Employers faced with the inevitable task of terminating an employee’s employment often inquire whether to provide the employee with written reasons for the termination; or, if they are required to provide an explanation of the termination, they ask what should be included in the explanation. Except in a limited number of states (and except where an employment agreement provides otherwise), a written statement of reasons is not required. Indeed, the general rule of thumb is to not provide written reasons. Perhaps the employer in Peace v. Premier Primary Care Physicians, S.C., should have followed the rule of thumb. In a recent decision, a federal court in Illinois ordered the disclosure of patient contact information because the employer had indicated in its termination letter that patients complained about the plaintiffs.

In Peace, two former employees sued seeking unpaid overtime and damages for alleged retaliation. During discovery, plaintiffs sought the names and contact information of defendant’s patients. The basis for the request was that the termination letter said, among other things, “Patients have complained that you are rude and unhelpful to them on the phone and when they are in the office. Patients have reported not receiving reminder calls for their appointments.” The court noted that the letter contained other examples of patient complaints, but that none of the patients was identified. The employer objected to the disclosure of patient names contending that “their patients’ privacy rights outweigh the plaintiffs’ interest in obtaining discovery. . . .” The court rejected the employer’s argument and ordered the disclosure of the patient contact information noting that privacy concerns were minimal (since plaintiffs were not seeking actual medical records) and were outweighed by plaintiffs’ right to relevant discovery.

The fact that the court ordered disclosure of even limited protected health information highlights the importance the court attached to the contents of a written employment termination letter. A termination letter can become the proverbial “Exhibit A” should an employment claim be filed, at least in connection with requests for discovery. Anything contained in the letter will be the subject of scrutiny and discovery. Had the employer not provided the letter (or, provided a letter with a more general explanation), it is likely that the plaintiff would not have had such a focused target of discovery, one that in this case is likely to affect the practice’s business beyond its HR department. Of course, the information may have come out at some point in the case, but by that time, it may have been late in discovery where plaintiff would have had less time to explore these issues, or the case may have settled. The bottom line here is to give serious thought before providing a written statement of reasons and, if doing so, consider carefully the letter’s contents.

 

Print:
EmailTweetLikeLinkedIn
Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Schlossberg Jeffrey M. Schlossberg

Jeffrey M. Schlossberg is a Principal in the Long Island, New York, Office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Schlossberg has devoted his entire career to the employment law field. He is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy…

Jeffrey M. Schlossberg is a Principal in the Long Island, New York, Office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Schlossberg has devoted his entire career to the employment law field. He is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals and is an editor of the firm’s EPL Risk Mitigation Blog.

Mr. Schlossberg has extensive experience in handling all aspects of the employer-employee relationship. Areas of concentration include: employment discrimination prevention and litigation; workplace harassment policy development and compliance; social media and information privacy in the workplace; family and medical leave; disability matters; wage and hour investigations and litigation; non-competition agreements; and corporate mergers and acquisitions.

Mr. Schlossberg has defended against claims such as sexual harassment, age, race, national origin and disability discrimination for public and private companies in industries such as media, technology, airline, aircraft components, restaurants, supermarkets, securities, medical, manufacturing, cosmetics, food processing, software, clothing, vitamins and nutritional products, and many other employers of varying size throughout the metropolitan area and across the country.

Mr. Schlossberg lectures frequently about various topics to trade and professional associations, such as the Hauppauge Industrial Association. Mr. Schlossberg is also an active member of the Nassau County Bar Association and is a Past Chair of the Nassau County Bar Association Labor & Employment Law Committee.

Mr. Schlossberg is an appointed member of the Employment Law Panel of arbitrators for National Arbitration and Mediation.