee for bad-mouthing a company.

In the United States, there are states where employment relationships are acknowledged as “at-will”. The term means that the employer can terminate their employment for any reason at any time as they wish. But the reason has to be within legal provisions. The United States has many states that are considered at-will.

In these states, you can be terminated for any legal reason including bad-mouthing your company. However, even for other states, there are disciplinary actions that can lead up to termination for speaking ill against your company. The company can have policies that restrict their employees from saying degrading comments about the company.

But this comes with some limitations. According to the National Labor Relations Board, a company must have specific and clear policies that can prohibit you from bad-mouthing your company. Violating such policies will allow your employee to terminate your position.

When Can't You Fire an Employee for Speaking Against the Company?

Employees don’t have it easy working at a company. Sometimes getting that extremely needed vacation request refused, scolded by your senior, getting in a fight with a coworker, or just having a bad day is normal. It is only normal to complain about your job on your blog or friends in such cases. But can the company fire you for such negative remarks?

There are cases when the company can fire their employee for saying bad stuff about their company. Different countries even have legal provisions that let a company take legal actions against employees for tarnishing the company’s reputation. But that doesn’t mean the employee’s right to freedom of speech can be completely breached.

There are many instances when the employer can’t fire the employee for speaking against the company. One of the policies that protect an employee’s back is the “whistleblower” policy. In almost all organizations, this policy is now considered a critical part.

So, what is the Whistleblower Policy?

The term “whistleblower” refers to a person who exposes wrongdoings in an organization or company. The wrongdoings can include illegal, dishonest, dangerous, and fraudulent practices. This can be something the employee has seen happening at the company. But the disclosed wrongdoing must affect the general public.

As a whistleblower, you can raise your voice against unfair practices that happen at your company. The incident can be about what is happening now, has happened in the past, or even about something you believe will happen soon. It’s good to be aware that the reason behind your need to blow the whistle doesn’t always have to be some serious crime.

Rather, you can disclose any behavior that seems unlawful. If you see another employee exercising acts of minor thefts or taking advantage of company resources for personal gains you can blow your whistle. You can even disclose another employee from abusing the sick leave policy.

In these cases, you don’t have any fear of getting fired from your job. Instead, you are protected by the law as the one who “blows the whistle”. The company is unable to treat you unfairly or terminate your employment. The United States is working to further increase legal protection for whistleblowers.

In the United States, “at-will” states provide an employer to terminate one’s employment at any time for any reason. But the reason does not include illegal ones. So, without a legal liability that forbids you from speaking ill of your company, they are not able to fire you. Outside these states, you are protected even more from being fired for sharing your opinions.

According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), any statement concerning remotely about benefits, wages, or working conditions is protected. An employee can even take action to change these matters. Employers in the United States have to be very careful about firing an employee for just talking bad about the company.

There will need to be very detailed policies with specific examples for any conduct they are declaring prohibited. So, whether the employee can be fired or not will depend largely on whether their policy covers the employee’s negative remarks.

Many other ways exist that protect the employees’ rights to speak against the company. So, if the employee matches any of these instances, the employer can’t fire the employee. The employee can even get into any further problem for firing the employee.

Best Ways to Handle a Bad-Mouthing Employee Before Firing

It’s not unusual to come across an employee who spreads negative remarks around the workplace. Some employees just have an attitude problem. You can go ahead and fire these people from spreading toxicity around. But that only applies if you have tried to take action to stop the employee from bad-mouthing the company. Here are some steps on how to handle such a situation:

Step one: Talk to the employee and asses the situation

If their bad-mouthing has become a problem, deal with the employee promptly and efficiently. Before firing the employee, it’s a necessary step to try and talk with the employee. At first, try and gauge whether the comments were serious or not. If it is just them complaining about normal stuff, the employer can let it go.

But if you have deemed that their speech bare serious issue, the employer can have an informal meeting with the employee. The meeting should be held away from the public. This way the employee can talk about their problems without an issue. Then the employer will bring up the ordeal and what was heard from other co-workers.

Now that the employee is aware of the allegations against them, they will provide their side of the story. As the employer, it’s best to take in the information calmly and patiently. Make sure to not interrupt as the employee is speaking. This way they can express themselves without being intimidated or defensive.

Step two: Reassure the employee about their issues

Now the employer should be able to determine whether the employee’s bad-mouthing was just a miscommunication among workers. It can also be an exaggerated version of the initial statement. Usually, employees get frustrated as they are facing problems so they end up bad-mouthing the company or their employers.

It’s ideal to encourage the employee to directly confront the employer if they face any issues or problems. The employer can ask for suggestions to create a healthy working relationship. It would be best for the employer to be open to critical feedback.

Step 3: Inform the employee that it is not tolerated

Regardless of the reason, talking bad about the company is not to be tolerated.  The employer can explain to the employee why bad-mouthing the company or their employers is inexcusable. They can inform the employee clearly that such actions that disrepute the company must stop.

This way, the employee can realize their mistakes. It’s best to forgive them if the employee is remorseful. But if this incident occurs a second time, the employer can call for a formal meeting.

Should You Fire a Bad-Mouthing Employee?

Employees with a bad attitude problem can be hard to deal with for managers, supervisors, and bosses. Employees talking ill about the company or the employer puts the company in a tight place. The reputation of a company is quite fragile. It can take years of quality services, products, and professionalism to establish a reputable company.

But a single wicked and careless remark from an employee can be enough to bring all the reputation built to the ground. When an employee says bad things about the company to outsiders, the normal people are most likely to believe it. So a single employee's words can carry a lot of weight.

Such rumors going around can be especially dangerous for the company. This is more so because bad news will spread like a wildfire. The situation will get more serious if such negative remarks were told before a media or an outsider. Soon customers will associate poor service and bad quality with the company’s name.

This can cause the company to receive huge backlash. The damage becomes nothing short of irreversible in these situations. Even if the company is ever able to make a turn back, it will still take years of work.

So such a problematic attitude from an employee ends up tarnishing the company’s reputation. It might even create a hostile situation at the workplace. Every employer has the right to clean up the bad atmosphere of their workplace.

If there are chances that the problem can be fixed, you can avoid firing the employee. But if the toxicity of an employee has reached a point of no return, you should fire them for the sake of your company.

By now, you should have enough information on whether or not can you fire an employee for talking bad about the company. You might be an employer worried about a toxic employee. Or an employee worried about getting sacked after a careless remark.

Whichever you are, this article should provide you enough information regarding your concerns. I hope for the best for you and your job life. Thank you for reading through this article.

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The Grocery Store Academy is a blog about everything that has to do with grocery stores. This is your #1 spot to find the right information for your needs.
About the Author
Ferdi Vol has worked several years in a grocery store and has a passion for good food. He's happy to share his passion with you!
About Ferdi Vol
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