are you always at least partly to blame if you’re laid off?

A reader writes:

I am currently job searching right now and through the local library have ran across a couple of books by Cynthia Shapiro, who is a well experienced HR manager herself. In one of her books, she gave some good ideas of how to be a good employee and ways companies could come to value you as an employee.

The question I had for you is, Ms. Shapiro seems to have the attitude of if you get fired or laid off, it’s partially your fault. That no matter what happens, if you fall under one of those two scenarios, there was something you could have done along your career path to have changed it. Her philosophy is, if a company values an employee enough, then even if tough times come, and layoffs are in store, they will still keep you.

I don’t fully agree with this, because I know plenty of people who are good workers, that followed all rules and policies, got along well with everyone, were valuable to the company, and they still got laid off (Steve Jobs, for example). Do you think this she is right, or could we all have done something to have not gotten laid off?

I don’t know anything about this author, but from what you’ve written, she sounds like a piece of work.

Sure, sometimes when someone gets laid off, and quite often when someone gets fired, there are things they could have done to avoid it. But always? Absolutely not, and it’s insane for her to say that.

For instance, sometimes a company is eliminating an entire function. You could be the most fantastic chocolate teapot maker they ever had, but if they’re no longer going to be making chocolate teapots, you’re going to be laid off. Now, maybe they have a line of chocolate chandeliers that they’re willing to train you to work on because you so impressed them with your work on the teapots — but sometimes the skills don’t transfer in way that would have that make sense. (Note: I stole the chocolate teapot example from a commenter because I want a chocolate teapot.)

I once had to lay off someone who was absolutely fantastic at her job because the work she was doing didn’t make sense for the organization anymore. It had nothing to do with the quality of her work or how much I valued her. It was solely, 100% about eliminating that function. And this type of work was her career — she wouldn’t have wanted to shift to a totally different role even I’d been able to offer that to her.

There are plenty more examples, too:  Your company is bought by another company, and they want their own people doing your function. Or a new boss comes in and brings her own team with her, so you’re out. I suppose Ms. Shapiro would say that you’re at fault for not quickly winning over your new boss, but in reality, these decisions are often made before they’ve ever even met you.

Now, firing is trickier. It’s more common to have played a role in getting fired …. but not always. You might have an insane, erratic, dumb, and/or vindictive boss. Or a racist boss. Maybe you walked in on your vindictive boss in flagrante with the intern, and you’re fired the next day as a result. Maybe you’re hired for something you’re great at, and new management alters your job to the point that you’re no longer doing something you’re good at.

Now, maybe Ms. Shapiro would argue that you should be able to finesse your way out of any of these situations, but come on. Good, competent people do sometimes get fired for things they couldn’t have seen coming and couldn’t have avoided. Sometimes you just end up in a bad situation with no good path out.

I suspect what she’s doing is to try to get readers to see how their choices can and do play roles in firing and lay-off decisions … because they often do. But to claim that that’s always true, every time, is not only ridiculous and wrong, but it’s also pretty crappy to send that message to people who truly might have played zero role in what happened to them.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Liz Ryan*

    For sure, and I’d add that when someone is laid off, a manager has dropped the ball somewhere. We can hire people on a full-time ‘permanent’ (sorry, coffee just chortled out of my nose) status, or temp status or contract when a full-time, oops-did-I-say-permanent? person is laid off, a manager screwed up. It happens, but still. Let’s just call a spade a spade. The leaders of the company are supposed to be keeping an eye on the horizon. They’re supposed to use contingency staffing for jobs that might not persist. To blame the employee for his or her own layoff is beyond mean. It’s part of the same set of messed-up cultural messages that make us think it’s okay to treat job-seekers like cattle.

    1. Kim Stiens*

      Exactly! And since for-profit businesses seem to always have an eye on this quarter and nothing beyond, I bet there are all kinds of people who end up in a situation like that.

      This also reminds me of the tragic Frank Grimes, who was hired for merit and replaced by a dog….

    2. Anonymous*

      Would you also argue that an employee who changes jobs has dropped the ball somewhere in his career planning? Shouldn’t he have kept an eye on the horizon, and not committed to a company he couldn’t 100% say he’d work at for the rest of his life?

      Needs change, and no one has a crystal ball, not even corporate leaders. There are many legitimate and unforeseen reasons why layoffs are sometimes necessary. Why do always need to blame one side or the other?

    3. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

      This is not an accurate view at all. The managers of the company should be looking towards the future of the overall company.

      In your way of thinking, no company should ever produce a product that will not have eternal appeal. There should be perfect prediction of market forces.

      You cannot use “contingency staffing for jobs that might not persist” if they will last beyond one year, as the IRS says those people are not temps but employees and must be treated as such. What you’re inadvertently arguing for is a land where no one is an employee, everyone is a contractor. Fine, but that doesn’t increase job security.

      1. Piper*

        Really? Because my company uses long-term contractors (aka, “contingency staffing”) for nearly half of its workforce. Many of them have been contractors there for several years. Or is this not the same thing as a temp? I’ve temped before and I’ve worked as a contractor, and they seem pretty similar to me (including the W-2 status). Not being snarky, just genuinely curious.

