How, Exactly, Does One ‘Disparage’ a Former Employer?

shutterstock_104307521Here’s an interesting debate via The New York Times today: how important are the legal particulars of those termination notices that every employee dreads? You know, the ones in which you promise not to “disparage” the folks who just fired you?

Writer Will Blythe lost his job at Byliner but refused to sign the subsequent agreement and claim his severance package.

Why? He is not insane. It’s more about the principle of the thing, because what does “You agree that you will never make any negative or disparaging statements (orally or in writing) about the Company or its stockholders, directors, officers, employees, products, services or business practices, except as required by law” even mean?

This is kind of a big deal for PR, because we’re all familiar with the word “disgruntled.”

Blythe’s point is that the law isn’t clear on the meaning of the word “disparage” and that few related claims would hold up in court. Some states specifically “suggest” that suspect statements must be both unflattering and false in order to qualify.

But how do we interpret this agreement? Can an employee fired from a firm say nothing about said firm, in public or in private? And how would the firm retaliate if he/she did?

These are rhetorical questions, because we can’t imagine that any major firms would refrain from giving these documents to departing employees.

But we still think they’re worth considering. As Blythe writes, ” if a company isn’t strong enough to be reproached, then it simply isn’t strong enough, period.”