help! my coworker just got fired!

A reader asks:

My coworker just got fired. One day he was here, and the next he was gone. I didn’t see any signs that this was coming, and no one I’ve talked to knows why it happened. I’m anxious about my own job security now, and wondering if I could be fired out of the blue someday too. Is this something I should ask my manager about? I’m really rattled by it.

Before you panic, keep in mind that just because the firing came as a surprise to you, it probably didn’t come as a surprise to your coworker. It’s rare for someone to be fired without any warning (except in particularly egregious cases, like embezzling or, say, punching someone). In most cases, a fired employee has had numerous conversations with their manager about the problem and what needs to change. And if the employer is at all responsible, the person has also been explicitly told they could lose their job if the problems aren’t fixed.

Remember, too, that no matter what you hear from a coworker who was fired, there’s probably another side to the story. And people rarely share information that makes them look bad. People who are fired often find it easier to tell coworkers that it happened because the boss is a jerk, rather than acknowledge that they were struggling in the job. (After all, how often do you hear a colleague say, “I’m really having trouble working up to par here”?) Plus, the person’s manager isn’t going to be broadcasting the person’s struggles (hopefully), so you’re unlikely to hear that side.

If you do hear from your coworker that the firing was unwarranted, look back on your own experience with your manager. In your experience, has your manager seemed reasonable and fair?  Or like a tyrant who seems like she’d fire people without cause or warning? Generally, your own experience is going to be your most reliable guide.

And last, if you’re feeling uneasy, you can always ask your manager for feedback. Ask how you’re doing overall and what you could do better. This is a good idea to do periodically anyway, and in a situation like this, it will probably end up putting you at ease.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon*

    Is it ever appropriate to ask your manager what happened? I’ve had managers explain to me in the past why someone was let go; usually it seemed to be because they wanted me to be aware that it wasn’t something I should be worried about. It doesn’t strike me as inherently unreasonable to ask for that kind of explanation if it’s not provided.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As Jodi says below, “What happened to Bob?” isn’t usually an appropriate question, because many managers won’t speak about the details, in order to protect the person’s privacy. (After all, if you were fired, you’d probably appreciate it if your manager didn’t tell your coworkers about all the problems she had with your work.) But it’s perfectly reasonable to say something like, “I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. If my own job were in jeopardy for performance reasons, is it something that we’d talk about before it got to this point?”

      1. Anon*

        Hmm, that makes sense; I guess in the instances I’m thinking of, privacy wasn’t considered an issue because the triggering events were things that could have affected all of us – for instance, forgetting to file legal documents due on a specific day – so we needed to be aware of it for a variety of reasons.

  2. Jodi*

    I think that it’s always reasonable to talk about your job security and the direction of the team/department/company as it pertains to you. And it’s ok to mention that you’re a little rattled. However, I would avoid asking “what happened to ‘Bob’ ” questions…

  3. Anonymous*

    I’m fairly certain my (former) co-workers are feeling this way as I was recently fired from a company notorious for their turn-over. And my firing did come as a surprise considering I hadn’t been warned about my performance. In fact, I had just received my annual review to find out they considered my work performance “superior” and received a raise. Two weeks later, after a team member’s employment was terminated due to shady behavior, I was fired as well though it was clear no other team member had cooperated with him. In fact, at the time of his termination, management told me they knew what excellent work I performed and that my job was not in jeopardy. Exactly one week later they let me go.

      1. Anonymous*

        They said they thought I wasn’t a good fit and that my job performance wasn’t up to standards despite being told literally two weeks before my job performance was above standard.

          1. Anonymous*

            My feeling is just that I was swept along in the wake of the other team member, but that it’s more important to find another position than dwell on what happened. And this company fires 1-2 people a month (they seem to enjoy exercising their at will rights). Fortunately, my immediate supervisor was happy with my work and agreed to be a reference.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think this goes back to what I wrote in the answer to the original question — it’s important to look at how your employer handles this stuff in general. Are they generally fair or do they seem like they’d fire people without warning? Are they transparent? Are they capricious? This is all stuff that can tell you what you can expect about your own treatment during your time there. In this case, you had a company that was firing 1-2 people a month. That’s nothing for a large company, but at smaller companies, that’s usually a warning sign.

              1. Anonymous*

                It definitely matched up with what you said, nearly everyone there is continually fearful of getting fired.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Perhaps I am cynical. It sounds to me like they needed a “fall guy” and you were it. Probably their problems will continue long after you are gone.
          Do you suspect that some type of corruption was going? Could be internal or perhaps shady dealings with outside vendors/clients?
          This is the kind of stuff that scares the crap out of me. It’s like having the carpet pulled out from under your feet. I encourage you to look at it with fresh eyes, is there something going on that you may have underestimated/overlooked?

          1. Anonymous*

            I’m sure their problems will continue and fall guy is a good way of putting what I was saying about being swept along in their wake to clean up one person’s mess.