        1. Long Time Admin*

          Piper, a lot of people who used to be called “temps” are now called “independent contractors” for the sole purpose of getting around that inconvenient little IRS thing.

          I temped for about a year at our city’s largest employer, earning about 1/2 the salary of a “permanent” admin. When my brother-in-law was a line supervisor there, he saw almost half the workers on the line were temps doing the exact same things as the permanent workers for, again, 1/2 the money and none of the fringe benefits. It’s just seen as a cost savings, and Those In Charge are not bothered by the blatant unfairness.

          1. Piper*

            This is exactly what’s happening at my company! And it’s a huge global employer! People are doing very high-level, specialized, non-admin work and are being called “contractors.” And they earn much less than they would if they were actual employees and have no benefits at all (health, 401K, paid time off, etc). This doesn’t seem right.

            1. Esra*

              I used to work for a huuuuge company as one of the contractors you are talking about. We constantly has 2(!) placement companies taking off every pay cheque, no sick or personal days, no benefits, and had all been working for years in jobs that used to (and should) belong to full-time employees. It really really sucked.

      2. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

        Joey gave you some good links.

        You can be a long term contractor but not a long term temp. Contractors should be hired to do jobs and should have the freedom to complete it how they see fit.

        For instance, I’m a contractor for CBS. I have agreed to write 3 articles a week, but what I write and when I write it are up to me. If I need to pay money for something involved in an article, it comes out of my pocket, not CBS’s. I am free to write things for other companies.

        1. Kat*

          I work (as a temp) for a major financial company and some of the temps have been here two years. I just passed my one year mark. Usually whenever I have previously worked as a temp there was a cut-off period where the company had to hire you or end your assignment. Here, apparently, at least in my department they are keeping the temps indefinitely. The only reason I’ve stayed so long is that 1) it’s a paying job, and the work schedule is great for my studying while I’m in school. But yeah, we are long term temporary workers. Not contractors, temporary workers.

          1. Liz in a Library*

            I’ve had this same experience. My first “adult” job was just over three years in temp status; I would have remained a temp employee forever if I hadn’t left for another employer.

            Definitely not a contractor – managed just like other employees, no independent work really (entry-level). Only difference between me and the permanent staff was that I was making minimum wage and wasn’t eligible for benefits.

      3. The gold digger*

        I interviewed with a company that got a lot – maybe most, I don’t remember – of its line employees from a temp agency. I don’t know what they called them – temp, contractor – but I gathered in talking to the person who was showing me around the plant (they stuffed DVD cases) that the main reason they used a staffing agency was so they wouldn’t have to verify immigration status. As in, they wanted to be able to hire illegal immigrants (and pay the low wages that go with that) but have plausible deniability. I was relieved when I didn’t get an offer – work is hard enough when you work for an ethical employer.

        1. Anon.*

          The staffing agency be responsible for checking immigration status. And by using a staffing agency the company is avoiding paying benefits.

        2. Piper*

          Okay, that’s definitely not going on at my company as far as I know. They still pay contractors extremely well, even compared to what other employers pay full-time employees, but it’s still less than what a full-time employee would be paid at this same company in the exact same position (and doesn’t include the cost of benefits).

    4. Anonymous*

      Something I’d like AAM’s take on:

      Given that most states are at-will employment states, what’s the real difference between the different types of employment you’ve listed above? I think hint at my question with your snorts and chortles :)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well, being a contractor generally means no benefits and no severance if you’re laid off. And payroll taxes are your responsibility, not the company’s.

        1. Piper*

          At my company, contractors are W-2 employees contracted out by a staffing firm. Taxes automatically come out of the paychecks. I’m still confused about the legal logistics of all this!

          1. Lesley*

            Yes, this is the difference between a 1099 contractor and a contract employee that’s employed by a staffing agency. The legality issues mostly surround the 1099 contractors.

            Contingency staffing is usually done with W-2 employees, whereas independent contractors (1099s) are used for specialized positions and are essentially self-employed. You can keep contingency staff going for a long, long time without converting them to regular employees.

            1. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

              Actually you can run into conflicts with agency staffers as well. If I have the same person from the same temp agency working at my company for more than a year, the IRS could, again, state that this person is an employee of MY company and therefore is due all the benefits of an employee of my company, including health insurance and pension, if any.

              Once company I worked for had to go back and give pension credit to any person who worked as a temp for more than a year, per the IRS.

              Hiring temps does not solve all staffing problems.

              You also need to be careful that you don’t treat your temps as staff. For instance, if you have an “all hands” meeting, the temps should not come, as they are not part of the staff.

              Good times!

              1. Piper*

                The contractors at my company, even though W2, are treated as staff required to do things in an “all-hands on deck” meeting and are not able to complete jobs as they want, when they want. Plus the contractors are in high-level, highly specialized positions (but not management), not administrative roles. Basically, almost anyone who falls under the title of coordinator, specialist, or analyst, senior and not senior, are contractors. Assistants are also contractors. Managers, Directors, and VPs are staff. There are people who have been contractors for upwards of 5 years. This seems not…kosher.

                My initial understanding of a contractor is that they are brought on for a specific project in as specialized role (like a senior programmer or something) and work on that project until it’s completed and move on. This is not how it works at my company.

