should I tip off my coworker that he’s getting laid off?

A reader writes:

The company I work for is significantly off budget, and I have known for about a week that a particular manager (who’s basically a peer) is being considered for layoff as the company is looking to make major cuts. I was brought into the conversation because of the effect his separation will have on my responsibilities. My manager wants to be sure I am willing to take on some tasks that are very different from my normal position. Of course, I am okay with that because I would rather have my job. Still, having the information is agonizing! Not because it is considered juicy gossip, but because I feel like I should warn him.

This afternoon I accidentally viewed severance information that confirms it is going to happen. It wasn’t shown to me intentionally, and I did not go looking for it but now I know … and I feel even worse!

This same evening he came to my office and asked if I knew why his schedule was blank after Monday next week. It may have been an oversight or not finished yet, but the rumor mill has been turning lately (not fed by me), and he is making logical assumptions. I wanted so badly to tell him, but I managed to shrug and play stupid.

I know if I were in his position I would want somebody to warn me. Personally, I think he is an arrogant jerk but not at all the type to sabotage things or jeopardize his reference. Do I need to stay quiet or should I just tell him? How much damage could fair warning cause?

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.

{ 109 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Former Govt Contractor

    Don’t tell him. Sounds like his layoff is imminent anyway, so a heads-up probably wouldn’t help much. Also, if it was discovered that you told him, it would impact the way your supervisors perceive you. You don’t want them to think you can’t be trusted with confidential information.

    Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        Yes. Unless it’s a close friend who you know is about to make a major life decision based on having this job (like using most of their savings to put down a payment on a house), a week’s heads-up isn’t going to make a difference. Especially as he has already deduced it’s a strong possibility, and so is probably NOT thinking “Time to spend all my savings on a new car.”

        Reply
    1. Jesca

      I second. Don’t tell them. Part of the job of being a manager is keeping your mouth shut sometimes. This is one of those times. You will look bad if you don’t.

      Reply
    2. Artemesia

      Spilling confidential information is a great way to get fired. If I had a subordinate trusted with transition information who told others, I would fire them. You can’t have people in positions of trust who abuse that trust.

      I was once in a situation where many people unexpectedly lost their jobs in an unexpected merger. Thinking back I can see how a couple of well placed people tried to tip their friends but very very obliquely. One guy would ‘worry’ in conversation about the finances of the organization and how it wouldn’t hurt for all of us to be thinking about job searches. He didn’t go so far as to tip those in the endangered departments but he clearly agonized about knowing something was in the wind.

      Reply
  2. DecorativeCacti

    Leaving a blank schedule out seems like a massive oversight. The bosses might not have said, “You will be let go,” but they kind of don’t need to.

    Reply
    1. Mrs. Fenris

      I had a coworker who totally found out she was being laid off that way. She was an IC but had a pretty regular schedule. The schedule was posted on a whiteboard, and when she came in one day the next month’s schedule was up and her name was nowhere on it. She’s a candid, easygoing sort, so she immediately texted the boss, “So, did I get fired? I’m not on the schedule.” Boss, who ignores most texts/phone calls for a few hours, immediately called her back and had a conversation she had been putting off…

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        And then there was the boss whose attitude was “Just because you quit, don’t think I’m taking you off the schedule for next month.”

        Reply
        1. Observer

          These are the folks I really don’t understand. Not taking them off the schedule and, by extension, not finding coverage doesn’t hurt the person who quit. It only hurts the supervisor who acts that way. I’m not excusing a supervisor who doesn’t tell someone that they’ve been laid off or fired. But I can somewhat understand the thinking.

          Reply
    2. anonanners

      I had a coworker who figured out he was going to get fired based on this. The worst part was that when he asked why he wasn’t on the schedule, he kept getting a “technical difficulties” line until they finally officially fired him. Shitty.

      Reply
    3. Murphy

      I had something similar happen to me. I had been told that someone needed my office by a particular date and they were going to move me (which I was excited about, because my whole team was co-located except me). I asked my boss about it, since we were fast approaching that date. She told me not to worry about it and that it was being taken care of. I think I was fired that day or the next one.

      Reply
    4. Cyrus

      Agreed. I’m not a manager, but am I the only person who thought that the OP’s office is very badly managed?

      A blank schedule is a massive oversight. Also, it seems to me that severance information should be kept quiet under the circumstances. Also, it seems kind of weird to me that they’d be talking so directly with the OP about how they’d handle the coworker’s departure. Sure, overlapping responsibilities, and maybe the details make it impossible to avoid leading her to the conclusion, but it seems to me like they really should have tried to avoid it if they possibly could.

      Reply
  3. designbot

    Nope, nope, nope. There would have to be a really compelling case to even consider telling him–like, he’s your BFF and also you know he’s buying a house right now or the timing is otherwise such that the few days head start would make a significant difference. None of those appear to be the case here. Don’t say a word except your sympathies after it’s happened!

    Reply
    1. idi01

      I agree with your “nope, nope, nope.” Although I may have added another two nopes. The risk is that OP tells her colleague, and the colleague goes to the boss and says “OP told me I am being laid off, is that true?”

