is it okay to fire an employee by phone or email?

A reader writes:

I have wanted to fire a full-time employee for the past two weeks, but she hasn’t been in, despite telling me on numerous occasions that she definitely will be in the next day.

I manage a small business and need to fire her so I can start looking for her replacement as soon as possible. Is it therefore acceptable to fire her via email or phone? I like the idea of email so I have a record of what was said.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. MsCHX

    Sounds like job abandonment to me and/or a likely violation of an attendance policy (an assumption, of course. For my company it would be).

    Call her up and let her go!

    Reply
    1. MillersSpring

      Just a thought: the OP said only that the employee hadn’t been in, so it makes me wonder if it’s a remote employee who usually doesn’t come in. In which case, there still would be a lesser issue that she kept saying that she’d come in but never did.

      Reply
      1. Mabel

        This actually makes more sense because the OP doesn’t seem to equate “not coming in” with “job abandonment.” I work remotely and in the office, and it usually doesn’t matter where I am, so it’s conceivable that I would plan to come to the office but work from home instead, especially if (as far as I knew) it wouldn’t affect anyone else.

        Reply
    2. Amber T

      Yep, in our employee manual it very clearly states after X amount of days of non attendance with no notice, it will be perceived as job abandonment and your employment will be terminated. Now I know people in my company would try calling and emailing and various ways of getting in touch first, but I think an employee would be officially notified by regular mail.

      We actually had to do this with a new hire (someone who would be replacing me, my promotion was waiting on them hiring out my old position, hence why I was so nosy). We asked her to submit paperwork by the Thursday before her start date (a general no no, I know, but we even ask people to come in before their start date to do paperwork if available. Not my call!). Thursday and Friday come and go, no paperwork. I think our hiring manager sent her an email and didn’t hear back, but not a huge deal. She had asked for a start date a little later than we originally intended because she was returning from a family vacation that week, so maybe she just got caught up. Monday morning she’s supposed to be here at 10am…. and she’s not. Not here by 11, not here by 12. By then people start calling her, but no one answers. We call her recruiter (who is mortified), and he starts trying to reach her. Tuesday comes and goes, she’s doesn’t reach out. By Wednesday everyone is furious, and she’s “fired” (though maybe she was never “hired” in the first place according to paperwork?). I’m not 100% sure of the details, but I know the company sent her some official letter (to the address on her resume) saying either she was fired or we were rescinding the job offer. We still worked with that recruiter and he never heard from her again either.

      Reply
    3. kbrew

      At most places I’ve worked (across retail, manufacturing, legal, and tech sectors), no-call, no-show is an immediate firing offense, as in, if you no-call, no-show, don’t come back – unless you have a valid reason why you couldn’t call.

      Reply
      1. JessaB

        Yeh, I honestly never had a job in my life where this wasn’t the case. You don’t come in and you’re not in hospital or in a car wracked around a tree and can’t call, then you’re done. Which is why I was so weird on the letter where the people said that their family/significant others did not have contact numbers for their jobs. Because one of the rules in my house (ever since I was a kid and it was about my parents,) was that it was the duty of the family/significant other to CALL the office if the employee was in hospital or in an accident and let them know what was going on because the employee can’t.

        Reply
  2. Gene

    Since you know you’re going to fire her as soon as you can get ahold of her, there’s no real reason to wait until then to start recruiting for her replacement. Start the search and fire her when you can.

    Reply
    1. Chriama

      Yup. I was surprised that I didn’t see that in the answer, though I know the OP didn’t specifically ask about that part.

      Reply
    2. Tequila Mockingbird

      That’s a big waste of money for a small company. Why keep paying someone who hasn’t shown up for 2 weeks?

      Start looking for a replacement, yes, but fire her NOW.

      Reply
      1. hbc

        My assumption was that this was an hourly worker, so she’s not getting paid for time that she’s not in the office. If she’s drawing a salary, definitely cut the cord immediately. But I wouldn’t feel bad if a two-week no-show strolls into the office and I have the “this isn’t working out” conversation while her replacement sits in the next room.

        Reply
    3. TootsNYC

      My thought as well. You can start searching right away.

      Maybe you don’t want to have her discover the job listing before she gets the news, but that’s not likely. And honestly, I wouldn’t care much anymore about how she feels. I’d only care about how it looks to everyone else.