              2. Piper*

                Geez, sorry, that first sentence is a mess. I forgot to go back and edit it. It should say, “The contractors at my company, even though W2, are treated as staff and required to do things in an “all-hands on deck” meeting and are not able to complete jobs as they want to.

                To add: I see absolutely no difference in how this company utilizes contractors from other companies with permanent employees in the exact same positions.

            2. Piper*

              I give up! Typos in the corrected sentence!

              “The contractors at my company, even though W2, are treated as staff required to do things like an “all-hands on deck” meeting and are not able to complete jobs as they want, when they want.”

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s possible that your company is breaking the law (I’m hesitant to say definitively because I don’t have expertise in this area). If they are, they have a lot of company in doing that, but could also have legal repercussions from it at some point in the future.

              2. Piper*

                It really does sound like it to me. The big joke around the company is that contractors are treated exactly like employees but without any of the benefits of actually being an employee. And contractors definitely don’t have the luxury of being independent. They are most certainly managed and given rolling assignments in the exact same manner as a regular employee. There is absolutely not difference at all.

                I wonder…what can be done about it? FYI- I’m actually contractor at this company who was hired for one job and when I came on board, they changed the job description on me, so I’m not even doing what I was hired to do (and I’m not good at and positively hate what they have me doing now!).

              3. Piper*

                Also, the NYT article you posted says: “Many workplace experts say a growing number of companies have maneuvered to cut costs by wrongly classifying regular employees as independent contractors, though they often are given desks, phone lines and assignments just like regular employees.” Every single contractor at my company has a desk, a phone line, company e-mail, and a company issued computer. This is sounding more and more shady to me.

              4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                You could contact the IRS and ask them to look into it. The danger, however, is that doing so can harm your relationship with your company, so you’d need to decide if that risk is worth it to you.

              5. Piper*

                Well. According to this list of 20 standards the IRS uses to determine employee versus contractor, I am an employee and so are the majority of the other contractors:

                Not sure if it’s worth the hassle to bring it up to the IRS, especially since I’m interviewing for other jobs and am hoping to get an offer soon. But it obviously is a huge problem.

              6. Anonymous*

                Piper, you’re talking about independent contractors, which you’re not. From what you’ve said, they are paying taxes on you. They aren’t treating you as an independent contractor.

                I work for one of the largest staffing companies in the world. Like you, I’m a contract employee (two years as of last week). It’s frustrating to not get the benefits, but they aren’t breaking any laws by having me work out of their office as a regular employee, attend all hands meetings, etc. Because right now, I’m part of their staff on a contingent basis. I’m not an independent contractor, and since I’m getting a W-2, they aren’t misclassifying me.

                Evil HR Lady’s point about the time making a difference might be true–I’ll need to look into that–but I doubt it. If it was true that having W-2 contract employees embedded in a company with regular employees for longer than a year were illegal, pretty much every staffing company in the world would be breaking the law in their own headquarters. My company knows employment law backwards and forwards because it’s what they do, and as much as I would LOVE to be a regular employee, I don’t think they’re treating me illegally.

    5. Vicki*

      My (all too recent) situation.

      My manager understood what I did. I’d been doing it for 5 years with many happy internal customers (mostly individual contributors and some first-level managers).

      Then my manager resigned, the same week as a division re-org. Lots of flux and “where do we put these people”. I (with a deep-knowledge support role) ended up in a back-end development team.

      The new manager told me “What you do is valuable to the company but you don’t fit in my team (i.e. my list of priorities for this quarter/year/etc).” I talked to a lot of people over the next month and a half; they all said the same thing.

      I was laid off on Nov 30. What I did was “valuable” but “not a fit” for any manager I talked to. No one was willing to take the responsibility of (re)creating my previously existing job.

  2. Under Stand*

    Sure it is partly your fault: you did not quit!

    Seriously I think anyone who says that a layoff is always partly the fault of the employee who got laid off is someone who is clueless. You can do everything right and still it ends up your job does not exist anymore. The only way I see anyone could seriously argue otherwise is if they had the attitude of my first (sarcastic) comment!

    1. Liz*

      That’s what I wanted to know – also, and this is completely irrelevant now, a friend of mine received a chocolate champagne bottle as a Christmas gift from an employee. If that exists, surely someone somewhere is making the teapot version.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I first brought the Chocolate Teapot to the attention of this blog. It comes from the phrase “It’s about as much use as a Chocolate Teapot” to describe something useless or pointless.

        A company that makes chocolate teapots isn’t necessarily one which is useless, I just use it if I need to give some context without going into personal details.

        I suspect you can buy chocolate teapots. I did once see a chocolate tool kit in a chocolatier I frequent. : – )

            1. Adam V*

              I’m guessing “catflap” is another term for what we call a “doggie door” in the South.

              The pop-culturalite in me is unable to keep himself from noting that Biff Tannen messes up a similar quote in Back to the Future 2 by saying “that’s about as funny as a screen door on a battleship” (and Marty corrects him to “submarine” under his breath).

  3. Kerry*

    Oh please. This is the kind of hyperbole that is meant to sell books and/or get someone booked on a CNN interview. It has nothing to do with real life.

    Anytime anyone is arbitrarily assigning blanket blame to an entire spectrum of people or situations, they’re very very likely to be full of crap. Real life is more nuanced than that…but saying so doesn’t sell books or get you on CNN.