            As far as looking back, I’m concentrating more on the future and trying to find another job.

          2. Rob*

            This is exactly what happened to me, so I know exactly what Anonymous is talking about. I was clearly the fall guy for my companies problems. I got fired last week literally out of nowhere. I think all it did was buy my former manager a few extra months, but now I’m just trying to move forward…

        2. AndrewVC*

          I also wonder if people are removed so they don’t find out about more serious problems within the department or about the manager him/herself? Maybe you’re let go because you may be too smart and will catch on to something sooner or later that someone does not want to come to light. A colleague in Houston was boasting about the company he worked for and the house he was building (I heard it was a very tony neighborhood) to only found out months later he was involved with Enron. ’nuff said!

  4. Anonymous*

    I used to work in a call center that kept long term temps… like 3 years long term. The only time someone would “see it coming” is if it was an attendence issue. Otherwise they would have the temp agency call you after your shift and let you know “the contract ended” even if you were there for years. No explanations.

    1. nyxalinth*

      Been here, done that, at least twice. In one situation I found out the reason after the fact, in the other, there never was any reason other than they were clearing out the temps because they didn’t want to bring anyone on full-time perm.

    2. Liz*

      Yup. And from what I’ve seen these aren’t low level admin temps. More like “temps” with at least one graduate degree.

  5. Lanya*

    I worked at a company where my supervisor was fired on a Friday when I was out of the office for a three-day weekend. I came back on Monday to a cold email from Friday alerting the company that my boss had been fired. Not being someone who checks work email on my off hours, I was kind of upset that nobody had bothered to give me a ‘heads up’ text or phone call before I got back to the office on Monday. I was the very last to know even though I was my supervisor’s only report. It was disconcerting and I wonder if they planned her firing that way on purpose to keep me from being upset, but postponing the info only made it more upsetting.

  6. Anonymous*

    I’ve had several experiences where a co-worker was fired in a “now you see him/now you don’t” way and at each job where this happened, the manager spoke to me (and I assume other people in the dept) about it. The general message each time was that the person was gone because it wasn’t the right fit and that there had been on-going discussion with the person who was fired.

    I appreciated the effort those managers made to explain the basics of the situation because it eliminates the exact reaction the OP is having (being anxious it could happen to me out of the blue).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s what I’ve always done (whether people seemed anxious or not, on the assumption that I wouldn’t always know), and that’s what I counsel other managers to do too. It’s frustrating that more employers don’t handle it that way.

      1. Lily*

        What do you do if remote workers either quit or are fired, but they don’t work together, though they may know each other? I can’t imagine sending an email to everyone, but it seems like overkill to call everyone up about it.

        1. Esra*

          It would be nice if the employer would at least send an email out. I used to work at a large corporation and you’d forever be getting directed to people who had been let go (sometimes months ago!), but no one knew. So you’d be trying to find out who owned part of the web site, or a particular campaign and just get directed to person after person, sometimes a chain of 3-4 who had all been let go.

          The ultimate highlight after a round of layoffs was getting my question go through a chain of people only to have the last person in the chain say for answers to that question they should contact… me.

          1. twentymilehike*

            I used to work at a large corporation and you’d forever be getting directed to people who had been let go

            Sometime last year I called my doctor’s office and made an appointment for a couple of days later. When I got there, I was informed that the doctor was no longer there, they “must have forgotten” to take her schedule down. And it had been months since she left.

            I agree that it would be nice for everyone in the company to know when someone leaves regardless of why! Its the same principle of what happens when I find out from my customers about a new product I’m selling that my boss didn’t feel necessary to tell me about. It just makes the company look incompetent!

          2. Just a Reader*

            I had to sit in on a firing at my last job. My boss called a team meeting (15 people) and informed everyone that the person had been fired, what for, said he knew that this person’s work issues had caused all of them pain and we had to terminate his employment but that he wished the person well blah blah.

            Totally unprofessional and horrifying. This was after he made the person cry in a 45-minute firing that was mostly a synopsis of why the person sucked.

          3. Anonymous*

            My current place sends out emails. You can always tell whether someone is going voluntarily by whether they have departed or give a future date.

            Another place I worked was terrible. Zero communication – I drafted my leaving email and arm twisted the partner into sending it. Other departures departures were just “poof” or once, an email notifying about a change in the alarm code and noticed it didn’t have one person’s email address.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Lily, are you asking about how to inform the staff in general, or how to ensure people aren’t rattled by it? I’d do a email to the full staff announcing the person is gone, and then talk with people on that person’s team individually.

          (Obviously if it’s a huge company, you don’t do an all staff email; adjust for whatever makes sense for your size … but err on the side of over-informing rather than under-informing.)