      So, call her and leave a message that says: “It is absolutely crucial that you return my call.” And I wouldn’t say “come in to the office tomorrow,” I’d just say, “We’re going to need to part ways–this clearly isn’t working for either of us” over the phone.

      Depending, I might say, “Since you told me you’d be here today, and you’re not, this is considered job abandonment, and you’re not eligible for unemployment benefits. You’ll get a follow-up letter in the mail.”

      Or I’d say, “We’ll call this you quitting, since you haven’t been in.”

      If I was generous and didn’t want the work, I’d say, “This is a firing.” And then deal with whether to deny unemployment later.

      If I had the tiniest sympathy for whatever it is that’s keeping her out for two weeks straight (bcs, what the heck? Who would expect to still even have a job, unless there were something mitigating), I might be willing to not contest. But it’s totally an option.

      Reply
      1. Jessie

        “this is considered job abandonment, and you’re not eligible for unemployment benefits”

        No need to say that – and the employer is not the one who decides whether an employee is eligible or not. It’s not the employer’s call, it’s the agency’s call. That gets needlessly hostile, I think. Just fire her, without making declarations about eligibility.

        Reply
        1. Malibu Stacey

          I agree for all these reasons, plus, you have no way of knowing that the employee is even going to file for unemployment at all. The employee could have ghosted because they got another job.

          Reply
  3. Artemesia

    Call her today and follow up with confirming Email that contains any information she will need i.e. the excuse for the email is helpful information like COBRA process or whatever else she may need to know.

    Reply
    1. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

      +1, I was going to say this. Every time I’ve had to do this by phone, I’ve tried to have a reason to send a follow up email that I mention in the call. It would include a “Per our conversation…” and/or “Your personal items will be shipped to…and the tracking number is XXX” and wish them luck on their future endeavors. While it won’t say you’re fired, it does show there is no expectation of future work.

      Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Totally agree with Artemesia. Make every effort to get ahold of her by phone during reasonable business hours and have the firing conversation with her. It might help to write up a little script for yourself, or a bullet-point list of the key issues you want to address during that call/convo. Then follow up with an email that refers to the phone conversation (it doesn’t have to be overly formal) and provides “wind up” information for her separation. (COBRA, vacation payout if you’re in CA, confirming the mailing address for her last paycheck, and any other state/federal requirements you have re: notices/information that has to be given when someone’s fired)

      I think having a record of what happened is really important. Sending the email after the call preserves the values you want to preserve when firing someone (kindness, a conversation), while also covering any loose ends on your side.

      Reply
  4. Tequila Mockingbird

    Why not mail a registered letter? It’s discreet and avoids the impersonal/cavalier nature of email.

    Reply
    1. Newish Reader

      I think this would be a last resort, only if the employee doesn’t answer their phone or respond to phone messages after a reasonable amount of time. A letter still doesn’t allow for the things that Alison points out in her response, such as a conversation and the message to others about how they could expect to be treated by this manager/company.

      Reply
      1. Jessie

        Right, and if you call her you can talk to her and fire her *today.* If you send a letter, it could be a week or longer.

        Reply
        1. NotNewtoAdminButConfused

          Years and years ago, there was a co-worker on a sick leave. She advised her boss when she would be returning and she did, on a Monday morning, on her advised date. While at work, her husband calls her and said, hey, you received a letter from the employer. She asked him to open it and inside was her termination letter – she didn’t get it before she returned to work. She returned, started her day and her boss said nothing to her.

          How did I last three years at such a fun place?

          Reply
          1. Mabel

            We had a situation soft of like this, and I didn’t say anything at first because I didn’t know what to do. But I was a new-ish manager, and when the fired person showed up at work, I had no clue what to do.

            Maybe we should have known it wasn’t going to turn out well when she called us right before her start date to ask if she could start two weeks later. She was going through a divorce, and her soon-to-be-ex had taken her child to another state across the country. She was very upset and was dealing with lawyers, etc., so I had compassion, but she wasn’t able to do full time work, and that’s what we hired her for. After she started, she was very rude to me several times over a couple of weeks, and I found out later that when she was supposed to be shadowing another employee and learning the job, she spent the whole time on the phone. I usually trust my employees and leave them alone to do their jobs unless they need help, but I now see that I should have checked in more often and made more of an effort to see how things were really going.