    I went looking at the author’s website to see what exactly her real life HR experience is…but alas. It doesn’t say. Color me shocked.

  4. Laurie*

    OP, I think Ms. Shapiro’s attitude towards firings and layoffs (“it is partly your fault”) isn’t right, but the underlying idea is worth a discussion. With any firing or layoff, there is a lesson to be learned.

    A person could be fired or laid off despite being the best performer, but they could have seen it coming and started planning for the transition instead of being caught by surprise – by keeping informed of executive transitions and changes in business strategies, understanding which way the wind is blowing, figuring out the personalities of the people making decisions, and comprehending the politics / culture of the organization.

    1. Nichole*

      You make some good points here. There’s always an exception-a factory in my town went on a huge hiring binge and talked up the growth they were expecting in the newspaper (main source of ‘industry info’ for many of the workers here), then one day soon afterwards the workers showed up and the doors were locked-but it’s worthwhile for employees to always have an ear to the ground and to keep up on industry trends, news, stock prices, etc., so that they can prepare to be marketable if laid off or fired.

    2. Dan Ruiz*

      Thanks Laurie; this is what I was thinking.

      I was working my way down to the bottom of the comments to leave my 2 cents.

      I’ve been laid-off a couple of times over the years, and I narrowly missed a third lay-off last month. In each case, there was a lesson to be learned. As a result, I’ve made adjustments to my approach to career growth, networking, self-improvement, and office politics.

      I don’t know that I would say that it was “my fault” that I got laid-off, but I was able to learn from it and hopefully I can prevent/avoid it in the future.


  5. Sheila*

    I’m still somewhat aggravated that I have to say yes if anyone asks if I’ve ever been fired for a job.

    No, I didn’t catch my boss in flagrante with an intern, but I did see the obnoxiously drunk owner try to hit on a customer (and get shot down by her). I was fired the next day, and the manager halfway admitted that the owner didn’t want me around because of what I’d seen.

    I’d like to know how I could have finessed my way out of that firing, Ms. Shapiro.

  6. Hannah*

    I think this is a great question with no straightforward answer. In my opinion, it’s common to be laid off without having done anything *wrong*, which is basically how AAM answered the question. But the purpose of work is not just to show up and fulfill your job description so you can get paid. The point is to add value to society. I think the author’s point is that if you are doing a job that doesn’t add value to the world, and you haven’t made yourself indispensable, then you shouldn’t be so surprised to be handed a pink slip. It is an overgeneralization but I get her point.

        1. Elizabeth*

          This happened to my mother. After 30+ years at a global corporation (you’d recognize the name), she was laid off, along with her entire department. The company was booming in the ’70s and ’80s when she started, but it had trouble adapting to new trends in technology and started laying people off in the mid ’90s. Mom survived about four rounds of major layoffs , and when she was cut, it was along with everyone who did anything related to her job. Other departments in the company weren’t necessarily safe, either. The company has since filed for bankruptcy.

          She could have looked for another job before she got laid off, I suppose, but given how many people in her field had already been laid off it was a tough job market in the area. About the only thing to do would have been to move to another town, but my dad was established in his career, and my sister and I were in school – uprooting everyone because of the possibility of a layoff seems absurd.

      1. Piper*

        This. And it happened to me. I was laid off despite some pretty big contributions to the company that changed the way they do business and added lots of $$$ to the bottom line. So yeah, you can be a fantastic employee and still get the short end of the layoff stick.

  7. KayDay*

    I do think that at a personal level, if you are laid off, it is definitely worth thinking about what you may have done that contributed to it, and then learn from that lesson.

    For example, I had a friend who was laid off because her department was eliminated. However, she was very surprised/disappointed that she was not moved to another department (her skills would have translated very well). She did a good job and her reviews were good, but she never when above and beyond what was required. She didn’t take initiative. Basically, because she never went out of her way for her job, her company didn’t go out of their way to save her job.

    My mom always reminds me that “everyone is replaceable” and “they can always find a reason to fire you if they want to bad enough.” No one is perfect enough to be beyond being laid off or fired. This doesn’t mean it’s entirely your fault, but it does mean that there is always a lesson to be learned, and that some introspection is needed.

    1. YALM*

      “…she was not moved…” Did the other department to which she could have been moved have an opening? Did she apply or ask about a transfer? Did her management know she had the skills of which you speak?

      Note that I am not assigning blame here, but why, exactly, should she have been moved?

      1. Anonymous_J*

        Good point. At my company, they don’t move people doing my job function from department to department–even though the skills are transferable. Instead, they hire temps, which is cheaper.

      2. KayDay*

        She worked in an agency setting where people could be transferred/promoted without an “opening.” Her department was a specialized department, and the other department was the “bread-and-butter” department where she interned. She occasionally assisted that department when they were very busy (and the fact that she had time do this, in hindsight, was a red flag about her department). This is why she was really surprised it didn’t happen.

        …but my point was that in this case, while the elimination of the department wasn’t her fault, there still were things she could have done better. But my friend (because she’s awesome, IMHO) has really learned from the experience. She now, in her new job, tries harder to be “visible”, make sure she stays busy with work that matters to the company, networks with the managers who are well liked by upper management, etc, instead of just doing her tasks and no more. Even though she was laid off with severance and a good recommendation, she still took the time to think, “gee, what could I have done differently that may have helped me not be laid off.”