          1. Long Time Admin*

            My company sends an email to the whole staff saying “Long Time Admin no longer works at Brand X.” It’s the same message if someone is fired, retires, or finds another job. When they were doing mass lay-offs, there would be a list of the 25-30 people who were canned.

            If I left for another job, my team would know and they could tell people who asked. Same thing if I was laid off, fired, or decided to leave the company and live the rest of my life in abject poverty (i.e., retire). Generally, only the people who ask find out why someone left.

  7. Mike C.*

    The place I used to work at would fire people out of the blue, and it was the most unnerving thing. These were often key people in important projects/roles.

    The unnerving thing was that for our <100 person group, there was never an announcement of the change, nor who was to take on their roles. In fact, the person was never spoken of again. It was like they were never there.

    When I finally left, they dismantled my cubicle and shipped it and the equipment within to another location.

    1. Jamie*

      “The unnerving thing was that for our <100 person group, there was never an announcement of the change, nor who was to take on their roles. In fact, the person was never spoken of again. It was like they were never there."

      This drives me crazy. People need this information in order to do their jobs with the minimum of disruption.

      I don't understand what's so difficult about a quick email saying we wish Bob luck as he moves on to other opportunities and Trixie will be handling project X and Spritle and Chim-Chim will be taking over his customer communication…or whatever.

      I've worked in more places than not where no communication is the norm and it just baffles me.

      1. Mike C.*

        The worst was when they fired the mail room guy. We were all waiting for packages for days until we realized he’d been canned. What the hell is that?

      2. Bridgette*

        “I’ve worked in more places than not where no communication is the norm and it just baffles me.”

        Sadly, me too. I figure it’s because of two things: they don’t want to make decisions and they don’t want to admit they are wrong or don’t know what to do.

        1. Jamie*

          What I don’t get is why they don’t do it for new hires either.

          I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people wandering around and everyone is asking “who is that” instead of an email going out introducing Joe in Engineering.

          Makes no sense.

          1. TL*

            I think the same applies to temps, especially if they’re going to be there for more than a day or two! As a temp receptionist, I sometimes found myself in the awkward position of greeting people who did double-takes and asked “Hi–er, where is Jane?” with a certain nervousness. They always looked relieved when I explained the situation.

      3. Small Nonprofit Employee*

        This happens at my work all of the time, too. Our (terrible) HR person actually reprimanded me one time for asking where the admin assistant was, because I didn’t know who to turn my timesheet into. Turns out the admin had been fired, so I got reprimanded for asking about “personal details”…all I wanted to know was who to give my timesheet to. But also, I passed that admin person every day and exchanged small talk. It’s not like we were best friends, but it is still weird when someone just “disappears” with no discussion at all. As far as I knew, she was just on a reeeeaaallly long vacation, or god forbid hit by a bus…

  8. Still in the Dark*

    I was called the day before my start date for a new job and just told the person that hired me (my boss) was no longer with the organization. Mind you, I specifically asked the person hiring me how long they envisioned working here because I would not have taken the job without them being my boss. No one had enough respect for me to tell me anything about what happened, or even acknowledge it. Here I am awkwardly bored 6 months later still not doing the job I was hired on to do (they still don’t know what to do with me) and still no information about how that person left. I’ve been able to piece things together pretty well, but the lack of communication has made my job very difficult considering the person that was let go created this position and had the vision.

    1. Lily*

      My boss is very important to me, so I was really shocked when I started a new job and he had his farewell party in my first week. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t there for very long either.

  9. Anonymous*

    I was fired once with no notice. I had only been with the company about a month and was within my “90 day probation period” that I didn’t even know I had. I got brought in to a room and they said that a big mailing got sent out for a big client wrong. What they said happened, simply did not happen the way they said it did. I am VERY familiar with the software, it just doesn’t do what they said it did without you trying to do it. It’s not something you can do on accident and I know I didn’t do it on purpose. So either someone else screwed it up, or it came from the client messed up. Anyway I was told because it was such a large client and since I was still in probation, that they were terminating me. Except the day before they also “fired” nearly half of the staff for not performing. Having never been fired before I was pretty upset about it, but now I guess it’s just a small blip on the radar.

  10. The Other Dawn*

    We recently let someone go and one particular person asked me why. I told her that Management decided to let him go, to which she again asked what happened. I told her that I wouldn’t discuss that with her. I then asked her how she would feel if she was the one who was fired and when someone asked me what happened I proceeded to tell them that she had this issue and that issue and XYZ was sub-par, etc. I thought she got the point…until I heard she had asked almost everyone in the office what happened.

    It’s inappropriate to ask why someone was let go. That is information only the former employee’s manager, HR, and upper management should be privy to. Asking will make you look like a nosy busybody that doesn’t know boundaries. Instead, ask your manager for specific feedback about YOUR performance.

    1. Jenn*

      In theory I agree….but in reality, it rarely stays between the employee’s manager, HR, and upper management. The more people who know, the better chances of it leaking to others.