            The last straw was when she stood up a client because she was at her lawyer’s office way past the end of her lunch hour, and she acted like we should understand that her troubles were more important than her doing her job. She didn’t call anyone else to take her place with the client, so after I got off the phone with him, I called my manager, and he said he would tell the agency that we no longer needed her. For some reason they couldn’t reach her between that afternoon and the next morning, so right after I got through informing the rest of the team that she was let go, she walked in the door. I was in a bit of a panic and didn’t know what to do, so I went to call my boss, and in the meantime, she checked her voicemail and got the message. She completely understood why she was being fired, so she gathered up her stuff, and I rode down in the elevator with her and wished her luck.

            Reply
          2. Audiophile

            Did they eventually have a conversation with her in-person? Or did they just throw up their hands and say “Sarah came back because her termination letter didn’t arrive in time and so we’ll just keep her and avoid an awkward conversation. Cool, right?”

            Reply
            1. sssssssssss

              Not quite sure how it went down but I seem to recall that she confronted him and then left (disappointed, shocked and unhappy, I bet). She wasn’t the only one terminated while on sick leave.

              Reply
      2. Confused Teapot Maker

        This.

        With either a letter or an email, you are a) taking away the employee’s opportunity to have a direct conversation with you about this life-altering bit of news you have just landed on them and b) (less applicable if your other option was a phone call) you can’t gauge what ‘situation’ the employee is in when they get the news….when you get called into your boss’ office, after all, you can kind of brace yourself for what might come next in a way you can’t with an email.

        Reply
        1. Chaordic One

          Even when someone is fired in person the employee doesn’t really get to have much of a conversation, though. He or she is told they are being fired and it is extremely unlikely that there is going to be anything that he or she could say that would change things.

          It’s just a sucky no-win situation all the way around.

          Reply
    2. enough

      Registered letters can actually take longer than you think to get delivered. Certified will be faster and you still can have a signed receipt.

      Reply
    3. Koko

      To me, a registered letter feels as impersonal as email, but with the added bonus of looking like they don’t trust me to handle the firing like a mature adult and are taking pre-emptive measures to legally document the firing. The only time I ever send registered mail is when I’m in a dispute trying to get a fraudulent charge cleared or an insurance reimbursement paid and I’m making sure I can prove that they got my letter so they don’t keep ignoring me. It’s a tool I use only in hostile situations, so receiving one would feel hostile to me.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes, exactly this. A registered/certified letter would probably actually feel worse compared to an email because it has the added benefit of being an “official” kick in the butt.

        Reply
    4. I'm New Here.

      A letter should be the absolute last resort. I worked for a small company (about 40 employees) and one of our two marketing employees went on maternity leave. The day before she was to come back (having been gone 2 months) a coworker and I got her some welcome back balloons. When our CEO saw them, we were promptly ushered into a conference room and told she would not be returning. They had FedExed her a termination letter that morning. No other communication. Her immediate boss was a recent hire from a huge company and I’m guessing the “fired by FedEx” thing might have been part of their corporate culture. But it really sucked for my friend and it was incredibly unsettling to those of us still employed there. Another engineer came back after just six weeks of maternity leave because she feared for her job. I never felt “comfortable” at that company after that. I have them appropriate notice when I quit and our CEO stopped speaking to me. He took my resignation as a personal affront. Ugh.

      I want to add that I just recently discovered this site and though I’m not currently in the workforce, I’m grateful this resource will be available when I decide to get back into the rat race. Thanks to Allison and the fantastic commentariat here!

      Reply
  5. animaniactoo

    I would backtrack this slightly to say first: Is this somebody who has worked for you for a long(ish) time?

    If so, I would handle it a bit differently, only to say first “Jane, what’s going on? You’ve promised repeatedly to be in the next day but haven’t shown up. It’s been two weeks now and I need to understand what’s going on.”

    Depending on the response to that, I would move to “Okay, I understand that you’re struggling with this. Unfortunately I really need somebody to be here and doing this job. I need you to understand that if you aren’t here tomorrow, I will have to let you go.” or figuring out what compassionate answer makes sense to not be expecting them the next day, but not necessarily replacing them either.