        (and I’m also better off for it since I was able to learn from the things she told me about the experience).

  8. KP*

    I worked as a secretary/receptionist for a company that repaired, rented, and maintained video poker machines. The voters in my area outlawed the machines. I lost my job. Absolutely not my fault.

  9. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

    Attitudes like this one make me so angry. For three years I ran layoffs for a big pharma company. Yes, if you are a poor performer you are more likely to be on the list. No, the list is not full of poor performers.

    The company decided to end research in a particular area. All those scientists? Gone.

    A drug goes off patent? All the marketers and sales reps, gone.

    We close a plant? Everyone there, no matter how fantastic, gone.

    Right after I quit, we got bought out by a larger company. Tons of finance and HR people were laid off because you don’t need two of everything in those areas.

    1. Ellie*

      Not to mention certain types of manufacturing/union jobs where layoffs are based entirely on seniority. There’s not much you can do about being the last person hired, is there? Should one then never take a union job?

  10. Anonymous*

    I wonder if people like this know that the people who are going to listen to her (the writer in question, not the OP or AAM) are people who are already full of self doubt. And the people who often are the ones who did mess up are generally so full of themselves that they’d never hear a message like this anyway. She’s just perpetuating this cycle.

    My boss ran off with a very large amount of the org budget. I was doing Good Things. I was doing fantastically at my job. I was raising more money that I and my projects were costing. It wasn’t at all my job to monitor my boss nor was I allowed to. The org had to close its doors. How is that my fault?

  11. Jackie*

    Blaming comes out of fear because we are not in control. It makes us feel better. Life is random and unfair which is what Ms. Shapiro seems not to accept.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I love that you said this. I understand that people want reasons & lessons from everything. But I genuinely believe that sometimes, things are just bad luck. You just have to stop and reboot.

    2. K*

      +1 – I love your quote. I’m going to make it my mantra whenever someone says something ignorant about being laid off.

  12. Suzanne*

    Unfortunately, many hiring managers believe that the laid off person is at fault. I worked at a company for 14 years until it ceased to exist. Was that my fault? I don’t think so. Could I have bailed out when I realized the ship was sinking? Yes, but my whole profession is sinking so there wasn’t much to jump to. Could I have retrained? Yes, but I’m middle aged and to go into debt to retrain for something that may still not lead me to a job did not seem like a good plan. Could I have gotten a different degree 30 years ago, one that would have still been the hot item now? Yes, I could have, but who knew that in 2012 even accountants and lawyers are facing unemployment? Could I have devoted less time to raising my children and more to my career? Certainly, but I figured out early on that I couldn’t do everything. So, in that sense, I guess my bout with uneployment and now underemployment is my fault.
    But none of us has a crystal ball. Hard work and talent helps, but luck plays a great role in anyone’s career path. It’s sad that Ms. Shapiro, and I suspect many other hiring managers, don’t get this.

  13. Scott Woode*

    “but sometimes the skills don’t transfer in way that would have that make sense.”

    AaM, there’s a typo.

    In reply, I agree with many who say that we don’t have a “crystal ball” in order to predict the future. I also vehemently disagree with Ms. Shapiro and her assertions based on what the OP described. I agree with AaM in the respect that, often as not, our being “released” from employment has more to do with “Things Beyond Our Control” than something we have done professionally. I would also echo KayDay; there’s something to be learned in every life-experience you come across.

    Personally, this woman sounds like someone I would want to read purely out of a desire to heckle and disprove. But then, I have so much else I would rather read…hm, guess I’ll have to continue my professional life, unenlightened by the glorious tidbits of advice proffered by Ms. Shapiro.

  14. Anonymous*

    Taking Ms. Shapiro’s comments from a second hand source is not fair to her; the reader could possibly be wrong in the translation. If the reader is correct, I adamantly agree

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m the one who submitted the question (and little did I know what a can of worms I was opening!) and I encourage you to read any of her books to see if you don’t get the same attitude I did. I think she did give some great advice, but her books paint a dismal picture of the corporate world (that it is entirely run by politics and favoritism) in which you start to doubt that there are any managers/employers out there that are humane and genuinely care about their employees. I know they exist because I’ve had them (fortunately).

  15. Anonymous*

    A few months ago the nonprofit I work for had to lay off an entire department. Why? Because the State cut all funding for the program. This has happened to other positions where the individuals could find jobs within the company– however, this department was full of professionals with advanced degrees and specific training– with their department being gone, it made no sense for them to stay, as they were over qualified to be moved into other positions within the company.

  16. Hollis*

    So, here is my question then, as someone who was laid off but found a job right away, with less than a month gap in my resume.

    When people ask me why I left X organization, should I tell them it was because I was laid-off (which is the honest truth), or because I found a great opportunity to do Y, which is what I’m doing now and turned out, by pure luck, to be the best job I have ever had?

    I want to say the latter just to keep things positive and focus on the now (and because of stigma from attitudes like Ms. Shapiro’s) , but my industry is pretty close-knit and they might find out from other people that I was actually laid off and might think that I haven’t been truthful. What do you say?