      Besides, it’s human nature to want to know why your co-worker is suddenly MIA. Refusing to let the issue drop, and asking everyone else in the office…..that’s quite a bit different.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree that it doesn’t always stay between just a few people. I think it depends on who those people are and how big the company is. And I agree it’s human nature to want to know, but this person definitely carried it too far: she also called my best friend, who used to work for our company, to pump her for information. My friend was speechless. I didn’t even give her the details, only that the employee was gone, plus she doesn’t even work for the company anymore.

    2. KarenT*

      Agreed it’s inappropriate but I think some employees push the issue because what they really want to ask is “am I next?”

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree that’s sometimes the case. About a year after our company came into being there was a round of firings. People were really rattled and everyone was wondering who would be next. In other cases, like the one I mentioned, certain people are just being nosey and think they are entitled to that information.

  11. Anonymous*

    I’ve had a Sales Director replaced with no one knowing. Got to work on Monday morning and there was someone new in his office. Nothing was ever said about it, there was no “Bob’s left, please welcome Tom” email, nothing. It was like replacing an actor on a tv series.

    1. Jenn*

      That has to be the most bizarre thing I’ve read on this thread! Did they think everyone would just embrace the new guy, without someone asking, “Who the hell is that??”

  12. Job seeker*

    This makes you realize no-one is indispensable. I saw this happen to several people once and they were given no warning. To fire anyone without a warning or letting them know what is wrong to change it is really mean. I think this company was going in a different direction. But, excuse me I do believe treating someone the right way is still the way to go. This makes you realize that work cannot be the only thing important in your life. People will move on and you will be forgotten.

    1. Tater B.*

      “People will move on and you will be forgotten.”

      I think that needs to be memorized by everyone. It’s just reality and not a bad thing.

  13. Chocolate Teapot*

    I’ve had the team member suddenly disappear situation before. I sent a group email, and got one of those automatic “this person no longer works here”. Would have been nice to know.

  14. Anonymous*

    A former boss of mine was going to go on vacation and she was literally fired the day before she was supposed to fly out to the Caribbean for her vacation.

    It was…bizarre, to say the least. I can’t imagine what went through her head.

    1. John*

      Better than being fired on the last day of a week long vacation, via email like I was… I Sure wouldn’t have spent all that money had I known I wouldn’t have a job.

      1. Stephanie*

        This is what happened to me. I went on a week long vacation over the Xmas holidays and when I returned to work, the day after New Year’s, my boss called me into the conference room and said he had some bad news, he was going to have to let me go. I was SHOCKED! I worked there for THREE years. I never had anything other than positive interaction with anyone there. When I asked him what I did, he told me “nothing. We are going a different direction with the company.” As few as three months ago, when he hired another office assistant, he told her if she didn’t get along with me, it would be HER who left because I wasn’t going anywhere. SHE told me he told her this! To say I was in shock is a tremendous understatement. He told me he was going to give me severance, but didn’t give me a check before I left. I don’t know if he is going to actually pay it to me or if he just said it to get me to “leave quietly”. What really sucks…well, sucks too…is that I was ONE month away from having earned another two week’s vacation. I’m crushed and scared. I’m turning 54 on Monday and I am wondering how in the world I’m going to find someone to hire me. They won’t know me, so, when I say I was fired and why, I know they are going to think I *must* have done *something* because what I’m telling them doesn’t make any sense…which it doesn’t. :(

        1. The IT Manager*

          I’m very sorry for you. That’s tough to deal with that disrespectful behavior. It is worth asking (or neogioating) to find out if the company considers you fired or laid off. I sure sounds like a firing except for “nothing. We are going a different direction with the company.” That sounds like a layoff – like they decided to elimininate your position rather than firing you for anything you did. Of course your boss and company handled the situation horribly so he could have been less than honest with you to spare your feeling or avoid a scene.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I agree — this sounds like a layoff, not a firing. Stephanie, you should be telling prospectives employers that you were laid off (position eliminated), rather than fired (let go for cause). Also, ask your boss what kind of reference he’ll give you. If you’re in the U.S., file for unemployment right away. This post may help too:
            (It says fired, but it all applies when you’re laid off too.)

        2. Greg*


          First of all, I am very sorry to hear that you lost your job, especially in such a shocking fashion. Not only is it odd to come with no warning, it is also strange that they wouldn’t prepare any sort of paperwork outlining your severance package (for their own benefit as much as yours). I would start by calling and asking (politely) for such documentation. Second, I would sit down and write down everything you can think of about your situation at work over the past few months — incidents where you were praised, and your job seemed to be secure (like the one you mentioned above) and possible instances that may have indicated trouble. Don’t look to draw any conclusions about what you write down, just get it on paper so you have your own documentation.