    There was an employee at my company who had been here for awhile and ended up struggling hard when his son developed pretty severe mental health issues and he was basically staying home with his son trying to keep him from committing suicide. Once they knew what was going on, they were willing to work with him. Patience was starting to run thin after about 2 years, but unfortunately just as they were getting ready to make some more permanent moves around things he was responsible for, his son did manage to kill himself and it moved into a different realm of help/support. I know this is an outlier kind of situation, but if this is someone who has been with you for awhile and a decent employee, I’ve seen enough of people trying not to bring their personal lives into work to think it’s worth asking for a big picture fill-in before making a final move.

    Reply
    1. Jean who seeks to be Ingenious

      Commendations to your company for working with instead of against your coworker. My heart goes out to him. Suicide can be really rough for the people left behind.

      Reply
  6. PNW Jenn

    I was once fired via email, my prone-to-throwing-things-during tantrums boss sitting in the next room. It was so par for the course – a truly perfect ending to a nightmarish, 14-month, Dilbert-esque debacle – that I could only shake my head in amazement at their complete lack of professional comportment.

    The office manager hovered over my desk, fretting about getting a box for my personal items. I told her that I’d been slowly emptying my desk since the day the owner had threatened to dock my *salary* for missing 2 hours to visit my mother in the ICU after her heart attack. This after the bosses had asked employees to contribute to a fund supporting his brother after his own heart attack a month prior. The office manager, who’d been having an affair with the married boss, gaped as I breezed by her on my way out the door.

    Frankly, I’ve never been happier to be fired, especially by email.

    Reply
    1. Liz2

      Well said. I was in a horrific position where it was a definite “just see who quits who first” situation, he just happened to be the one who ended it first- on his vacation, the day before NYE. He wasn’t even on a phone, he had his lackeys do the deed. It definitely needed to happen, just hated how slimy (yet predictably) it happened.

      Reply
  7. AthenaC

    “One exception to this is if the person works remotely, in which case a phone conversation would be reasonable. ”

    I would say a phone conversation would be preferable rather than reasonable.

    Why, yes! I do have a story! However did you guess?

    Anyway, a few years ago I was working for a company where I was based out of the Chicago office but was out at various client sites 90% of the time, in the Milwaukee office another 5% of the time, working from home 2% of the time, and in the Chicago office for 3% of the time. Yes, those are all estimates, but the goal here is communicate that even though my company’s mentality was that the office was your default location and easily accessible at all times, that’s not really how any of us worked. Especially since going into the Chicago office was 2 hours door-to-door for me.

    So one week, I was in the beginning / middle of managing a rather large project (multiple teams, inter-office instructions – the works) just north of Milwaukee (~1.25 hours from home). That Friday, some friends were getting married and my daughter was the flower girl, so I had already cleared it with the project manager to leave at noon. Thursday, I got an email from my boss that I needed to come to the Chicago office Friday morning for a meeting (same day as the wedding), and that he had already cleared it with my team. Okay, then. Not expected, but okay.

    Friday morning, I arrived in the Chicago office for the meeting, and as I sat down next to my boss and across form HR, I knew exactly what was going on. Now, as much as I appreciated being told to my face that I was being let go, given the various logistical challenges in just getting to the office, I would have much preferred a phone call. Especially since the minute the meeting was over, I had to get on the train RIGHT THEN in order to get back, pick the flower girl up from school, change clothes, get the flower girl ready, put just a little little bit of makeup on her so she felt extra awesome, drive to the wedding, etc. It was around 6:30 pm at the reception that I realized I hadn’t had time to eat anything. I had eaten maybe 250 calories that day, and all of it before 8:30 am.

    In short, it was already going to be a super hectic day, and having to go all the way downtown just to get let go made it way more hectic than it needed to be.

    TL/DR: If you’re firing someone who isn’t in the office very much, it’s better to just let them go over the phone. If you inconvenience them significantly by dragging them in to the office, you’re just going to needlessly irritate them.

    Reply
    1. Lemon Zinger

      That’s incredibly rude and short-sighted of them. What a relief to be fired from such a mess, honestly.

      Reply
        1. Confused Teapot Maker

          Ha! I was going to say this sounds like a big accountancy firm thing!

