The short answer is “very little”. Remember that employment break-ups are as difficult–and sometimes harder–than divorce or other major life changes. Respect the former co-worker’s privacy, and don’t feel like you have to explain. This might not be adequate for some people, so here are some possible questions and appropriate responses. Note that these are respectful and appropriate, regardless of your position or role in the termination.
EMPLOYEE: “Where is John?”
YOU: “His last day was Friday.”
EMPLOYEE: “Did Jane quit?”
YOU: “Jane would be the best person to ask about her situation.”
EMPLOYEE: “Did Juan get fired?”
YOU: “Juan would be the best person to ask about his situation.”
Don’t participate in gossip, whether after an employee termination or any other activity. Gossip destroys trust, which is necessary for effective teamwork, and yes, it is gossiping to discuss someone’s employment circumstances without them being present to tell their story.
No one really wins the gossip game. If gossip is believed, the person being discussed gets the bad reputation the gossiper intended. Yet, the gossiper becomes a person to avoid, especially with sensitive information. You won’t fully trust people who you hear gossip about others. You will begin to wonder what they say about you–or would under similar circumstances. If you are the gossip, your co-workers are likely to worry about being too close to you. Suddenly, work is a more tense place where you are achieving less, which means any advancement aspirations you had are farther from reality. Focus on why you took your job and what good things you want to create, not what you can destroy.
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).