          Finally, and I don’t say this lightly, I would set up a consult with an employment lawyer and explore whether you may have legal options. I am not saying you should sue them, at least not yet. Just figure out what your situation is. For example, I wouldn’t consider 54 to be especially old, but it’s at least old enough that age-discrimination could be a possibility. My point is this: As an at-will employee, you’re not entitled to much from your former employer, but common courtesy says that you are at least entitled to your promised severance as well as an explanation. If you are unable to get those things by asking nicely, you should use whatever tools are available to you to help secure them.

          In the meantime, this may be hard to do, but enjoy your birthday next week. There will be plenty of time afterward to figure out your next move.

      2. AndrewVC*

        I came back from a 1-1/2 week trip to Europe to find that I was let go the day I came back. Embarrassing because I’m sure everyone knew in the time I was gone and that I should’ve known – my boss was let go months earlier. Worse, all the people I hired were eventually let go. Yes, the company “changed direction” but I was young and didn’t see the signs. However, what I take with me is that fear whenever I return from vacation so I remove all my really important personal effects from the office before each trip!

  15. Job/advice seeker*

    It seems like a few people in the comments have been fired without warning; I am also one of them and would like other readers’ opinions on my situation!

    I am a recent college grad and left a job as a contract receptionist for a government agency after three months for a job in a laboratory (I graduated with a B.S. in biology). I thought, “It will only be this one time,” as entry-level lab jobs are hard to come by and the position aligned with my future careers plans. Otherwise, I have never left an employer after such a short amount of time.

    One month into my 90 day probation period, my supervisor told me they would like to bring me on permanently. Six weeks later, I was fired for poor performance/mistakes I made in within a one week period. I always owned up to my mistakes once I was aware they occurred and I did admit to my supervisor I was distracted that week from events occurring in my personal life, which he did not know about until he sat me down to fire me. I was shocked that I was not previously confronted when he had previously told me he was happy with my work.

    I have left my short-term receptionist position off my resume, but I cannot leave my position in the lab off because then it would look like I have been unemployed since last December. I am an avid reader of your blog, and I learned that it is not uncommon for potential employers to call past employers listed on your resume even if you do not list anyone from the position as a reference.

    I accept I made mistakes, but at the same time I do not think it was right for my supervisor to evaluate my performance off of my one off-week and never sit me down to talk about it prior to firing me. My question is, how do I explain this to future employers (if I can)?

    Also, in the future, how do you balance keeping your work up to par without letting personal matters affect you? Is this something that comes with time? Is it ever okay to ask for a day or two off to recuperate?

    I apologize for the rather lengthy post, but I would really appreciate others’ input!

    P.S. I love your blog. Your invaluable advice on cover letters, interviews, etc. helped me obtain my first job out of college!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “Also, in the future, how do you balance keeping your work up to par without letting personal matters affect you? Is this something that comes with time? Is it ever okay to ask for a day or two off to recuperate? ”

      I think that eventually people find some coping tools– but what works for one person may not work for another. I find a healthy diet, water and rest help combat the mental fog/lack of concentration. Other people like journaling- put all your thoughts on paper. People find it helps to “dump their brain out.” I have known a few people that absolutely MUST get some exercise in each day- jogging, biking etc. Confusingly, one coping tool might stop working, so you might have to find another idea after a while.

      And yeah, you do build up strength/endurance as you go along. A silly example but it gives you the idea: After that snow storm that dropped 3 feet over night, smaller storms suddenly appear easier to handle. One foot of snow cleans up a lot faster than 3 feet of snow. (Long driveway- not much space for the snow piles.)

      If I call in to work because of “life stressers”, I make sure I have the sick time to use AND I make sure it is a really big reason. “I won’t be into work today because I did not get back from the ER until 5 am this morning.” (I do not function on NO sleep, plus driving while exhausted is irresponsible.)

      1. CA Manager*

        “How do you balance keeping your work up to par without letting personal matters affect you? ”

        It depends on what the personal matter is – something serious (death in the family, illness, divorce, etc) it might be reasonable to ask for a few days off, provided you’ve been with the company long enough to accrue sick time. Honestly, if I had an employee who had these kinds of issues early on in their employment, I would have some concerns but if they took the initiative to ask for help it might make the situation a little less iffy.

        One thing to remember, when life gets tough and there is a lot going on outside of work, use work as your escape. Work is the time you don’t have to think about the stressors in your “outside life.” If you can learn to do that, it will be easier to stay focused and keep your performance up. Good luck!

  16. Just Me*

    This post it so fitting for what goes on in my company The ” joke” we have every week… who got fired.. who walked out or who gave a notice and who gave a notice and was told to just leave.

    The turnaround is so bad and the environemnt is so tense becasuse the high turnaround and firings as well as the work, the horrible organization and the constant pressure of getting more work done than possible. ( re-org of job duties it failing ).