          A relative once recounted a story for me about how he was in a not dissimilar set up to you and would spend a fair amount of time working remotely. One day, he gets a call from HR team asking if he can come into the office on Friday. He says he can do if it’s urgent but he’s due to be working on a project out of the office so, if possible, could it be moved to Monday.

          HR person awkwardly pauses before saying his security pass won’t be valid on Monday…

          Reply
          1. Audiophile

            That kind of makes the face to face a moot point though. Depending on how I felt about the place, I may have just shipped my badge back to the designated office.

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    2. Kelly L.

      Yes!

      Yet another dating parallel! It’s like how you shouldn’t generally dump your boy/girlfriend over the phone, but if you’re long-distance, it can be a lot kinder than making them take a trip just to get dumped.

      Reply
      1. Anoctopus

        Sometimes even if it’s not long distance. Depends on the circumstances, and whom you’re firing.

        I was fired from a job a few years ago… for asking my manager, on a team email list, a question which amounted (except phrased very, very politely) to, “I’m not sure what you meant by this thing you just said. I know you can’t have meant X, since that would be against professional ethics and our licenses would be at risk if we did it; so I’m obviously missing something. What do you want us to do here?”

        Turned out that X was *exactly* what he meant for us to do, and he went ballistic that I’d called him on it on in front of the rest of the team, so he no longer had plausible deniability. He sent two emails immediately: a thorough, foaming at the mouth type tantrum to the entire list about how OF COURSE he didn’t mean that, and how dare I accuse him of… what I explicitly said he couldn’t possibly have meant); and a darkly foreboding one just to me, asking me to meet him in his office as soon as possible.

        I got this on a day off (my profession works staggered days, and my weekend was a Tuesday), and I didn’t work at the same branch as his office anyway. I tried to do what damage control I could by sending an apology that explained that I had completely meant the opposite of what he’d blamed me for; that it never occurred to me that he would mean we were to violate ethics standards, which is why I figured *I* must have been missing something. Normally when he flipped out like that, he would settle down after a day or so and pretend it never happened, but this time he just sent back, “That’s fine, but I still want to see you in my office as soon as you get a chance.”

        That one reached me at work the next day, at the small branch office where I worked. It was only about 20 minutes from the main branch, but in the exact opposite direction from my house, and it had been a hard day already. I was definitely not feeling like there was much I could do or say to hold onto that job by then even if I wanted to, and after seeing his reaction (and talking to some of the other employees, so confirmed that the reason he freaked out was almost certainly that he DID want us violating our code of ethics, but didn’t want it to look like his fault for telling us to) I was less and less sure that I even wanted to.

        So I answered his email: “I just finished my shift and have only cleanup to go. But what’s your intention for this meeting? Because I’m happy to discuss anything you want to, and I can be there within the hour; but if you’re simply planning to fire me, please just get it over with by email. It’ll be easier on everyone.”

        He answered firing me by email. I was more than a little relieved. I really didn’t need a side trip up there for the purpose of being made to feel even worse than I did, and I much preferred not to face him in person. He was trying to do what you’re supposed to by calling me in to say it in person… but that wasn’t the best approach for me, at that time.

        Reply
        1. sstabeler

          I think the rule of thumb is that the idea is that YOU should make the effort to speak to the employee you are firing- so requiring an employee to make a special trip somewhere just to be fired is unreasonable. (to illustrate the point: if you the manager) are on vacation, it would not be reasonable to expect the employee to make a trip out to your vacation spot to be fired in person. As such, it’s not reasonable to expect an employee to make a special trip to be fired. ( I would also say that if an employee would be fired as soon as they walked in the door, then it is polite to fire them via a phone call instead- the idea being that they don’t waste time and either gas or train/bus fare) coming in when they will just be heading straight back out again.)

          Reply
    3. Sunshine on a cloudy day

      Don’t mean to go completely off topic here, but I had a boyfriend who was making a big deal about scheduling a time for us to get lunch sometime that we week. It was this huge ordeal b/c we lived a couple of hours apart and it was an extremely hectic week for me. I could tell something was up, and we’d clearly been drifting apart. I finally asked him point blank if he was arranging this lunch to break up with me. And he was.

      I appreciated that he was trying to “do the right” thing and do it face to face in a timely manner, but sometimes you have to think through the whole situation. Yes, conventionally, you should fire (or break up with people) face to face, but there are times where its just easier for all involved do a phone call instead.