    1. KellyK*

      I would say that you were laid off. If there’s anything you can mention that shows it wasn’t you, like they let the entire department go, or they got rid of redundant positions when the company was bought out, I’d mention that briefly. I’d also note that it turned out to be a good thing.

      Like, “Unfortunately, X organization eliminated their entire ABC department, and I was laid off. It actually worked out well, though, because I got a job at Y organization, which has been a great opportunity to build my DEF skills.”

    2. Anon*

      It seems to me like the latter is not, in fact, truthful. You didn’t leave X because you found a great opportunity to do Y, you left X and subsequently (and laudably quickly!) found a great opportunity to do Y. The reason you left X, though? Indisputably because you were laid off, no? Don’t fudge the timeline.

    3. Wilton Businessman*

      Simple, “I was laid off at X and two days later talked to company Y which offered me the perfect job, so I took it!”

  17. Anonymous*

    Maybe “Cynthia Shapiro” is another pen name for Penelope Trunk, or her real name. This fault statement thing sounds like the kind of huge, overarching, attention-getting thing Penelope would say.

    1. Jamie*

      How strange, my first thought was also that it sounded a lot like Penelope Trunk.

      I don’t consider that a compliment.

  18. Morgan*

    I must agree with everyone else, to say it is your fault for lay-offs and some other terminations is not true. I was fired by my boss because he said I “was not happy there” and “this is not a good fit”.

    However, I did not begin having problems with this boss until my look changed. I was the first African-American (male or female) in a management type role in my company. This initially gave me pause and I reconsidered accepting the position and staying where I was where there was plenty of diversity. However, I decided because I am a cultural diverse individual and was educated and raised in a diverse area, I should have no problem adapting and getting along with everyone. How very naive and wrong I was. I have over 14 years experience as an Executive Assistant, this position support a mere Regional Manager. I went from supporting the Chief Information Officer and Senior VP of Bank Operations to a Regional Manager at another company. In all the years I was employed at the bank, I received Outstanding and Excellent performance reviews. I changed my hair to it’s natural state (kind of Afro-ish) and the Regional Manager (who by the way did not have total say in hiring me, I was hired by HR who resides in another state) began micro-managing. When I was hired, I was hired as the Regional Office Administrator, I was told my hours were flexible and I could alternate working from home. I was responsible for Human Resources General functions, accounting, mail, research, and overseeing all administrative functions of the region, plus I managed any temp employees who worked for a business manager.
    Two days after I stopped straightening my hair, the Regional Manager came into the office (he was rarely there) and pulled me into his office and told me he wanted me to work 8-5, take a lunch from 12-1, and I could no longer work from home. Of course, I balked at some of it – just the lunch part. I preferred to take my lunch from 1-2. He wrote me up for taking my lunch at a different time and not calling him when I arrived at the office, when I went to lunch, when I returned from lunch, and when I was leaving for the day. I was a salaried manager. I did ask did the person prior to me do this and was told it was none of my business. I called her (I had her number in our database) and she informed me no she didn’t have to abide by those rules but she quit because of unethical practices.

    I then went on high alert and started documenting. I received my first review and it was needs improvement, although I streamlined many of the processes, cut traveling expenses by 15%, and reduced overtime. I wrote a complaint to HR because a needs improvement rating impacted my ability to receive a raise and a bonus. Six months later (reviews were conducted every six months), I was “Dismissed”, his reasons were I arrived 2 minutes late (remember I was salaried and did not punch a clock) two days in a row, I took my lunch occasionally at 12:05 and 12:15, not at exactly 12:00, and I rated needs improvement on my six month review. I never was given this review nor did I see it. So I filed for unemployment and listed his reasons and denied them. Unemployment denied my application saying I was fired for misconduct-late to work. When I appealed the HR department listed me as Laid off, and was stilled denied my unemployment. I was sent a letter by the HR department paying me out my salary for the next week (because I was salaried) and they are sorry this was not a good fit for me and they wish me the best of luck. Two of the other managers wrote referral letters for me.

    I wasn’t surprised by the dismissal, just surprised by the decision of the unemployment commission. How can you prove a salaried person was late to work? Also during each appeal, the employer did not respond or show up for the hearings. I have learned lessons from this, (1) there is still some form of prejudice in the world – no matter how well you do your job, and (2) I am better off working for myself as a Virtual Assistant – my clients will hire me based on my work ethic and output as opposed to color of my skin and the texture of my hair.

    1. just another hiring manager...*

      I ask this as a black woman with unprocessed hair who has blatantly and subtly been discriminated against: what else about this situation leads you to believe it was because you stopped processing your hair?

      Other than the timing of it, I can’t see it based on what you’re saying. I’m not trying to make light of your situation if that is what was going on, but simply attributing everything else you describe to the change in your hair doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe I am missing something, maybe I don’t want to see something that is there. I just think as black professionals we have to be careful where we play the “race card” and I’m just not seeing it here.