    Turnaround up to this day has got to be around 100 since the beg of the year…… out of a 150 ish area.

    We never know why people get fired and nor do we ask. We usually know why people walk out as we know when they say..
    screw this….. and they pick up their stuff and leave or simply never come back the next day.

    Unemployment knows us very well by now and it is never argured. Employement places won’t even send people there we have such a bad reputation.

    I often wonder whether this place gets tax breaks for hiring people so they don’t care if people leave or what is in it for them that they care so little about firing people or them leaving.

    It is like their goal is more aimed at showing us they are the mighty managers and can do what they want as opposed to simply getting the work done.

    I get that it is a buyers market for employers but at the same time this can’t be working for them as it relates to getting the work done as the work is not getting done.

  17. Cassie*

    Our dept sends out emails announcing departures (retirement or moving to a different position/dept) – you can tell how close this person is to The Powers That Be in our dept based on who sends out the notice and how far in advance the announcement goes out. People who are good friends with TPTB will get a friendly, warm email sent out a few weeks ahead of time. Those who are outcasts (simply because they don’t kiss up) get basic, just the facts email that is sent out on the last day or even after the fact.

    And then sometimes, no notice goes out whatsoever. One staffer quit effective immediately and people didn’t know (I knew only because I was working close to that staffer and I had to take on her duties).

    I would be curious why someone was fired (I think most of us would be) but I wouldn’t ask – if it’s relevant to me and my job, I figure I’ll be told. Otherwise, it’s none of my business. Then again, we have a bunch of gossipers in our dept (including TPTB) so you’re bound to find out what actually happened anyway.

  18. cody c*

    ha i got fired over the phone and it happened after three of my coworkers including my girlfriend called me the day before to tell me it was going to happen.

  19. Not So NewReader*

    I just wanted to say thanks to everyone here for sharing about firings- their own or other people’s. I learned a lot.

    I was fired from my first job I ever had.
    I. Had. No. Clue.

    It took a while for me to realize how much went so very wrong. Fortunately, it was seasonal work and the job would have ended in a few weeks anyway. It took me a while to shake it off because I had been blindsided by the firing. For a while, I had a reeeally bad first impression of the working world.
    I developed a little more balanced perspective after a few more years. It helped to work for employers with a good sense of “fair play.”

    1. Jenn*

      Being fired definitely throws you for a tailspin! I was fired once, too. Not my first job, but it’s still devastating. I was looking for another job at the time, too, because my boss was just so horrible. Like, wait-until-I-went-to-the-bathroom-so-she-could-go-through-my-desk horrible.

  20. Greg*

    These stories underscore an important lesson for managers: Whenever a firing happens there’s a good chance the departed employee’s coworkers are going to be scared as hell, so a good manager should always sit down with her team and talk through any issues. You may not be able to go into details about the specific reasons, but chances are that’s not the main concern they have anyway. What they’re really wondering is, “Will this happen to me?” As much as possible, you should try to assuage those fears. If you don’t — or if you can’t — your team morale will go down the toilet.

    1. Joey*

      Most of the time there’s no need to explain firings. Typically the reason is obvious whether its performance, attendance or behavior. Only when people are completely dumbfounded should you mention anything. And really if you’re worried “am I next?” thats a sign that the real problem is that your manager isn’t giving you enough feedback to know how you’re performing.

    2. Sweet and Petite*

      The manager I have does not provide feedback, not even when asked. I’ll get a ” We’ll talk about that on your next work day”, though. Guess what? The work day comes and nothing. I guess I have to make my request more urgent sounding to get her attention. Feedback not only allows for improvement and adding missing tools, it also allows the opportunity to clear up misunderstandings.

  21. Suzanne*

    My current employer has fired 13 people in two years and it’s a small organization (approx. 12 permanent employees). None of them, to my knowledge, are given any more warning than a casual mention that they seem to have a poor attitude or something equally vague. No concrete suggestions on how to improve, what is considered a bad attitude, and no real plan on how to improve. Just one day you have a job, and the next you don’t. It’s a horrible place to work.

    I’m trying desperately to get out but an over 50 woman with nothing but library work in her background is not someone who will get scooped up quickly. I know. I’ve tried.

    1. jswb*

      Sounds like the place I just got fired from. Only around 10-12 total employees depending. My supervisor had been harassing me for months and when I finally said something about it to the boss I was taken off all my assignments, put through hell for another 2 months and then fired in the middle of the day. Thank God for harassment claims and solid documentation!

  22. Vicki*

    As I mentioned in the comments on the Intuit blog, unless you _know_ they were fired, don’t assume “fired”. It is possible (way too likely in this “At Will” employment environment) that your co-worker wasn’t “fired”.

    If there’s a performance problem or you do something stupid (like film your friends in a drunken video on company property) you may et fired. Alternatively, the manager may simply “eliminate your position” (a mini layoff).

