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Someone I had worked with was "no longer working here" one day, and I was not told why. As far as I know, nobody I work with was told. So, we are not to know.

There are, no doubt, defensible reasons for this, having to do with privacy laws and so on, but the other side is that people we work with tend to become something like friends, at least distant ones, and it is jarring to have no explanation at all.

Should there be some sort of explanation given to co-workers, or is it correct that it should just be stifled entirely? One possibility would be a selection from generic options like:

  1. they broke a company rule
  2. they pursued a personal goal elsewhere
  3. they had a personal life issue (health or something)
  4. Not Otherwise Specified

Answers and comments so far reinforce my absolute position that the workplace is not a safe environment for relationships. You can't have it both ways, people.

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    If you were like friends, ask him yourself. I always had ways to reach out to colleagues besides the office phone number. LinkedIn is a good way to keep in touch. – daraos Sep 14 '16 at 20:58
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    If that information is not relevant to your work then you're entitled no information about it, period. If you really need to know "because reasons" ask that person but don't expect a polite response, either from the ex-employee or from your employer if they get to know about it. – user49901 Sep 15 '16 at 0:27
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    You nailed it ;-) – user49901 Sep 15 '16 at 0:38
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    This, again, seems to be a very cultural thing. The idea that someone would just be "gone" with no explanation from the company is unthinkable where I live. We always get told why people leave, even in cases where they are fired for cause, because it's important to know what's going on in the company and because hearing important stuff "through the grapevine" sucks and just creates more mess. – Erik Sep 15 '16 at 7:53
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    At my last company they simply said, "X no longer works here." Sometimes we hold a meeting but they don't get into specific reasons just as a forum for folks to discuss their feelings/thoughts. If they were fired for safety reasons, they'd say we could no longer contact them during working hours and they taken protective measures to ensure he cannot come into the property or servers. If someone leaves on their own, there's usually an announcement email. – Dan Sep 15 '16 at 13:47
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Managers are generally not permitted to tell you and frankly it is none of your business if the person did not tell you himself or herself. If you were fired for cause, would you really want people told that you stole money or did something else? No, you wouldn't. You might even be embarrassed by the reason why you left.

The person leaving is generally free to tell his side of the story after he is gone to whoever he stays in contact with, but the manager is not even allowed to defend the action even when that person blatantly lies. I have seen that play out in many an office as well.

  • Given that business is none of my business, this is why I don't have anything to do with people that I know from work outside of work. There is just a great big wall around the whole thing. Beyond being polite, I don't talk about personal things and expect the same. This is why I am so dumbfounded when people ask me personal questions. Didn't they get the non-memo? – user37746 Sep 14 '16 at 22:18
  • @nocomprende, people are perfectly free to have relationships outside of work with work people or not as they choose, there is no right or wrong there. It is OK to care about your co-workers, but it is not OK for managers to tell you their private business. If they wanted you to know about it they woudl have told you. A manager who discusses these things is likely to get fired because managers have to deal with a lot of confidential information and one that can't be trusted with it is a liability. – HLGEM Sep 15 '16 at 13:24
  • "I was agreeing with you." Since I see no way out of the conundrum, I choose to be very contained at work. But I don't see why others do not come to the same conclusion? Question for you: what if you were friends outside work (facebook and in person - I don't do facebook at all myself) and then they were let go and it was an issue you felt strongly about in some way? Now you have a problem which should have been confined to the work sphere which would just "go away", and it is entwined in your personal life. This is "A Bridge Too Far" for me, too much risk to my employment and personal life. – user37746 Sep 15 '16 at 13:43
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    I have always been friends with people I work with and have maintained some of those friendships for almost 40 years. I have only seen a problem at work affect a personal friendship once and that was because she thought I was responsible for the poor performance eval that caused her to quit. I find that having relationships helps get the work done. – HLGEM Sep 15 '16 at 14:16
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No explanation is the best explanation.

The problem is not explaining why someone left, it's not explaining when the reason is they were fired for something either qualifying as gross misconduct or worse.

If I tell you why Bill left (assuming he didn't tell you himself, which you might think he would if your were indeed friends), but don't tell you why Dave left, what conclusion would you draw about Dave?

Better to just not say at all, if people leave under their own steam and stay in touch, the word will get round anyway.

  • OK. The person didn't tell me themself when they left because I was not here at the time. For all I know, it happened after work hours. It just leaves open the side of the equation that says we are friendly with people and get to know them over time... only to have them vanish. For myself, I don't really make friends at work, and the uncontrolled nature of the environment is part of the reason why. (I also don't want to risk my job.) – user37746 Sep 14 '16 at 20:45
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    It can be jarring if someone is there, then isn't, I once worked at a company and had applied to another, but hadn't heard about an interview as yet, A co-worker resigned and left immediately (only knew he was gone). Heard through the grapevine he's gone to job at company I was waiting to hear from. Wrote off job until a couple of week later when they came back with interview date, turned out they were just glacially slow and the colleague had got an earlier posting of a similar role. – The Wandering Dev Manager Sep 14 '16 at 20:54
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It really depends.

I would assume in your situation the person was fired. Usually when someone resigns, there is a notice period and a farewell email (though not always).

If the person was fired, it's entirely possible there is potential or pending litigation. Jane stole from the company. Jane sexually harassed a coworker. Jane assaulted a coworker. Jane was fired for regular reasons but the company suspects she may file a discrimination complaint.

In any situation like that, the company is best off by saying absolutely nothing beyond, "Jane no longer works here."

As The Wandering Dev Manager mentioned, by handling all departures in that manner, the particularly bad ones don't stand out or start up the rumor mill.

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    Jane got a job at company X with double the salary. By the way, they are still hiring! :-D – SJuan76 Sep 14 '16 at 21:32
  • Salary should not be hidden either. For people making over a certain amount where I work, it is public knowledge. – user37746 Sep 14 '16 at 22:19
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Keeping quiet on things helps to avoid the risk of a lawsuit for slander. It's tough enough to have to terminate someone and deal with the internal fallout, but getting attorneys involved for something preventable (like this) just makes thing worse.

  • I think no matter what the rumor mill will go. I think the best thing for the employer to do is shut down any such thing when they see it and to keep quiet about any questions asked about it. It usually blows over after a week or two with minimal - if any - fallout. – Dan Sep 15 '16 at 17:53

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