      Reply
  4. Polymer Phil

    Do it. Your loyalty should be toward other people who can reciprocate it, not corporate entities that see you as a number in a spreadsheet and will lay you off at the drop of a hat too.

    Reply
    1. jm

      In this situation, I respectfully disagree. OP said he/she feels the person is “an arrogant jerk,” so it sounds like they would not maintain contact after the layoff anyway. No expectation of person-to-person loyalty there. And yes, the company could also lay off OP, but why give them cause to do so sooner than later, by breaking confidentiality?

      Reply
    2. Recruit-O-Rama

      I don’t know if you have ever participated in lay offs, and maybe some companies DO abide people this way, but most do not. Making the business decision to lay people off is not something managers do without thought or care. I have participated in lay offs and it has always been one agonizing decision after another. It’s horrible advice for you to suggest the OP jeopardize her career, reputation and trustworthiness over this kind of overly simplified and cynical thought that you have.

      Reply
      1. HMM

        Totally. I know the desire to blame it on The Man might make it easier to stomach, but in most good organizations, managers, HR teams, and senior leadership lay people off as a last resort. It’s never, ever done without thinking through every possible consequence. It’s obviously not as bad as being laid off, but delivering the news of the layoff is painful to do, especially if you worked closely with them. Our org just had to do this recently due to a department reorg and it was agonizing for everyone involved.

        Reply
        1. Michael Burnham

          “The Man might make it easier to stomach, but in most good organizations, managers, HR teams, and senior leadership lay people off as a last resort.”

          I am an M&A attorney. This view is incredibly naive. No, HR teams may not all be like Mr. Burns on the Simpsons, gleefully anticipating the layoff, but nor do they view it as a last resort. They go into transactions with eyes fully open.

          Reply
          1. HMM

            Fair enough. Should have prefaced with “In my experience…” I suppose. I imagine it’s probably different for giant fortune 500s or multi-national orgs, but from the perspective of the mid-sized, nonprofit world in which I live, it IS a last resort. But I don’t think we disagree on your last sentence though. As I said, it’s not done at the “drop of a hat” as the original commenter noted. It’s not done without thinking through every possible consequence.

            Reply
            1. MerciMe

              I mean, that’s based on the assumption that all organizations are staffed by ethical people. Unfortunately, I find that culture tends to drive outcomes. Um.

              So assuming a person isn’t an outright sadist (we know they exist), some people will try to avoid acknowledging any human impact, treating employees like game pieces to avoid feeling bad or guilty. Others have an identity built around being hatchet-wielders, and may or may not truly believe that “clearing out deadwood” is the best way to get a team back on track. Some management teams really are just incompetent or dysfunctional.

              There are as many different reasons for why these processes go bad as there are people and organizations. But you’re really fortunate to have encountered the good ones and it’s comforting to be reminded that everyone isn’t cynical and hard.

              Reply
    3. hbc

      If we’re just talking self-interest, the argument is even more in favor of not telling him. The possibility of a guy you think a jerk paying you back for 5 business days heads up on his layoff versus…the possibility that your coworkers and managers who trusted you with information learn that they can’t share anything with you and give you a bad reference going forward, maybe even putting you on the chopping block for the next round.

      This isn’t a close call.

      Reply
    4. Escapee from Corporate Management

      I also disagree. In addition to all of the reasons listed by Allison and others, here is a big one: the risk to OP’s own job. Not during this layoff, but in case there are future ones. Unfortunately, many companies often go through several rounds of job cuts (I’ve been there). If OP has their reputation damaged, OP could be impacted in a future round.

      Reply
    5. Truth Teller

      I for one would USUALLY agree with Polymer Phil.

      However, OP stated that her colleague was a jerk. So I don’t think he’s in a position to reciprocate anything. OP needs to look out after her own interests, and here the risks outweigh the benefits.

      Reply
    6. CityMouse

      Reciprocating loyalty from someone doesn’t pay your bills. OP isn’t actively lying, just not saying anything.

      I currently supervise a close friend. It sucks (this is temporary) but a frank conversation we had is that at work, I am her supervisor first and can’t use our friendship to make work decisions. She understands because she is a good friend.

      Reply
    7. Susanne

      The kind of attitude that “corporate entities see you as a number in a spreadsheet and will lay you off at the drop of a hat” typically comes from people who are low-level, and are always going to stay low-level. Layoffs are not fun and games for anybody.

      Reply
      1. The Strand

        Well… I worked for an AVP who agonized about firing one person during layoffs… and I also worked for an AVP who was, as they say, “sociopathic”. This person enjoyed watching people squirm. While I think far from a majority see employees as a “number”, I agree with MerciMe that sometimes the person doing the layoff is not an ethical person.

        Reply
    8. copy run start

      I can only think of a handful of exceptional people who I would risk telling — but they are the types who I could trust to act appropriately with such information, the kind I still meet up for lunch with on a regular basis.

      The average coworker? Nope. Not worth it. Why give the company a reason to lay you off when you know they are looking for names?