    This has happened to me three times now. The first time, the team wanted to hire more marketing people, so they “laid off” 6 QA and engineering folks to make room for new headcount. “We don’t need you”.

    The second time I was caught in a “rolling layoff”. Three people (in secret meetings) one Friday, three the next Friday, then 11, then two weeks quiet, then 20…

    The third time it was just e (that I know of). My manager resigned, the division reorganized, everything was in flux, and my new manager said “What you do doesn’t fit with what we do. Try to find something else somewhere else in the company.” I didn’t find something else fast enough and they gave me a severance package and asked for my badge.

    For Company #1 everyone in the department knew what was going on. For Company #2, people found out by accident. For #3 no one knew unless I told someone. I was just “disappeared” in the middle of an on-going project.

  23. dejavu2*

    Generally a lurker on this blog, but want to toss in my two cents. I also was once fired with no warning, after almost two years with an non-profit. They were firing a lot of people due to a leadership change, but only a month before I had received a stellar performance review, and a large merit raise. I’m still honestly not sure what happened; I have roughly 50 working theories. I was assigned to a different supervisor two or three weeks before, shortly after I received the stellar performance review from my previous supervisor, and I guess the new guy had it in for me. I was called into his office, and told I was being fired for unspecified performance issues that didn’t comport with my understanding of reality. He also insisted I had received multiple warnings, which was absolutely not true; absolute gaslighting. The thing that really added insult to injury was that he told almost everyone in the office that I was going to be fired before it happened, so most of my coworkers knew.

    It seems from the comments here that, unfortunately, people are often fired without warning. I certainly had no idea it was coming. In fact, I thought I was being summoned to be told I was getting a promotion.

  24. Elizabeth West*

    Long ago, I got a job at a video store in my hometown. I was hired by a very nice girl, and worked with her for three days. The fourth day, I came to work to find a new manager. “This is [sounds like Farty]. He’ll be your new manager. NiceBoss has been moved to another store.” Farty never smiled at me, was impatient, cold, and just unpleasant to be around. I tried to just work and avoid him as much as possible. Three weeks later, he fired me after my shift. All the reasons he gave were bogus. Later I heard he had hired a buddy of his in my place. Hmm.

    The dumbest thing he did? As I was leaving the store after he fired me, he called out, “Be sure to come back and rent with us sometime!” I gave him a look that could peel paint. Needless to say, I did not rent from that chain again.

  25. Lily*

    Farty obviously never read the advice here about not hiring friends, so let us hope he experienced the same problems!

  26. Another One Here*

    I have been fired from jobs where it was not a good fit. Usually, it was a job I took because I just needed the money and I made myself ignore all the warning signs. Like co-workers who wouldn’t talk to me or a boss who would yell or make really hostile comments. It’s amazing how much I have tolerated when I just needed to make the bills.

    Overall, most of my jobs have been good and with good companies but I can definitely tell even at the interview if it is going to be a good fit.

    This summer, I was interviewing for positions and one job offered a huge salary and would mean moving to another nearby city. It was for teaching and while I loved where I was living and felt happy there, I decided that I just needed the money. The money! how often has that been the downfall.

    So even after having serious doubts at the interview I packed up and moved. The doubts grew and they were real: I had no supplies, no equipment and my room had been looted by the other staff. I was lonely and my fellow teachers did not talk to me, my boss refused to get me a desk or anything that locked. I was given broken lab equipment and the other teachers took the best things for themselves. When I asked for help I was threatened and criticized. I was told to stop being such a ‘victim’ and to ‘stop feeling sorry for myself.’ Whoa! Three weeks later, I was fired.

    However, I had received an excellent evaluation two weeks before I was fired and my observations had been very good. When I asked why I was being fired the principal couldn’t give me any specifics. None. “You just don’t have even the most basic common sense,” he said.

    The union helped me out and told me this principal has been a bully to other teachers in the past, and today so far I am ok. But the lesson here is when you take a job you know you don’t like or want, trust your instincts and be careful! The few teachers I was friendly with there have told me that no one has said anything about me and that there is just silence on my departure, which upsets them alot.

    This is a great website and I have learned alot from reading the posts here.

  27. It Happened To Me*

    Got fired from one company with no notice whatsoever. On Monday, they sent out a mass email inviting everyone to a Friday team lunch to kick off the Christmas break. On Wednesday they privately invited me to the bar down the street after hours. They announced then that they were letting me go immediately. When I asked them why (about 10 times during the meeting), they stuck to “The direction that the company is heading in has changed” and insisted it was a layoff. The reason written in my record of employment said “dismissal”.

    A year later, I met someone from that company at a conference and of course my first question was “What did they tell you was the reason they fired me?” He actually pointed out a specific incident.

