Can I legally terminate an employee for making false allegations about me?

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Can I legally terminate an employee for making false allegations about me?

I have an employee that is spreading lies about me stealing money. This employee has gone to HR about this. They did a formal investigation and found that the employee was lying. This was about 6 months ago. This employee is now spreading rumors and is making an uncomfortable environment. Can I, as the supervisor, terminate for this?

Asked on October 20, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Arizona

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

The better question may be: why haven't you fired him or her already?

If the employee has no contract, he or she is an employee at will. Employees at will may be fired at any time, for any reason at all--so certainly they could be fired for falsely defaming or accusinig a supervisor. While the law doesn't let you retaliate against an employee for bringing certain kinds of protected claims--e.g. a discrimination claim; a claim for ovetime; a claim for FMLA leave--I do not believe you are precluded from firing someone who accuses you personally, in an internal investigation only, of stealing and then cannot substantiate that claim and furthermore continues to spread rumors after you have been cleared by an investigation. Of course, you may have rules at your workplace about termination, have some process you should follow, etc.--but the law would seem to allow termination. (Still, if you have supervisors over you, it would be a good idea to discuss and clear it with them.)

Note also that defamation is the public making (so to any third parties) of untrue factual statements (like that you have stolen) which damage your reputation (and being accused of theft would do this). You may have a defamation lawsuit against this employee, if you choose to pursue it.


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