      Reply
    4. SusanIvanova

      It’s the law in Switzerland that you get notified of layoffs/firings in person, so when my whole team got laid off our Swiss work-from-home co-worker got the news after a 2 hour drive to the nearest office. He was beyond pissed – not least because in his case he should never have been on the layoff list in the first place.

      Reply
  8. Is it Friday Yet?

    OP since your question is about whether this is acceptable, your employee really isn’t presenting you with other options. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to terminate her via phone or email. Saying that you will be in the following day and then not showing up is completely unacceptable in my book unless of course there is some sort of emergency or reasonable explanation, but it sounds like your employee has not provided any of that.

    Best of luck with recruitment.

    Reply
  9. Erika

    I had to do this once. She never answered so I ended up leaving a voicemail after three days of trying to reach her. She miraculously called back 5 minutes later to “thank [me] for the opportunity” of working for me, then tried to use a former coworker as a reference (said coworker was her manager, not true).

    I ended up sending her a courtesy email to let her know that person was also let go and that she’d be best served by leaving us off her resume entirely.

    Reply
  10. Government Worker

    Does the type of work or length of employment affect this advice? I’ve never worked retail or food service, but I get the sense that being fired by phone after not showing up for a couple of weeks would be no big deal in many stores and restaurants. And if the person is a temp or contractor, still on probation, etc., it also seems like no big deal. On the other hand, firing the CFO who’s been with your company for 20 years seems like it really ought to be done in person, even if there are a couple of weeks of attendance problems.

    Reply
    1. Lemon Zinger

      I definitely think the industry matters. When I was in my first job, where we were staffed mostly by teenagers, almost everyone who was fired was fired by phone, and it was never a surprise. But if my boss had been fired, of course it would have been done in person.

      Reply
    2. Meghan

      Industry definitely matters. My boyfriend is the GM of a restaurant/bar/amusements place and they have a huge staff with a matching amount of turnover. He’ll come home and tell me he “fired” someone, when really the person has no-called/no-showed two shifts and he just calls them to say they don’t have a job anymore. Most of the time he fires someone its because the person just stopped showing up for work.

      Reply
      1. kbrew

        When I worked in restaurants (and retail, for that matter), it wasn’t uncommon for people to leave for lunch and never return.

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    3. Stephanie

      I agree. This was sort of the norm when I was working with low-wage, high-turnover employees. After a certain number of days of no-call, no-show, it became job abandonment and termination paperwork was started. We usually would call to let the employee know he was being terminated. It would get a bit hairy if they were working at the airport facility–we had to get their security badges back per rules from the TSA (and the city that owned the facility).

      Reply
    4. Anxa

      In the service industry, being fired or laid off at all can be courtesy, as opposed to dwindling hours and sporadic shifts.

      Reply
    1. Lia

      We do too. It’s 10 days with no communication from the employee to either their supervisor or HR. At that point, the employee is removed from payroll, vacation time is paid out, and the job can be posted.

      We did have a very sad situation once where it was assumed that a staff member had quit with no warning. It turned out that she had passed away (not completely unexpected, as she had some health problems) and since she lived alone, no one found her for four days. :(

      Reply
      1. Ann Furthermore

        Oh, that is so sad. I would feel terrible for her (obviously), and then feel more awful for all the nasty thoughts I probably would have had about her just up and leaving her job without telling anyone.

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      2. Jean who seeks to be Ingenious

        Twice in this thread I’ve been reminded that even though the professional standard is to separate our work and home lives, the two still share our time and energy. I think the lesson is to treat all people as kindly as possible since all burdens aren’t immediately visible. (I deliberately added “as kindly as possible” because while kindness is ideal, there’s no point in being the doormat when someone else is determined to be the bully. Self-preservation is also a virtue.)

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        1. Paquita

          My workgroup (12 people including supervisor and manager) has an emergency contact list. Addresses, phone numbers, and emergency contacts with phone# and relationship. No one would be left uncontacted for four days.

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        2. Confused Teapot Maker

          I used to be in an industry where the work was pretty casual and no-shows/people just not turning up was not uncommon. When I got into a supervisory position for the first time and had to deal with these, I remember sounding off to a manager .