      1. Morgan*

        During the time I was pressing my hair, I was invited to managerial functions. The terms outlined in my offer letter (flexible hours, work from home, etc.) was not an issue. It was explained to me that was their lure of being a great company to work for because they encouraged work/life balance. The first day I walked into the office with my hair in it’s natural state, he came in and he said “whoa, your hair is big…I mean different” and I responded, oh’ yeah, this is how it is normally. That weekend we had a managers function that we could bring our spouses to. On Friday, I was told I could not attend because they forgot to include me in the reservation. I was also left out of future training sessions and was told I did not need to attend a kick-off (all employees, especially managers were required at these functions) because there were plenty of managers. One of the managers asked me to come to his meeting, when my boss saw me there, he pulled me to the side and told me I was not needed and was told not to come. I told him the manager asked me to come, he told me I should have cleared it with him first. He seemed to be really nice to me when I looked one way but changed when my look changed. I could pin-point the exact time he changed, this is why I feel it was discriminatory. I am very cautious of attributing discrimination to a manager’s behavior.

        1. just another hiring manager...*

          Thank you for the additional information Morgan. With your new information, I think I would have definitely felt discriminated against, too.

        2. Jamie*

          I am so sorry this happened to you. How do people like that live with themselves?

          My only quibble was with your questioning proving a salaried person was late to work. Some salaried people have set hours and if so, they can be late the same as an hourly person.

          That’s just a broad point – in your circumstance it certainly seems like just a ridiculous straw man for less than legal issues.

    2. Anonymous*

      Unless you had a contract clearly stating your working arrangements (flexible hours, work from home, etc.) the employer are within their rights to change it on you and fire you for not working within those changes. It sucks, and it may be unfair and unethical, but it is their prerogative.

      1. Morgan*

        The information was only in my offer letter and that did say it could change. The ability to work from home and the flexible hours being adjusted was not an issue, it was his issue with dictating my lunch when no one else’s was dictated and the changes only applied to me, not everyone else in the office. Even the hourly people were given more flexibility in their schedules than I was and they were production oriented, therefore a scheduled lunch makes sense because they impact other people. My schedule impacted no one. I found it ironic that he wanted to change my schedule but would still contact me well after 5:00 p.m. and has called me back to the office while I am on lunch because he needed help accessing a file and couldn’t wait until 1:00. The one time I ignored his phone call and email (which came on my personal phone), he gave me a verbal warning that I was salaried, therefore expected to be on call 24 hours a day if need be, so when he calls or emails, I need to respond and if I cannot adhere to that, I may need to think of working elsewhere. Wouldn’t this directly conflict with him saying my hours are 8-5 and lunch from 12-1?

    3. Morgan*

      I will say I take some responsibility in my dismissal because although I was salaried and had perfect attendance (which I did receive a bonus for – that was tracked according to us not calling in), I did walk into my office late two times and he was in his office when I arrived late. I was in the building early, just not at my desk ready to work at 8:00, it was 8:01 on one day and 8:02 on another. Honestly there may have been other days this was the case and he just wasn’t there to tell me because without fail, I arrived at work at the same time every day – 7:55, I lived 15 minutes (in traffic) away, 5 minutes with no traffic. I didn’t punch in, therefore I didn’t look at the clock. I would unlock the door turn on the lights and go straight to my office when I arrived. Normally I didn’t leave until 5:15/5:30 because I was always the last one out, so it would take me a while to cut off the lights and lock up file rooms. We had two other people in the office who would arrive sometime after 8:00 but would leave everyday at 4:45. I also take responsibility in that when he started targeting me, I should have started looking for another job, but I believed my work would be my saving grace. Apparently not.

  19. Ellen M.*

    It is absolutely true that good workers get laid off through no fault of their own – another scenario is if your boss (or another higher-up) can preserve his or her job and/or bonus by getting rid of you, then out you go. Without a backward glance or a twinge of conscience, they’ll shrug and say, “It’s too bad, nothing personal, just business, etc.”

    Blaming the victim can also give people a false sense of security, if they do their jobs well, show up on time and work diligently until 5, are well liked by everyone and good at their jobs – NONE of that matters if it comes down to someone in power getting rid of you to save him/herself.

  20. Anonymous*

    Cynthia’s argument seems like blaming the owner of a parked car for an accident, simply by virtue of it being there. If I hadn’t parked my car there, it wouldn’t have been hit – it doesn’t matter if it was my best parking job. So I guess her point might be true in a technical sense, but it doesn’t seem fair to put that responsibility on an employee.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      My car insurance did just that to me when my car was legally parked in front of my house overnight and hit by a drunk driver, who struck 3 cars in 3 blocks. I was considered partially at fault because my car was occupying that space. This was more than 35 years ago, and it still pisses me off.

  21. Jaime*

    I think that this perception of companies using layoffs to trim the fat is definitely out there. I would hope that it is waning a bit in light of the market conditions and plethora of layoffs the last few year. Last year, I stopped reading a particular personal finance blog last year because the author wrote a post about how he would never hire someone who couldn’t find a job within 3 months of being laid off. He maintained that a top performer could find a job quickly, no matter the employment environment, and anyone else was just not good enough for him. His opinion exhibited such a lack of understanding of how a variety of factors outside of our control can negatively affect the job market that it destroyed any credibility he had with me.

    However, you really do have to look at yourself and make sure you haven’t done things that made it easier for your manager to put you on the layoff list. After a layoff is definitely not the ideal time to be introspective and figure out if you could have been a better employee, but better late than never. The decision to have layoffs is outside your control, but your behavior at work is under your control and that can sometimes help reduce your risk of getting on the layoff list. Sometimes.