  28. Anonymous J*

    I was recently fired from my job of 6 years. There were never any meetings or written warnings about needing to improve my performance. I was terminated via email on the last day of my week long vacation (first time off in 8 months). It felt like it came out of no where, but I’ve done a lot of thinking and realize my mistake.

    Three months before after a grueling 90 hour work week I was berated by my boss for not delivering a project that was as compelling as he had hoped. I had done my best, but apparently it wasn’t enough.

    The following Monday I called a meeting and told them that I couldn’t take it anymore and that I would be finding new work. I offered to stay and help, but I was done. They begged me to stay, yes begged. Gave me a raise, told me that everything was a misunderstanding and that we could work it out.

    3 months later I had just finished up 3 large projects and went on vacation. BAM! Fired. Of course there was a bunch of drummed up reasons, but I don’t believe they were true.

    My mistake is that I should have found a new job 3 years before that. I was what is known as a “trapped employee.” Excellent at doing my job, efficient, accurate, innovative, but I felt burned by the company and I’m sure my attitude reflected that even though I did my best to keep it in check.

    I won’t be making that mistake again.

  29. Another One Here*

    Anonymous J, I read somewhere once that we should never let an employer woo us back when we tell them we are going to leave. They might offer more money, a new title or whatever but really what they are offering is a deception to keep you longer while they replace you with someone else. Employers do not want to be the jilted one, and will always doubt your loyalty.

    If we are going to leave, we should just leave. Never bargain to stay. And I agree, any negative thoughts we should keep to ourselves and then just quietly move on. Sometimes, hiding those feelings is the hardest part.

  30. Amanda*

    I’ve been fired for no apparent reason twice. The first time was a company that was notorious for letting people go on the last day of their 90 day probation, I guess so that they didn’t have to pay to take you on as a full time employee. Their reason was that my performance was sub-par, but like many people I had been told shortly before I was fired that I was a stellar employee and was doing my work twice as fast (and correctly) as anyone else in that position had done before me. They routinely fired other people for no reason, and it was often clear that the manager knew that they would be fired in a few weeks’ time even while publicly telling that employee how well they were doing. One person was told she would be getting a promotion and took the opportunity to buy a new car, only to be fired the week after.

    In the other case I was fired for apparently poor performance on a report that had been submitted some months before, even though the person who fired me had read and approved the report when it was first completed. I had specifically asked for feedback at the time I completed it because I was not very experienced and I wanted to be sure I was doing it right. Other employees told me that the manager who fired me “liked boys”, in that she almost always fired the female employees after a few months. It still left me feeling like an incompetent idiot, a feeling that I have been struggling with ever since.

  31. ThursdaysGeek*

    In spite of AAM saying that people shouldn’t be blindsided by a firing (although a layoff is different), it sure seems like it happens a lot.

    On a related note, with the albeit slight chance of workplace violence, it seems foolish to not let employees know when someone has been fired. If you see someone in the hall, doesn’t it seem important that you know if they work there or not? If they’ve been fired and you don’t know, you won’t be suspicious if you see them.

  32. One4theShow4*

    I just got fired for the first time in my life – I’ve worked full time for over 30 years. My 90 day review (which was done late) said I needed to improve in a couple of places but overall was an OK evaluation. So I was a bit blindsided by the termination. About a month before I was fired, I got a final written warning for a mistake/oversight. I was told that my bosses boss’ was the one responsible for making my first write up a final warning. So I went and asked her why it was a final write up – she gave me some lame excuse but told me that I shouldn’t feel that my job was in jeopardy. I told her that is exactly how it made me feel and she assured me that they were happy with my job performance and were not trying to get rid of me. I believed her, after all why would she lie right to my face? When the write up was mentioned in my firing, I even quoted her.

    I asked for specifics as to why I was fired and was told that it wasn’t a good fit. I think that means that your employer just plain wants to get rid of you and although they were waiting for you to mess up, you didn’t and so they used the old “not a good fit” excuse as a reason to get rid of you. Let me just say that I am not the first person this happened to. That company is notorious for firing people and has a high turnover rate. I was warned repeatedly by people that previously had my job or worked in my department to “watch out” and that my office had a bad reputation for abusing staff.

    This company sends out mass emails when someone is no longer employed there. You can tell which ones are fired, resign or retire. At least you get a notification.

  33. Ross*

    They just told me I wasn’t the right fit after just getting my name tag that morning and the keys it was after lunch I’m wondering what happened?

  34. Confused*

    One of our coworkers was fired a couple days ago and management hasn’t given us any explanation, not even an email saying he’s gone, not even to his immediate team members–they’ve just let the rumor mill run wild (it’s a small company). He seemed to exhibit inappropriate work behavior and generally have the attitude that he was just there for his paycheck, but it has still made everyone uneasy about their own job security. It seems to me like some sort of explanation, even a vague one, would be appropriate to put everyone at ease. Is that something I should ask my manager for? She wasn’t his supervisor, but assuming she might know something?

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