      Reply
  5. DaniCalifornia

    I would never tell my coworker, and didn’t in the situation I was in, but it was agonizing knowing for almost an entire month that it was going to happen. I *HATED* knowing. It was such a shock to her and I didn’t love the way my boss did it. But all of us admins knew, and he told the professionals the day of at lunch. Then he did it that afternoon. So every single person in the office knew before her.

    But it would have been worse if I told her because like Alison mentioned, I was told in confidence and was expected to keep my mouth shut.

    Reply
    1. designbot

      That’s pretty callous. The one time I’ve been in this situation it’s been much like OP described. The office manager took me out to lunch and told me that this was happening to a peer I worked very closely with, and asked if I’d be willing to take on some of her duties til we could replace, likely in 6 months. The actual firing happened at the end of that week and she was given two weeks notice so that she could start looking for something else. I did not tell, and did not consider doing so (she was awful, so that made that decision a lot easier).

      Reply
    2. I See Real People

      One of the managers at a place I worked was fired like that, except it was announced at lunch and then talked about among the other 10 managers for the next month in various meetings and lunches when the manager being fired was not in attendance. Everyone knew, except him. They even posted his job on a website, which he saw, and they told him it was just a “mistake when posting another job”. It was awful. I felt so bad for him.

      Reply
  6. Anon Accountant

    If I knew they were going to make a major purchase such as a house or car I’d tell management and hope they’d tell the coworker about the layoff or even lay them off BEFORE they made a large purchase assuming they’d not be losing their job.

    As much as I’d want to warn the coworker it’s destroy managements trust in you.

    Reply
    1. AAA

      When I married my Ex they’d known for months and waited until he got back from three weeks honeymoon to tell him. Then told him to train up the underling who needed the info and skills only the Ex had. But the underling was the better choice to keep…

      You can bet that made us mad when we knew how long they’d been aware of the outcome of their assessment earlier in the year. Luckily he found another job quickly and we didn’t spend the months after getting married trying to work out how to not lose our house…

      Reply
    2. TootsNYC

      I had a boss who knew she was going to fire me, and she waited until after I’d spent money to travel home for Christmas (and buy presents) to do so, because (she told me when she was firing me once I’d gotten back) she wanted me to be able to enjoy the trip home.

      I thought that was so asshole-y of her, to decide for herself that it was OK for me to spend that money, etc.

      I was struggling at that job, but I decided later, after much reflection, that half of it was her. And this comment from her was part of that decision.

      Reply
    3. Ophelia Bumblesmoop

      Thank you for having this consideration. My husband was laid off the day we closed on our new house – and management was well aware as they had to confirm employment information for our mortgage. They knew for 3 weeks that we were in the midst of a huge purchase and a warning would have helped tremendously. It was too late to back out of the purchase (keys were in our hand!) but we wouldn’t have signed contracts for immediate renovation if we had known. We were lucky that we had a huge emergency fund set aside and my husband was able to take time finding the right new position (and do work himself instead of hiring out like planned).

      Reply
      1. Anon Accountant

        They handled that in a terrible way. A few weeks notice would’ve been the kind thing to do, especially when they knew a house was being purchased. That was poorly handled by management.

        Reply
        1. Ophelia Bumblesmoop

          One manager acknowledged it when saying she pushed for an extra month’s severance pay. It was less a layoff and more a firing directed by another manager when the partners in the firm who hired my husband were out on vacation. Upon their return, the instigating manager was let go as well. Clearly there were office politics at work, but we appreciated that the manager was fired as well.

          Reply
  7. De Minimis

    I was recently in a similar situation, thankfully our organization is super transparent to where they’re letting people know months in advance, so I only had to keep the information to myself for a week or so. I don’t think you should tell people. You might not know everything about the decision, and something could change that you’re not aware of.

    I do agree with the advice to let management know if you hear about the person planning for major purchases, etc.

    Reply
  8. Mazzy

    I might consider it under some cases but this is going to happen next Monday according to the letter, so warning him this week isn’t really going to give him time to prep.

    Reply
    1. OverboilingTeapot

      The only circumstance I’d consider it in this case is if you knew he had another offer and was about to turn it down. Wasn’t there a letter about something like that?

      Reply
  9. Cotton Balls

    I say no, don’t tell him. I’m an admin assistant and I see confidential information (disciplinary forms, budget items, termination/layoff paperwork) on occasional and sometimes I really want to tell people, but I know that I can’t. It would hurt my reputation and possibly cost me my job.

    Reply
  10. Just kidding

    Maybe you could leave an anonymous note on his desk telling him he’s being laid off but that way it will not be connected to you or affect you.

    Reply
    1. JulieBulie

      Also maybe leave some mints there too, so he’ll wonder if someone thinks he has bad breath. (Just flashing back to another letter!)

      Reply
    2. CityMouse

      I think that is a bad idea. Coworker is more likely to freak out and it could turn into a thing and OP exposed anyway.

      Reply
  11. k8

    I think the first related link on this post is the most compelling reason of all to not tell him– that situation sounds like such a nightmare!

    Reply
  12. Thebe

    I agree — don’t tell him.

