Warning to employers - it may not be safe to talk about your staff

The Director of a Sydney childcare centre sent an email to 35 parents after an employee left the Company.

In the email she wrote:

[The employee] – is unfortunately no longer with us due to disciplinary reasons. Whilst being good with the children in general, [he] was not truthful with us regarding his studies and some other issues, and I felt it was better for him to move on and possibly gain a bit more life experience. We wish him well in the future.

The Director also telephoned another parent who used the employee as a babysitter to tell her “although [he] was really good with the children … he couldn't be trusted fully”.

The employee found out about the email and sued her for defamation.

It turned out the Director wasn’t being truthful. In evidence the Court learned that the employee actually resigned because the employer had increased his rostered hours from part-time to full-time, which coincided with his TAFE schedule.

The employee claimed that the employer had defamed him by accusing him of:

  • being dishonest and untruthful and some other issues;
  • being dismissed for disciplinary reasons;
  • conducting himself in such a manner that his employment was terminated; and
  • being unfit to work in childcare.

When the employee handed in his notice, the Director ordered him to be escorted off the premises. He submitted that the Director did this as she didn’t want him to tell parents of the children at the centre anything that conflicted with her construction of events. The Judge accepted this.

The Judge said the Director’s actions were “a callous defamation of a vulnerable young man”. “Although the initial audience of [the Director’s] publication was limited, the group to which [the employer] chose to send the emails was vital to [the former employee’s] advancement in his chosen career.”

“[The former employee’s] character was seriously impugned in [the Director’s] emails and his reputation suffered damage, ...”

The former employee successfully sued her for defamation and the District Court of New South Wales ordered the Director to pay the former employee more than $230,000.00 in damages.

The lesson for employers is to be careful about what they say about employees, even after they stop working for them.

Bowden v KSMC Holdings Pty Ltd t/as Hubba Bubba Childcare on Haig & Chapman (2019) NSWDC 98

Disclaimer: This summary is not legal advice and for more information on employment contract termination call NECA Legal (WA) Pty Ltd on (08) 6241 6129 or email necalegalwa@ecawa.org.au.