  22. Tami*

    I lost my job just before the economy tanked. What did I do to contribute to losing my job? Well, I’d say it was that day I worked late and ending up being crossing the street at the wrong time and got hit by that truck.

    Seriously. And the company could only accommodate so much recovery time. So I lose my job. C’est la vie!

  23. Jaime*

    When my company did their last round of layoffs a few years ago, they wouldn’t tell us the exact criteria that went into selecting the people let go but did tell us that if we wanted to avoid their fate that we needed to watch ourselves. When asked if it was attendance, “oh, I wouldn’t say it didn’t factor in but that was not the deciding factor – everyone should be here on time, everyday regardless.” When asked if it was errors, “oh, I wouldn’t say it didn’t factor in, but …” you get the the idea. They proactively scheduled meetings to discuss the layoff, told us people were not selected at random, did not tell us why they were selected, but then told us that we needed to watch our own performance so it didn’t happen to us. It was a very stressful time, made more stressful by their ineffective communication – each answer was vague and vaguely threatening.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ugh. That sounds awful and is totally contrary to the idea that the best way for a company’s morale to survive layoffs is for the management to be as transparent as possible. That said, I can see why they might not have wanted to get specific, in order not to be sullying the reputations of laid-off employees. (In other words, they understandably wouldn’t want to say, “We laid off Tom because his attitude sucked” or whatever.) So I’d say what went wrong here wasn’t so much the lack of specifics, but the vague threats toward the people remaining.

      1. Ellen M.*

        I also worked for an employer who used layoffs and the threat of layoffs (sometimes explicit) as a way of keeping people in line. They also were never clear on what their criteria were, but it was a workplace of other threats, intimidation, false accusations, lies, retaliation, etc.

        They would have LOVED for each laid-off person to blame him/herself; it would let them off the hook! Many other employers operate this way too. It is management via terrorism. During these layoffs they also promoted some employees from within, got those newly-promoted folks to do their dirty work, and then laid THEM off – so those people were left with regret that they had compromised their integrity, done harm to other people and had nothing to show for it; they ended up out of a job anyway – ouch!

        You can imagine what morale was like there (and still is, from what I hear, and they are once again threatening layoffs!) I am happy and relieved to be out of there and in a new job I am enjoying.

  24. Long Time Admin*

    I have seen a lot of people put themselves at the top of the list of “Those We Are Going To Dump When We Have Layoffs”. A lot of companies have this list and a name is added for any one of a hundred reasons. Some, though, are common sense and have to do with following rules and policies. These are the people this message applies to, although they never EVER think it means them.

    There is NO job security any more.

    Perpare for the worst; hope for the best.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow, that original post, before she updated it, is really kind of repugnant. She backs off of it in the comments and even said she was inflammatory on purpose to draw readers’ attention, which baffles me because in my opinion it’s like saying “don’t rely on me for real career advice.”

      1. Kerry*

        Well, I’ll agree with her on that. You shouldn’t rely on her for career advice.

        It boggles me that anyone takes career advice from anonymous strangers on the internet. If I can’t know your first and last name and find your LinkedIn profile that shows me exactly where you worked, what you did there, and how long ago it was…than I can’t know enough to listen to you.

        Don’t take career advice (or any advice, really) from someone who won’t tell you exactly why you should listen to them.

    2. Ellen M.*

      I though this assumption from that blog post was hilarious:

      “You work for an ethical company and boss.”

      Why in the world would anyone assume that, especially if we’re talking about layoffs?! I have to wonder if she has ever been anywhere near a real-life layoff, or been laid off herself, or made a decision to lay someone off… she talks about “not playing the victim” as she blames the victim herself for someone else’s abusive behavior! smh

      1. Kerry*

        I would article that the rest of the premise of the post doesn’t work with the assumption that you work for an ethical company and boss.

        An ethical boss doesn’t lie and say you’re being laid off in order to weasel out her job as a manager, which is to provide meaningful, timely performance feedback. The ethical thing to do with an employee who sucks somehow is to say, “You suck in the following ways. Here’s what you need to do.” (but nicer, obviously)

        Waiting to use layoffs as an excuse to collect your manager paycheck without actually managing is NOT ethical.

  25. Anonymous*

    psst… Steve Jobs wasn’t laid off. He was forced out. They may have been nice and categorized him as “laid off” for unemployment purposes, but the man was fired.

  26. Ali*

    i was laid off three (3) jobs in a row. the oldest job was 6 months and they created a new position, but they didn’t have enough work for me and i left a full-time job for this job. should i delete it from my resume because it seems bad to be laid off so many times. however, if i delete it from my resume, it appears that i’ve been unemployed for 1 year. i prefer being honest, but sometimes i feel honesty does not help me.

    my job after that was for 3 years, but the company wanted to go public and always had a high turn over rate so my role was eliminated. i found my most current job 6 months after this one lasted for 9 months, but the company isn’t making revenue so i was let go again.

    i’m in canada so the economy is doing slightly better than the u.s. although i currently know several unemployed people, but have friends whom have been employed for many years.

    your opinion is greatly appreciated! :)

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