    When I was laid off a few years, one of the other managers (who was a dear friend) knew about it beforehand. She had to know, since most of my responsibilities landed on her. She did not tell me beforehand, and I totally understood why. I was lucky in that only a few management types knew about my layoff ahead of time and it was handled very well. I still have a good relationship with that company.

    Reply
  13. Alice

    Absolute DO NOT tell him, or if the manager find out you told him, you will most likely be out the door at the same time.

    Reply
  14. Erin

    Nah. If it were me being laid off I wouldn’t hold it against my coworkers if they knew and didn’t warn me. In fact, that’s happened before, now that I’m thinking about it.

    Reply
    1. K.

      Happened to me too when my team got laid off. They didn’t know for long, but a few people did know. It’s business. (I also wasn’t emotionally invested in that place, which helped, but still.)

      Reply
  15. Midlife Job Crisis

    I wouldn’t and also don’t discuss it with management. While my example is off topic, I was laid off from my FT job around Veteran’s Day and I overheard two of my colleagues (one of them being my boss) making a joke of whether or not I had a job after a major work conference. I couldn’t get a straight answer, so I went ahead and started my job search.

    Reply
    1. The Strand

      How tacky and callous of your boss and colleague. And then to not have the stones to own up to what they knew, when you confronted them.

      Reply
  16. HS Teacher

    I lost a good friend over a similar situation, but since you seem to dislike this person, it probably doesn’t apply to you.

    In my situation, I was super close with a co-worker, to the point where we hung out outside of the office and had worked together at two previous jobs. I was terminated while on vacation to my hometown, which is on the other side of the country. All of a sudden, my email was not available. I texted my coworker, and she assured me everything was fine and told me that happened to her often when she was traveling. Unbeknownst to me, she knew they’d terminated me and had even helped clean out my office.

    If she’d told me, I would’ve extended my trip home instead of flying 3,000 miles to get back to work to be told I was canned. I will never forgive her for that. I would have reached out to the boss and asked point blank if I was fired since my e-mail wasn’t working, and he would never have known she told me.

    I stopped speaking to her after that, but a month later she reached out to me to see if I’d found a new job because she had just gotten fired. I told her I had changed industries after dealing with way too many jerks in my old one, and I couldn’t help her but wished her well.

    Reply
    1. Creag an Tuire

      That’s not really the same situation, though — your coworker didn’t fail to warn you about an impending layoff, she for some reason refused to tell you you were fired after you were fired(!), which is just bizarre. (And combined with them firing you and cleaning out your office while you were away on vacation, it sounds like that was an utterly dysfunctional workplace that you’re well rid of.)

      Reply
    2. Kiki

      Wow, that was an incredibly jerky way of your ex-job to handle that. Fire you while you’re on vacation by shutting off your email? Something similar actually happened to my husband; he came back from lunch one day to find out he couldn’t log into his email. He went over to IT to ask them to look into it and the IT guys got shifty eyed and told him to talk to his manager…who was in meetings for the rest of the afternoon. HR came by over an hour later to tell him he’d been fired.

      I understand your friend not being able to tell you outright, but assuring you everything was fine was cruel. She could have at least given you a vague “Maybe you should call [manager] about that, sooner rather than later.”

      Reply
  17. Lora

    “Why is the schedule blank next week for me?”
    “Sounds like something you should talk to your manager about.” *raises eyebrow*

    Done.

    Reply
    1. mugsy523

      Yes, this! He probably sees the writing on the wall, is praying he is wrong and made that comment to you hoping you could confirm / deny what he’s thinking.

      Reply
    2. Anon for this

      OMG this.

      A bit off-topic, but I did something similar (hence the Anon tag) when a NewJob hired a new contractor, whom I’d already known from an OldJob. He had been a massive jerk to people at OldJob, both professionally and to myself and my family personally; and there was a giant scandal surrounding his leaving. To avoid getting into detail, he left because he found a new job, but did not leave in a good way. I liked NewJob, and had a good relationship for my boss at the time, whose brother I’d worked with at OldJob. I wanted to warn the boss. But how? I poked my head into his office as I was leaving, and said “I think I saw a familiar face today!” Boss said, “yes, he started today. Did you work with him? How was he?” and I told him, “Well I would not know, because I was not on the same team with him. But your brother was.” That’s it. Didn’t even have to raise my eyebrows. Boss got the information on the guy, and started watching him closer than he normally would’ve. The guy must’ve remained his usual jerky self, because his contract was not renewed after it ran out. He left after a few months and I never saw him again.

      Reply
      1. Anon for this

        relationship with*

        what happens when you go back and edit what you’d typed to rephrase it, and then miss a piece.

        Reply
  18. ArtK

    One of the things I’ve hated about being a team leader and then a manager is carrying knowledge around like this. You have to continue as if everything is fine, when you know it isn’t. I’ve had to give people assignments knowing that they will be gone before they barely get started. I knew 30 days in advance when our division was going to be sold.

    When asked “Am I going to be laid off?” I usually respond with a soft diversion “It’s always a good idea to keep your resume polished.”