          He took me to one side and told me to give the person the benefit of the doubt. He was once let down last minute by a new worker, who had then been uncontactable for the day she was supposed to be working. He went ranting and raving to somebody else…who, unknown to him, was a friend of the missing worker and happened to know precisely where she was – in hospital, following a serious car crash. She was fortunately fine in the end but my understanding was there were a few moments when it was a bit touch and go.

          I’ve been inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt since hearing that story. I mean, sure, some people are just irresponsible and just stop turning up for work because yolo or whatever. But I would hope OP in this situation has at least tried to address the reason the person isn’t turning up (assuming, of course, we’re not talking about a remote worker who just isn’t in the office).

          Reply
      3. designbot

        My first job out of college we were concerned about this with one employee. She no-showed on monday, and by the afternoon we realized that we hadn’t seen her since friday, she lived alone, and something horrible could’ve happened. The boss’s wife stayed at home so he actually had her go to the employee’s apartment to check if she was okay. Completely unprofessional I’m sure, but had the right motivations.

        She was fine, continued to demonstrate that she did not actually want to come in and do her job, and wound up being fired by phone about a week later after calling in sick in such a way that clearly communicated that she was not actually sick at all.

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      4. Artemesia

        I know of two cases where people didn’t show for work; someone went to their home to check on them. In both cases they were dead.

        Reply
  11. Lucy Westenra

    I got fired by phone. I didn’t mind; I was working the night shift and management works banker’s hours, so the other option would have been to call me in on my day off, which would have sucked. I can understand firing in person if you work the same hours, but if the person is AWOL or remote or working the graveyard or on Mars or whatever, phone is easier for you both.

    Reply
  12. sstabeler

    normally, I’d say it’s not acceptable to phone, but in this context, it looks suspiciously like she’s avoiding coming in specifically so you can’t fire her- at which point, it’s reasonable to go to the next best option.

    Reply
  13. SusanIvanova

    “you don’t blindside someone with a firing phone call just because they happened to be out sick with the flu on the day you planned to fire them”

    That happened to me at Very Educational Company – “educational” in the sense that I learned so much about what a dysfunctional company looks like.

    Reply
    1. Lucy Westenra

      Damn, that sucks. Well, at least now you’ve probably got a killer-accurate dysfunction radar. Love the username, by the way. Faith manages.

      Reply
    2. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

      I got blindsided by a layoff once, via telephone call. I was working at home for the day when the Big Big Boss called me on my landline. I pretty much knew what the deal was going to be as soon as I realized who it was, but it was still pretty horrible.

      The rationale for doing it on the phone THAT DAY was because they were laying off a bunch of people (including my manager), and didn’t want me to hear through the grapevine about layoffs.

      Reply
  14. JanMA

    From an employment law standpoint, you might want to think twice. You didn’t mention why the employee was out, but if for health reasons, she might be able to turn around and claim she was fired for being sick (which no doubt isn’t the case but the EEOC doesn’t know that). Sometimes employers have to suck up an FMLA leave before terminating someone just to cover their butts from future allegations of discrimination.

    Reply
  15. Suburban Gal

    While I agree with Alison in that you should always do them a courtesy by terminating an employee in person, i.e. face-to-face, terminating someone via a call, VM, E-Mail or text message is quite common these days with smaller employers. Over the past 8 years, I’ve bene let go twice by VM and once by E-Mail. Most small employers just don’ t care and never will so doing the right thing when it comes to hiring and firing just isn’t going to happen.

    Reply
  16. wizbang fl

    I would send a letter via express-mail with delivery confirmation. The delivery confirmation is the proof that the message was delivered to the employee based on the address you have in their HR record. HOWEVER, this is taking into account that the absence is not due to illness or other Leave of Absence policy put in place by some other entity (state, county, or organizational) leave policy in place that allows for the absence. If it qualifies for any LOA policy you need to follow the policy to the letter, if you have an organization who administers your LOA program generally the employee is expected to notify them of the absence after x consecutive days of absence. All of this should be in employee information. In particular any notification requirements for medical or administrative documentation requirements must be met or the right to separate the employee would exist. As a manager you may be expected to remind them of the requirements for notification of the LOA administrator. If they don’t do it or don’t qualify for LOA then I would proceed with ending the relationship. The main thing here is consistency between one employee and another to prevent even the appearance of discriminatory behavior or favoritism toward other employees.

    Reply

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