    Reply
    1. Judy (since 2010)

      I find it interesting that some companies have managers know about the layoff decisions before the day. At the 3 F50 companies I’ve worked for, layoff decisions are at the director level (director has 5-10 managers working for them, managers have 5-20 engineers working for them) and HR. I’ve had multiple managers say that they didn’t know about layoffs until the meeting that morning when their directors told them to lay off people.

      Reply
      1. ArtK

        In my case it was because I was involved in deciding who went and who stayed. Most of the layoffs I’ve been involved with are done on a “who can we afford to lose” basis, rather than seniority or some other criterion.

        Reply
        1. Judy (since 2010)

          I think it’s generally “who we can afford to lose”, but the decisions are made on a level that really only knows the people based on who is on what project and what is written on the annual reviews. Oh, and also, if the layoff is of any size, then they have to worry about demographics. A co-worker who had been laid off told me he was given documentation about the demographics of the overall engineering departments vs the demographics of the layoff group. Age ranges, sex and race.

          In my experience, annual reviews are the way to communicate to upper management what you did and how well you did it.

          Reply
      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        That was my experience when OldJob closed our office. Our manager (who would be going on maternity leave during the layoff period) was just as blindsided as the rest of us.

        Reply
  19. Creag an Tuire

    This same evening he came to my office and asked if I knew why his schedule was blank after Monday next week. It may have been an oversight or not finished yet, but the rumor mill has been turning lately (not fed by me), and he is making logical assumptions. I wanted so badly to tell him, but I managed to shrug and play stupid.,

    Either he knows, or he’s so far down De Nile that you sticking your neck out won’t help him. Either way, you should protect your own job with a clear conscience.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      yep!

      I think you could say, “Wow, I can see why you’re worried. If you -did- get laid off, would you be ready?”

      Reply
  20. mr mike

    Worked in a large factory a couple years ago. 11 months after the factory started operations we all got a surprise email the company was filing for bankruptcy. About a half-hour later, the VP of came back to production, had us gather in a circle & told us that it was a debt restructuring that would only affected HQ out of state. That was on a Monday. On Wednesday they went to bankruptcy court & asked to shut us down. On Thursday, all the managers had a meeting & came back and told us it was a hostile takeover & we would switch from being employees of Company A to employees of Company B. On Friday we were informed that the factory would shutdown December 31. Apparently that wasn’t cruel enough, so they later changed the date to December 15. So, 10 days before Christmas, all 720 of us were let go under supervision of several police cars in the parking lot. The cherry on top was that the bankruptcy court denied us our accumulated vacation pay…

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Oh man, that so sucks.
      Unfortunately, bankruptcy courts have an order they must follow when paying off outstanding bills and other commitments. Stuff like vacation time probably isn’t even on the list or very near the bottom. I remember looking at the things that must be paid first and I was shocked.

      Reply
      1. mr mike

        A couple of months after the lay-off, I googled the company name, hoping to find out how the SEC investigation into the CFO & COO were coming along, & found an article that said they petitioned the bankruptcy court for $3M+ for executive bonuses. Even the business writer who wrote the article couldn’t believe it! He wrote that it was a clear case of rewarding failure, & that he knew who wouldn’t be getting a bonus, the 800 people that were laid-off!

        Reply
  21. Attorney

    If this is someone you like, connect on LinkedIn if you are not already, get personal contact info, etc. Do not say that they are being laid off, but make it easy go stay in touch after (helpful if that person is being walked out that day and doesn’t have time to ask colleagues for references). If not, just tell him go talking to his manager about it.

    Reply
  22. Been there

    Yeah, this is one of those times that you forget everything you hear about the person and pretend you don’t know anything.

    He did get his warning with the schedule being cleared and should be talking to his boss.

    Nothing good can come of you saying anything.

    Reply
  23. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

    I was tipped off about a layoff by a colleague a few days before it happened. I couldn’t have been more grateful for the knowledge.

    I pre-emptively got my stuff in order, had my laptop and files all tidied up, personal stuff gone from my desk, reviews and other important documents downloaded, important contact info saved. When the shoe did drop, I was ready instead of being blindsided, and I had my “you’ve been laid off” conversation professionally and without emotion.

    I’d tip off a valued colleague. I might not say it explicitly, but if she asked me point blank if she was getting laid off, I’d probably let her know with my body language or a vague “not no” answer. Because knowing ahead of time really does make a difference. (If it was a colleague I didn’t care for, I probably wouldn’t risk it, though!)

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      There are some people, I do agree. These would be people who understand that I am trying to help them and in exchange would handle their situation professionally like you did here.
      Not everyone can do as you did though, both you and your colleague played your roles very well.

      Reply
  24. TootsNYC

    He has his warning.

    The tea leaves are all there.

    The most I might do is, if I knew him to be planning a big expenditure, is to say, “We all know layoffs are coming–maybe it’s not smart to get too far along until we know what shakes out.”

    Reply
    1. MashaKasha

      That is exactly my thought on this. Whether it was intentional or accidental, they have already warned him when they left his schedule blank. He knows, more or less.

      Reply
  25. TootsNYC

    And…this reminds me. A month or so ago, my company announced there would be layoffs. It could be me.

    I should probably be organizing email, etc., and physical belongings. Just in case.

    If it turns out not to be me, then fine–I’ll be all organized!

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      I was the world’s densest person along with my peers when our venerable long lived organization tanked and was in a merger that took out several departments (they layed off by duplicated department to avoid any lawsuits which in our profession with complicated contracts were possible) Guys came by and put numbers on all the furniture in my office , computer etc (just taking inventory don’tcha know) There was a reorganization to sort people out of a matrix organization into a departmentalized one. Business had been in obvious decline. Still came as a total shock. Did teach me to always have vital documents backed up at home and to have my resume up to date. I managed to land a job back at the new company but not a single other one of those dozens layed off were able to do so.

      Reply
  26. Not Who I Think I Am

    Not quite a layoff story, but something to pay attention to.

    One time the President of the company called me into his office to tell me that my direct boss was going to be let go over the weekend. I sat with this knowledge, and did the best I could to deal with my boss for the rest of the day.

    I came to work on Monday morning and… there was my boss! Seems that he had talked himself out of the termination.

    Nothing happens until it happens. I’ve participated in layoffs where the final decision wasn’t made until after the termination packets had been prepared. Keep your mouth shut.

    Reply
    1. EvilQueenRegina

      That’s kind of like the other letter linked to, where that manager told her team they were getting laid off based on the computer printout that then turned out not to be what was happening. Technically something could still happen so that the guy doesn’t get let go, so yes, keep out of it.

      Reply
  27. DivineMissL

    Way back in my specialty retail store manager days, I was told in October that our sister store across the street (same company but different line of business) would be closing on December 26. They didn’t want anybody to know because they were afraid that the staff would all quit and there’d be nobody to run the store during the Christmas season (which was probably an accurate concern). The staff would come over to my store and say things like, “Gee, I wonder why we haven’t gotten any new merchandise lately,” etc., and I would just have to look baffled as well. Sometimes I wished I was in the dark too! But I had to do my job and keep the confidence I had been entrusted with – I had to set aside my personal feelings.

    Years later, I worked for another company that laid off 1/3 of the workforce all in one day; due to my position, I knew the layoffs were coming but I didn’t know which employees would be selected (including myself). I was able to mentally prepare myself in advance, in case I was part of the layoffs (I was); but it was heartbreaking to see 25- and 30-year employees who had no idea they would be out of work that day, crying as they gathered their things.

    Reply
  28. Mary

    It’s quite weird if your employer hasn’t made it absolutely clear that you *can’t* tell your colleague. It’s weird that they’ve given him a massive great hint by leaving him off the schedule, and it’s weird that they’ve left you in a position where it hasn’t been made clear that this is confidential information and sharing it is a major no-no and would put your employment at risk. It really doesn’t sound to me like your company is very good at making people redundant!

    Reply
    1. Escapee from Corporate Management

      Yes, this. At two different companies, I was part of discussions around layoffs. In a third, we were planning a relocation that would significantly impact our staff and probably lead (and did) to multiple involuntary separations. In all three situations, we were told–verbally and in writing–that prematurely revealing this information to any of our reports would result in termination. While OP was not given this explicit warning, my advice is to treat the information the same way.

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      With scheduling, I have seen companies not post a schedule. People knew from previous experience, “okay someone is getting canned soon.”

      Reply
  29. Sualah

    Hmm. I wasn’t in this situation exactly, but I applied for an internal transfer from the department I was in to another department, but little did I know that my company was planning on spinning off that department into a new company entirely.

    My original contact at the other department, the one who encouraged me to apply, had found out about this and got herself out, but let me keep going along. Within my first week, they announced the plan. We had options: stay with the department and move to the new company, or stay with the original company and guess what department you’d be assigned to if you stayed? That’s right, the department I’d just transferred out of.

    I decided to stay with the original company (didn’t want to lose my seniority and everything and be part of a brand new company) and go back to my (somewhat dysfunctional) department, but my contact talked to me later, “Oh, yeah, they told us about that plan, and I knew I had to get out–I didn’t want to lose all my seniority and everything!” But you couldn’t give me a head’s up? Like, I get that you can’t share confidential information. But not even a pointed, “Well, I’m leaving this department. Are you sure you want to leave where you are and join this one?” Or other hints?

    She didn’t know about it when I first applied, but by the time I got the offer and accepted it, she knew and was already on her way out. And I had emailed her super excited that we would be working together again. She said she was excited too, but before my first day, she was gone.

    The whole thing really left a bad taste in my mouth.

    So…should you tell? I wouldn’t say you should tell, but I would say that strong hints would be appropriate. But don’t risk yourself. I wouldn’t want my contact to have put herself at risk, but I still feel like she screwed me over.

    Reply
    1. JessaB

      Honestly I think that was a terrible thing for the company to do. They knew they were spinning off that department, they should not have continued to hire for it. What would have happened if you couldn’t have moved back to your original job and didn’t want to work for the new company. That’s outrageous of them. It’s not like they found out after you started. They knew before you officially accepted the role and moved.

      Reply
  30. SheLooksFamiliar

    I was part of a corporate HR team that handled layoffs some years ago, and I think ‘pre-warning’ hurts more than it helps. Not only does the person have to wait for the axe to fall, pretending everything is copacetic, but the lay-off list can change at the last minute. I had to literally run to some offices to tell the manager NOT to terminate a team member due to a last minute change. I don’t care who says what, layoff decisions are not always final. Even if they are in this case, others have wisely pointed out that this info was shared in confidence, and on a need-to-know basis.

    It’s difficult and it sucks, OP, but as a manager, it’s part of your job to be discreet and trustworthy with company-confidential info.

    Reply
    1. Jillociraptor

      This is true in my experience as well. I work in a university where many employees are unionized (and all are subject to pretty employee-friendly campus policies), so we often get into an issue where one employee not slated for layoff gets a new job, and then another employee who IS slated for layoff has “bumping rights”/rights of first refusal to the vacated position, and then another employee…you get it. The chain reaction throws the final layoff list into chaos. People sometimes ask to be laid off when they find out they weren’t. Layoffs will suddenly get pushed back for a whole variety of reasons. All kinds of unexpected stuff can happen. It sounds like the most likely outcome in the OP’s position is that her colleague will indeed be laid off, but even then, the couple of extra days of notice are, as you say, more of a harm than a help; just a couple extra days of dealing with the issue, except you have to do it in silence and not with whatever supports your organization has hopefully set up.

      Reply
      1. SheLooksFamiliar

        Oh, wow, that sounds so frustrating, Jillociraptor. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is to not only notify employees but to make sure you’re meeting policy in such challenging circumstances.

        Reply
    2. bohtie

      yeah, my employer has very strict rules about not announcing layoffs ahead of time – the closest we’ll get is maybe a single vague comment from my grandboss about restructuring. Literally what happens is that right before lunch, you get called into a meeting, and you get sent home directly from that meeting and that’s that. After everyone is gone, they gather the remaining folks and tell them what happened. From what I’ve heard, it’s for safety reasons – one theory I’ve read is that this cuts down on incidents of workplace violence because the people who got laid off have to immediately go home, which gives them time to cool off (and also cuts off their access to the building because all our entrances are secured). The other safety thing is that we deal with a ton of confidential information, and by taking people directly from the layoff meeting to the door, they don’t have a chance to (for example) take any data home with them in retaliation, or to even consider doing so because they don’t know they’re losing their job.

      It still sucks. I still hate it. I still cried in my boss’s office the first time a bunch of my coworkers just up and disappeared.

      Reply
  31. Big City Woman

    I was once laid off on Administrative Professionals Day (I was an executive assistant at the time). I had heard rumors of lay-offs but didn’t know whether they were true or not. Nor did I realize it was happening that day.

    When they called me into the conference room with the Office Manager and two HR people, one of the HR people said, “So, I’m sure you know why we asked you here.” I had no clue. I just looked at her dumbly and said, “Um… no, I don’t.” I remember thinking, “What the hell is going on?” and will never forget how they all looked at each other for a moment like they couldn’t believe I didn’t know and weren’t sure how to handle that. Apparently a lot people had been brought into conference rooms to be let go all day long, but it wasn’t obvious to me, where I sat, and I am the type to avoid gossip. I did see one admin escorted to her desk to get her things, but we just thought she’d been fired. I really didn’t know she was part of a big sweep.

    So, they told me I was laid off, to which I burst into big dramatic sobs. I was shocked. It didn’t seem fair that I was the Executive Assistant to the co-head of our department and being laid off on Administrative Professionals Day, but it also happened to be my birthday that day. I think I cried for two days straight.

    Reply
  32. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    I have to admit, this is one of the letters I’d love to see an update on. How did it go when the layoff was announced? It’s been a while, so I know we’re not likely to see it at this point, but… still.

    Reply
    1. Big City Woman

      You mean you want an update to the OP’s letter, right? Not my comment, I’m sure. My story took place about 15 years ago, lol, but I’ll never forget that I was laid off on Administrative Professionals Day AND my birthday.

      Reply
      1. Big City Woman

        Oops, for some reason it looked like you had replied to my post. Doesn’t look that way now, so I don’t know why I thought that. Sorry!

        Reply
  33. Bea

    My partner found out about his layoff through the grapevine and not his boss. It was totally different because his boss was such a baby he had to pry it out of them in the end to finalize our plans to move on.

    On the flip side I saw people laid off and knew before it happened. It was gut turning for me but I didn’t squeal because it wasn’t something they needed to know until they did. It only draws out the pain if you see the axe lowered instead of dropped.

    Reply
  34. Not So NewReader

    I think this is typical of many workplaces. There are so many things that happen that make our stomachs churn and/or make us feel like we have to compromise our own ethics.

    In this case, I think I would wait until the dust settled then go in and talk to the boss. “Gee, Boss I did what you asked. I kept in under my hat that Bob would lose his job. I wasn’t comfortable with that, I am sure you weren’t either. I was wondering if we could handle it differently the next time?”
    Notice the collaborative phrasing here, notice how you assume the boss was not comfy, also. That assumption is important because it can sometimes open up conversation. If your boss is even half way decent she will probably talk a little bit about the method used. Go carefully here, if you are certain the boss is willing to accept suggestions then offer your suggestion.

    I have done this with even difficult bosses and gotten some results. The over all pattern is “We did x. We got y result. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was just a tiny bit easier in some way?”

    Reply
  35. Mrs. Fenris

    I worked a single day at a small company while the owner was out of town. I worked closely all day with an assistant. During lunch, the office manager confided to me that the boss had instructed her to fire this person at the end of the day. (Fire, not lay off. Her 90 day probation was up and she hadn’t made the cut.) It was horribly awkward to work with this person all afternoon. I so much wished the OM hadn’t told me.

    Reply
  36. KhaleesiforPres

    Well this is timely. I was just laid off a few hours ago due to a restructure and downsize.

    YES! WARN YOUR COWORKER! I would have very much appreciated not being completely blindsided.

    If your coworker is a decent person they’ll appreciate it like crazy – you will mean the world to them for telling them the truth – and, the last thing they will want to do is throw you under the bus. Quite the opposite.

    If it were me I would thank you profusely for telling me as it gives me time to arrange a plan of action and check what my entitlements are. Not to mention start job searching.

    If you think you know how they’ll react and they’ve been a goid colleague please, I urge you to tell them.

    I would have been greatly appreciative if a coworker had warned me and they would have been one of the few memories/people I would’ve cherished about my stint at that job.

    People don’t forget those who dod the right thing, same as how people don’t forget who wronged them.

    I am still eternally grateful to the ex employee who laid it all out for me when I started – how my cronyism workplace operated and who to watch out for etc. He left of his own volition but he did wjat he could for newbies before leaving.

    You don’t owe your employer your allegiance when it comes to human decency. Do the right thing, tell them so they aren’t blindsided and can prepare themselves.

    Reply
  37. cncx

    I totally agree with AAM that it isn’t like this is months away.

    That said, i was laid off completely by surprise one day after breaking my lease and signing a new, more expensive one to be closer to work that my boss knew about. At least one other person in the office, if not two, besides the boss and HR, knew that i was doing that. I’m ok with leaving that job, it sucked, but i am still to this day furious that people LET me break that lease knowing full well what was going on without even hinting, one day would have been fine. So that is about the only exception i could see with telling the coworker- if you knew he was about to buy a car or a boat or something,otherwise it really isn’t OP’s business but it would be a kindness if OP knew about any purchases/finances

    Reply
  38. Jady

    OP doesn’t really mention the relationship with the coworker – and that’s the deciding factor in my opinion. If you don’t know the coworker well, there’s no base of trust or expectations.

    However, if you are close to the coworker then this is where I incredibly strongly disagree with Allison. Assuming you know if this is something your coworker would appreciate and if they would keep your confidence.

    I’d say something akin to: “Sorry to say this but I thought you’d want to know – just between us. I saw something I shouldn’t have and I think you’re one of the people being laid off.”

    A couple extra days notice in advance is absolutely a big deal, in my opinion. Job hunting can take a really long time, they can start writing their resume, figuring out their references. If in the US, they may want to make a visit to a doctor or refill their medications before they lose their insurance, or go on COBRA, or start the paperwork to change their insurance to their spouse’s. Around the holidays like now, they may want to stop their Christmas shopping and refund things. They could be signing a new apartment lease they wouldn’t otherwise do, buying non-refundable plane tickets for a vacation or family, so on and on.

    And I say all of that as someone who was in that position. A week before I was laid off at a previous job, I had JUST signed a lease for a new nicer and more expensive apartment, and then it took me nearly 5 months to find a new job.

    As someone from the other side of this coin, please tell the person whenever possible! Even if it’s just a suspicion too, just explain how confident you are in what you’re saying.

    Reply
  39. Greg

    I’m not going to way in on whether the OP should tell her colleague beforehand, but having once been in the colleague’s shoes, I will say that if she doesn’t do it before, I would absolutely recommend she not do so afterward.

    Years ago, I was let go from a job where the CEO and I didn’t see eye-to-eye. One of my direct reports took over my responsibilities on an interim basis for a few months, eventually leaving the job a year or so later.

    Anyway, we stayed in touch, and at one point we grabbed lunch together and he confessed to me that the CEO had come to him the day before he let me go and told him he was going to do it the next morning. I guess he felt like it was this thing he had been hiding from me that he had to get off his chest.

    The thing is, it had never occurred to me at all, and if he had never told me I would never have even considered the possibility. I wouldn’t say I was mad at him for telling me, but in retrospect I wish he hadn’t. It brought up all sorts of bad memories, and added a layer of shame that the CEO was going around bad-mouthing me to my direct reports.

    Reply
  40. Roscoe

    For me this would very much depend on my relationship with the person. It doesn’t sound like you are close (or that you even like the person that much) so I would probably keep my mouth shut. If this was an actual friend, like someone I think I’d stay in touch with after we no longer worked together, I think I’d probably say something, without coming out and saying “you are getting laid off” outright

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Before you comment: Please be kind, stay on-topic, and follow the site's commenting rules.
You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS