can I fire an employee by phone or email?

A reader writes:

I have wanted to fire a full-time employee for the past two weeks, but she hasn’t been in, despite telling me on numerous occasions that she will be… “I’ll definitely be in tomorrow!”

I manage a small business and need to fire her so I can start looking for her replacement as soon as possible.

Is it therefore acceptable to fire her via email or phone? I like the idea of email so I have a record of what was said.

Normally you should never fire someone by phone or email. You should do them the courtesy of having that conversation face-to-face; you are, after all, impacting their livelihood in a very big way. One exception to this would be if the person works remotely, in which case a phone conversation would be reasonable. But email should never be an option — it’s too cavalier, it doesn’t allow for an actual conversation, and you have no control over the timing of when they see it.

However, in a situation like yours where the person is making it impossible for you to have a face-to-face conversation, you can absolutely call her instead. You’re under no obligation to wait for her to decide to show up; she’s supposed to be there, she isn’t there, and you don’t need to allow that to thwart your timeline.

Now, if she had only missed a day or two, or if she was out sick or on vacation, that would be different — you don’t blindside someone with a firing phone call just because they happened to be out sick with the flu on the day you planned to fire them. You don’t do that both because it’s unkind and because one of your most important audiences for stuff like this is other people — the rest of your staff and even potential future employees. You don’t want people to hear how you handled this and assume you’ll treat them similarly cavalierly one day.

But that’s not the situation here; you’re dealing with someone who has basically forfeited her right to that kind of consideration, by repeatedly telling you she’d be in and then not showing up.

That said, you should still call her rather than emailing, because it’s a more respectful way to handle it.

If you’re unable to reach her by phone after several tries, then at that point you don’t really have any options other than to resort to email — but at that point you can say, “I wanted to have this conversation with you in-person, or at least over the phone, but I’ve tried repeatedly to reach you without success and you haven’t been coming into work.”

(As for your concern about wanting a record of what was said, you’re absolutely right that that’s useful to have — but not useful enough to justify making such a big announcement by email as long as you have other options. You can, however, create a record of the conversation immediately afterwards by writing a memo about the conversation, and can even write out what you’ll say ahead of time so that you can include the most important pieces of the conversation in that memo word-for-word. This memo can be to yourself, to HR, to her file, or whatever makes sense in your context. You can also email her a summary of your decision after you talk with her, although you should be aware that that can come across as rubbing salt in the wound so be thoughtful in your wording about why you’re sending it to her.)

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. Runon*

    I’m a little unclear, is this person calling in sick and then saying they’ll be in the next day? Or are they are remote employee who is working and saying they’ll be in the next day?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My understanding from a follow-up question to the OP is that it’s a full-time, non-remote employee who keeps saying she’ll be in the next day but then doesn’t show up. She’s an admin.

      1. Runon*

        The OP should certainly document that the employee isn’t coming in and isn’t coming in and have each of the incidents documented for things like Unemployment. But that could just be a part of the employee’s record for HR or a file or a memo.

        Certainly sounds like job abandonment though.

        1. Jessa*

          That’s what I thought, the first time you tell the boss you are going to be there and do not come in, that’s no call no show. The second is usually your last. Some companies don’t even give you more than one, if you don’t have someone call right after and explain the first one was because you were in hospital and on death’s door.

          1. SW*

            Yeah, NCNS is a serious, fireable offense where I work. I’m surprised the employee got away with it for two weeks.

          2. Julie K*

            Yes! One of the first things I thought of when the ER doctor said he was admitting me to the hospital earlier this year was to ask my partner to email my boss and tell her where I was and that I wouldn’t be in on Monday (and I am a remote employee, but if she couldn’t reach me, and I hadn’t contacted her, it would be weird).

      2. Craig Ruston*

        I need to fire a part time employee. She has been working for me for a month and only works 2 days a week. She is not suppose to work again for a few days. It is a 30 minute drive for her to get here, is a phone call acceptable? I feel like it would be a jerk move to have her drive out here to get let go. Also, this is a bartending job and I am kind of concerned about her making a sence in front of guests.

  2. Anonymous*

    This reminds me of that scene from “How I Met Your Mother” where Lily’s high school boyfriend shows up at her wedding and says, “If you can look me in the eye and tell me you don’t want to be with me, I’ll leave forever”…and then he ducks around, purposefully avoiding eye contact with her while she tries to firmly state her case.

    1. junipergreen*

      Yeah, definitely getting the sense that the truant employee has seen the writing on the wall and is just trying to delay the inevitable!

  3. Ruffingit*

    If this is a person who just hasn’t shown up for two weeks, she’s basically abandoned her job. I’ve seen employee handbooks that cover that sort of thing and it’s usually after much less time has passed – three days is one measure I’ve seen.

    This employer has been extraordinarily generous to allow this to go on so long. Two weeks? No way. After one week, I’d have been telling her not to bother calling to say she’d be in since there was now no job to be in for.

    In any case, fire her ASAP and move on. Good luck OP!

    1. Jamie*

      Usually 3 day no call/no show = job abandonment – at least that’s what I’ve typically seen in handbooks.

      But I’m curious as to what she’s saying when she calls in – is she saying she’s sick? Because she is calling and saying she’ll be in tomorrow…I can’t conceive of how that conversation goes if she’s not claiming to be sick.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I had the same question Jamie. There’s a lot of missing information here. I can’t imagine what a person would be saying that the employer would be accepting for two weeks.

        1. Liz in a library*

          I’m surprised that she has been able to get away with it this long. I agree with everyone else that this would be considered job abandonment in any of the places I’ve worked.

          1. A Bug!*

            I think it’s more common in small business, especially where the owner might not have significant management experience and may not have faced a “grey area” firing before.

            It’s easy to fire someone when they steal from the register, or drink on the job, or swear at a customer. But when it starts off as one absent day with “I’ll be in tomorrow” and grows from there, the line between “acceptable” and “fireable offense” gets murky.

  4. LPBB*

    The Head of HR at one of my previous workplaces is a big fan of firing people over the phone. (She is also a big fan of telling you what you want to hear to get you out of her office and then not doing anything she said she would or doing the opposite, but that’s a different story). She essentially trained the current manager of the customer svc dept to not only fire people over the phone, but via voice mail if possible. From what I understand from friends who still work there, morale is Not Good and hasn’t been for a while. Once the economy picks up more, they will probably have a major retention problem.

    1. Yup*

      Holy bananas. Firing by voicemail?! Aside from being lousy management, that just seems *fraught* with the potential for tragic misses. People who didn’t receive the message and showed up for work the next day, or someone’s spouse/kid/roommate hearing the message first, or HR leaving the message at the wrong number and some stranger thinking they’re fired. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I once worked for someone who did that. The person didn’t hear the voicemail message and showed up for work the next day, not realizing he’d been fired. The receptionist asked if he was there to return his keys, and he had no idea what she was referring to.

      2. Josh S*

        This happened to me, but in a dating relationship.

        I was 2 weeks or so into dating a gal. She was a semi-pro artistic photographer, and was displaying her photography in a coffeehouse. She had planned a “Meet the Artist” event on a Saturday, and I, the dutiful boyfriend, was planning on being there for the day to support her and meet many of her friends for the first time.

        The night before, she broke up with me via email. Which I didn’t check.

        I showed up on Saturday morning, and she asked something like, “Did you check your email?” I responded that I had not since the day before, completely oblivious. And she said nothing–too mortified to have a scene in public. Just, “Well, I sent you an email. Check it when you get home.”

        So I stayed there for the entire event, meeting all her friends and introducing myself as her boyfriend, etc etc etc.

        Well, needless to say, I was NOT HAPPY when I went home and read that email. In no uncertain terms I told her off for the remarkably awkward (in retrospect) day, the way she made me into an unwitting liar, and the rude way of treating me. I was super harsh on her–but it was pretty well deserved in my opinion.

        So yeah, don’t do this. Don’t break up via email. Don’t fire people via voice mail. Make sure the message gets to them directly, from your own lips to their ears. Otherwise it’s just crappy all around.

        (PS That girl is now my wife of almost 6 years, and the mother of my child. Go figure!)

        1. Zelos*

          Okay, Josh, I’m super curious…how did you two manage to patch things up after that rough start?

        2. T in Construction*

          Way to bury the lead!! HOW did you get from email breakup to wife of 6 years? :)

          1. Josh S*

            I knew that no matter how many ‘cards’ she held in our relationship, there was a trump that I would always have? ;p

        3. Sabrina*

          I imagine a lot of arguments in your house end with “Well at least I didn’t break up with you via email!”

          1. Josh S*

            Thankfully, we don’t have a lot of arguments in our house. And when we do, we usually don’t drag up crap from the past (except in funny/snarky ways). Like I said before–lots of *good* communication in our life.

      3. Julie K*

        This happened – sort of – with someone who worked for me. My company used to “hire” people through an agency for the first year so it would be easier to “fire” them if they didn’t work out. When we decided that the employee needed to be let go, my boss called the agency and asked them to let her know (this was the official procedure because she was actually working for the agency – we weren’t allowed to tell her that she was being fired). Apparently they repeatedly called several numbers they had for her until late in the evening and finally left messages and also sent an email. I guess she didn’t get the messages because the next day, just as I was telling the other employee on our team that she had been let go, she walked into the office. It was so awkward. I had never fired anyone before, and I wasn’t prepared because I had been told I couldn’t talk to her about it. I ran to my desk and called my boss, but I couldn’t reach him, so I figured I would just have to tell her. By the time I got back to her office, she had checked her voicemail and gotten the message. She understood why she was being fired (and I assume she knew she hadn’t been reachable the previous evening), so she wasn’t angry, which made me a tiny bit less uncomfortable. I said I was sorry that it happened this way, and I wished her luck. (I have told a version of this story in the comments of another post before – it was a while ago, so I hope this isn’t too redundant.)

    2. Poe*

      I was laid off over the phone. There was an in-person meeting later that day (5 hours later…), but the initial info was on the phone.

      1. Vicki*

        I was also laid off over the phone. No in-person meeting at any time.
        Theoretically it was supposed to be in-person, but I had taken several days of vacation plus a work-from-home day at the end of the vacation. So I was called on a work-from-home day by my manager’s manager (not my manager) because my manager’s manager happened to be in town. I had never before (and never since) met6 the woman face-to-face nor had I ever exchanged words with her by email or phone.

        It was a very weird and awkward situation.

  5. B*

    If you do an email I would suggest stating that you need to speak with her immediately. The problem I foresee with email is her saying she didn’t get it. Which in some instances is feasible since it could go into her spam or be in the lovely world of the internet sock dryer.

    If you would rather written proof you could do a certified letter signed by a notary public or attorney.

    1. Kara*

      Actually, you can attach an Acknowledgement of Receipt to an email that notifies you when the email has been opened.

      We actually had to fire one of our contractors in this manner. We of course would have preferred to dismiss her in person, but she no called/no showed several meetings, wasn’t meeting the terms agreed upon in her contract, took more than five days to respond to emails, and refused to answer phone calls. We finally after three weeks of trying to get in touch with her just sent her an email saying that we no longer require her services due to breach of contract.

        1. AHK*

          That’s true, but I’m pretty sure that the receipt of delivery doesn’t have a click option. It will send automatically.

          1. Josh S*

            Depends on the software client being used to read the email/send the receipt confirmation. It’s a client-side technology and can easily be circumvented.

        2. Anonymous*

          Yep, I always choose the option not to send the receipt. Not because I’m trying to hide anything (well, not really), but because the beauty of e-mail is that you can prioritize your response time…and just because someone send a receipt notification and thinks their need/request/question is high priority doesn’t mean that it’s high priority to ME. I’d feel too much pressure to respond quickly if they could see when I opened it, even if it’s not something that is or should be on my plate right that second.

          But this person is obviously dodging.

      1. Liz*

        You can’t rely on read/received receipts. Some email programs can’t use them, and some people turn off that functionality even if it exists. (I’m one of them.)

      2. some1*

        “Actually, you can attach an Acknowledgement of Receipt to an email that notifies you when the email has been opened.”

        If it’s a personal email account the LW has no way to know *who* opened the email, though. Could be a spouse, child, friend, etc.

      3. tcookson*

        We used to have a paranoid front desk receptionist who automatically attached a read receipt to Every. Single. Email. that she sent. I set my email to “Never send a read receipt” way back then and have never looked back. I have read receipt PTSD and will never, ever send one again as long as I live!

  6. Joey*

    Two weeks? Get on the phone and fire her. If she doesn’t respond send her a notice snail mail and be done with it. And go ahead and start recruiting. There’s nothing that says you have to wait until you fire someone. In fact as a practice I would start recruiting when you know for sure someone will be leaving.

    1. tcookson*

      Maybe she’ll come back and find someone new in her desk . . . that could be pretty funny.

  7. Lily in NYC*

    Some people really have balls of steel. I just can’t imagine the nerve it takes to simply not show up to work for days in a row without a major, major excuse (like a soap opera type of amnesia or a kidnapping).

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      I was just thinking this. I get the willies when I know I’m going to be late to work because of traffic. And here is some woman that just won’t come in?

      There is no excuse she could ever give me to explain this.

    2. Anonymous*

      This is not an excuse, of course, but please know that serious depression/other mental health issues can often cause people to behave in these sorts of ways. People who have never experienced it will just not be able to understand – I even bet she doesn’t *want* to be doing this.

  8. A Bug!*

    I agree with everyone who notes the lack of details. My question: you’ve been wanting to fire her for two weeks, but how long has she not been coming in?

    Did she maybe get wind of the fact that you want to fire her, and is under the mistaken impression that it’s illegal to fire somebody over the phone?

    I agree with the recommendations to start recruiting. If she finds out before you manage to get a hold of her, that’s really on her and not you – as AAM says, she’s basically forfeited any expectation of professional consideration by leaving you in such a tough spot.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      “Did she maybe get wind of the fact that you want to fire her, and is under the mistaken impression that it’s illegal to fire somebody over the phone?”

      You made me laugh with this one! The OP is one of the few who didn’t ask that question (“can I” is not the same as “is it legal”).

  9. Laura*

    Most companies I’ve worked at have the no call/no show for 3 days = job abandonment rule. But I’ve always wondered…if you call and promise to be there the next day, does that reset the no call/no show clock, even if you don’t show up?

    Another alternative is the next time you talk to your employee, tell her that she must show up at the office the next day, in person, no matter what, and if she doesn’t, it will be considered job abandonment and her employment will be terminated. Of course, check with HR to make sure you can do that.

    I had to do something similar with an employee once. He was having all kinds of personal issues – his father died suddenly, leaving him as the sole caretaker for his mother, who had never worked outside the home and she had no idea about their finances or anything else. It was horribly stressful for him. Then one day at the office while I was talking to him he had a grand mal seizure out of nowhere, and we had to call 911. After that his attendance was spotty at best, and he would often say he was going to work from home but then was not meeting any deadlines at all, and I suspected that he’d started drinking pretty heavily. My boss and I literally begged him to use his FMLA and not put us in the position of having to discipline or fire him, but he just wouldn’t do it. Then I had to put him on a PIP, and called and told him that if he did not show up at the office the next day it would be considered job abandonment and his employment would be terminated.

    I ended up having to fire him, which was just about the worst thing I’ve ever had to do to anyone. It would be one thing if he was just a lazy slacker, but he was clearly struggling and in a great deal of turmoil and pain, so it just felt like I was kicking him when he was down. But I had tried everything we could think of and he either could not or would not accept our help, so I had no choice.

    1. LisaLyn*

      Oh wow, what a horrible situation! But it sounds like you and your boss did everything you could — trying to get him to use FMLA and all of that. It sounds like he was just in a spiral and wasn’t in a place where he was ready to pull back out of it.

    2. Me*

      I had a very similar situation – an employee with serious health and personal/life issues combined with poor job performance – but she was really trying her best to improve and was a very hard worker. I (with HR and the leadership team’s help) tried everything to help turn it around, but ultimately failed. I knew firing her was the right thing to do because the rest of the team was really suffering having to pick up her workload. But… of all the tough conversations I have had to have in my professional life, nothing comes close to those I had in firing her. I earned my manager “wings” with that situation, for sure. :(

      1. Laura*

        It’s just the worst, isn’t it? In my employee’s situation I think it was like LisaLyn said above – he was in such a tailspin that he couldn’t even get it together to reach out for the help that was offered to him.

        For a long time I used that situation as a measuring stick for other unpleasant things I was not looking forward to dealing with. I would tell myself, “Well, this is going to be bad, but it won’t be as awful as what I had to do to [name].” Then, a few years after that all happened, I found out the poor guy had a heart attack and died. :( Now I don’t do that anymore because it seems somehow disrespectful.

    3. ExceptionToTheRule*

      We had something similar at my workplace. Fortunately, the guy got sober & is still with us, but it’s a rough time for everyone in the organization.

    4. CEMgr*

      >But I’ve always wondered…if you call and promise to be there the next day, does that reset the no call/no show clock, even if you don’t show up?

      No, it clearly does not. Because if it did, the 2-week-out admin who was the subject of this thread would still be in good standing. Calling with a promise only resets the clock if you fulfill any promise you made during the call.

  10. Meganly*

    I got laid off at my last job via a phone call. I was working from home that day because I was still recovering from the flu. TBH, I was kinda glad; my former company doesn’t handle layoffs very sensitively.

    But after not showing up for two weeks? I don’t think you’re firing her; IMO she’s already quit.

  11. TRB*

    Like statements above, 2 weeks is ridiculously long time to not show up for work. There is definitely some info missing. I could never do that without having some very unique and valid reason. Especially if working remotely is an option. Yes it is best to just call a couple of times and then resort to email if she doesn’t respond.

  12. The IT Manager*

    I manage a small business and need to fire her so I can start looking for her replacement as soon as possible.

    No you don’t need to fire her before you start looking for a replacement. You can start looking as soon as you decide to fire someone even if you wait to tell them until after you’ve hired their replacement. (It is potentially unkind not to give someone a heads up they will soon be unemployeed so they can start looking for their next job if they’re trustworthy, but this no show employee sounds like she’s forfeited any kind of warning.)

    Hopefully this employee is not milking any kind of PTO by this point of not showing up, and you’re no longer paying her since she’s no longer working for you.

  13. Anon*

    I had to fire someone via email/telephone because he wouldn’t come in, answer the phone or return calls/emails. I even texted with no response. So, he got a call and then a follow up email. Then I notified HR of the lack of response.

    1. Ms Enthusiasm*

      You would think this person would just tell you they quit so it wouldn’t officially be a firing.

      1. A Bug!*

        Many people think that they’re eligible for unemployment payments as long as the employer initiated the termination. They don’t always realize that the reason for termination is usually taken into account.

      2. Laura*

        It sounds like she’s avoiding the inevitable, and thinks that if she doesn’t show up in person, she can’t be fired.

        1. Jamie*

          But even salaried people aren’t paid if they don’t work at all in the week’s pay period – so to what end?

          1. Natalie*

            I wonder if she’s actively looking for a job and wants to say she’s still employed. That’s literally the only thing that makes sense.

            Then again, people do sometimes just string a situation along out of desperation – they can’t think of anything to fix it, but they don’t want it to be finally broken, either. We’ve had tenants with failing business do that, and I always wonder what they think is going to come in an save them once they are months and months behind in rent, taxes, and utilities. But they usually keep trying to buy a little bit more time.

            1. fposte*

              And maybe now she’s even a little curious to see how long this can get dragged out for.

  14. Going anon for comments (Reg Reader)*

    We have an employee who doesn’t show up, doesn’t call off, and won’t complete assignments. He’s not a remote or a work from home employee. This has been happening since 2007 (as per coworkers- I started my job in Nov 2010).

    If our boss ever decided to fire him, he probably would have to call him to fire him. Although who knows when he’d get to talk to him? He doesn’t always answer his phone.

    1. Yup*

      I was adjacent to a dept that had someone do that for years. Turned out the guy had a whole other job. As in, two full-time salaried 9-5 on-site jobs with two different companies, concurrently.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Damn. That is some kind of nerve right there. And I have to wonder why someone would do this. I guess if they could get away with being paid by both jobs, but seriously it’s like being an employment bigamist.

        1. Yup*

          Exactly! It was so unbelievable that I was almost impressed by the chutzpah. Like, “Well, I hate you for making your coworkers’ lives a misery for years, but dang, that’s one heck of a hustle you pulled off.”

      2. Going anon for comments (Reg Reader)*

        That’s just amazing he pulled that off. 2 salaried, 9-5 on-site jobs at 2 different companies?

        That’s amazing.

      3. The IT Manager*

        I imagine that he got a new job and just never told the old one he was quitting and they just kept paying him. A total win for him.

    2. Going anon for comments (Reg Reader)*

      And when/if this co-worker does show up, make sure the work you complete is for your personal clients. That way the company pays you for showing up and “working” and your personal clients pay you for doing work they submitted to you.

  15. Josh S*

    I’d like to point out this phrase that nobody else has addressed so far:

    I manage a small business and need to fire her so I can start looking for her replacement as soon as possible.

    OP, you do not need to wait until this person is gone to start looking for a replacement. Start today, right now to start looking for candidates. (Really, as soon as you thought you were going to have to fire this employee, you should have started getting things lined up for a new hire–determining budget, position needs, etc.)

    You do not need to wait til this person is gone. Get the ball rolling.

  16. Michelle*

    I recommend sending a letter via overnight mail to the employee’s home letting them know that they need to return to return to work within 24 hours of receipt of the letter or they will be terminated for job abandonment. If they do not return, send a second letter (via overnight with delivery confirmation) letting them know that due to their failure to return to work, their employement is terminated effective immediately.

    1. Gracie*

      My employer does something similar. If you’re a no-call/no-show for three consecutive days, then your manager is supposed to send a letter via FedEx (or some other fast, certified shipping) basically saying you abandoned the job.

      Two weeks is mind-boggling.

      1. Jamie*

        I think what’s confusing the employer, and us, is the fact that she’s been calling…but we don’t know what she’s been giving as an excuse.

        I.e. I’m dealing with a medical thing right now, so I don’t always know if I will be okay to drive the next day or how much if at all I’ll be able to work…so while I’m dealing with this my employer has been awesome at letting me work as much as I can and I’m as communicative as humanly possible to they know if I’ll be in the office, or working from home, or not working from home but call if something is on fire and I’ll try to deal…or totally unavailable during treatments because no one wants a goofy and medicated me playing with the data.

        It turns out I’m still working full time – even with missing a day a week – because it’s cool that I work when I feel okay and not per office hours. I know the conventional wisdom now it not to be loyal to one’s employer, but it’s impossible not to develop some pretty significant loyalty when they’ve been so gracious making a tough time easier.

        It’s for a finite period of time and there has been trust banked on both sides…but I can see something like this being a problem if an employer tries to be gracious over an illness and then trying to take the next step once they realize they’ve been strung along.

        IOW I’m really curious to know what she’s actually saying when she calls in.

        1. Poe*

          I want to know what the excuses are, too…can’t even imagine something non-medical even mapping sense.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          It’s mind-boggling that she’s getting away with it. I’m curious too–there must be one hell of an excuse for the OP to let it go on this long.

          Also, I hope you are better soon, Jamie!

          1. Jamie*

            Awwww thanks! My doctor said I’m going to feel like a teenager again in about 8 weeks…so my boss said that if I start showing up wearing a side pony and talking like a valley girl we’ll know it worked!

  17. JoAnna*

    The company I used to work for (but thankfully no longer do!) just did a mass layoff via e-mail. All the employees were remote due to no longer having office space (they were evicted for non-payment of rent), but they didn’t even bother to make phone calls to everyone. They just sent out a mass e-mail (on a Monday morning, no less, when everyone had already logged in for the day and started working) stating that the company was folding and everyone was laid off, effective immediately.

    I thought they should at least have called everyone one-by-one to break the news, but my husband suggested that they were afraid that it’d start a gossip chain — the first employee called would text/e-mail other co-workers to see if they’d suffered the same fate, and so word would get around unofficially before they could do it officially. I guess I understand that reasoning, but still, seems like a very rude thing to do. (But then, the company is already a month behind on paychecks, so they’re probably not worried about piling more crap on people at this point.)

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      And they were still working when the company folded and owed money. Wasn’t there a post on this same issue not too long ago? This is sad and angering. They probably won’t see a penny of it.

      1. JoAnna*

        I hope for the sake of my former co-workers that they will eventually get their money, but I suspect it will take DOL involvement or lawsuits for it to happen. Apparently the e-mail promised them severance packages, too, which is laughable.

  18. Jennifer*

    My previous boss fired someone (non-remote, full time, worked there since the beginning) via text message but his preferred method of firing people was via email on the weekends. After that he wouldn’t even meet them in person to discuss why and then did nothing but trash talk whoever was fired to the rest of us, even though we all knew those employees didn’t do half of the things he said. Best part is the company was always surprised when the fired person wouldn’t respond to their questions later. Glad I have moved on.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I worked for a boss who fired people and was sweet as pie while doing it, but then trash talked them. I never understood the need to trash talk by the boss. The person is gone, move on.

  19. Sabrina*

    I work full time for my company now, but once upon a time, I was a temp. They had budget problems and let all the temps go. Except they didn’t tell all of them. My co-worker was let go but there was a mis-communication between management and the temp company. Each thought the other was going to tell her. Neither did. So when they finally got around to letting me go, they at least had the courtesy to do it in person. Having gotten wind of it though, all I had to do that day was log off since I had already brought all of my stuff home.

  20. Lena*

    Hi everyone,

    I am the OP in question.

    I wanted to clarify that she has an ongoing injury which causes her migraines – something I was aware of when she was hired but was promised would not have a big effect… not so. This calendar year alone, she had 20 days off not including this recent two week stint. The legal limit in Australia is 10 days per annum, therefore, any further time she had off was unpaid, not incurring me any financial strain – just a resource strain.

    She became sick (as quite a few in our office have) and I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. By week 2, I was over it and only wanted her to come in so I could fire her. Day after day, this didn’t happen, with the aforementioned “I’ll definitely be in tomorrow!”.

    So yesterday I tried to call several times, without reaching her, and then coming to the end of the day, I emailed her so it was done. She emailed me back within 45 minutes and told me that she was planning on resigning as her doctor had advised her that she just isn’t suited to 40/week work with her injury.

    This is very frustrating as I had spent 10 months training her, and now have to find a new employee… at a very busy time for our very small company.

    But in hindsight, I could have saved myself at least a week of searching for someone new by being more proactive. Firing someone is never a pleasant task, but the lesson I have learnt is to do it as soon as the decision is made – then figure out the best way of delivering the news.

    I have never fired someone via email or phone before, its always been face to face, and I will try to keep it that way unless there are extreme circumstances.

    I appreciate all the comments and input, love this blog!

    1. Josh S*

      Thanks for the update. Firing someone is one of the hardest things a manager has to do. Glad you took on the task with a bit of grace and compassion — and courage. Good job!

  21. Audrey*

    The legal limit in Australia is 10 days per annum

    That’s a lower limit – many employers offer more than that. For instance all full time staff at my Australian university get 15 paid sick days per annum as well as vacation and public holidays.

      1. Ruffingit*

        We really do suck as a whole in terms of vacation days/sick leave/etc. in the US. I’m amazed sometimes when I look at the generous leave policies of other countries.

      2. Audrey*

        Most people don’t use anywhere near all of their sick days. Unused accumulate. So when I needed six weeks for surgery and recuperation there was no problem.

  22. anon-2*

    Another way – have a courier-delivered letter to the employee’s house informing her that her employment has been terminated.

  23. Another manager*

    I just had a similar incident happen, and I hated that I couldn’t conduct the termination in person.

    We have someone who cleans our home every other week, and she has had some pretty serious personal issues that caused us to come very close to letting her go in January (namely, no-call no-show when she was scheduled to clean for us). We put her on probation and set clear guidelines and expectations for a 3 month period (so through the end of April), and she was fine through the end of May.

    Well, she no-called/no-showed twice in a row for June. Unfortunately, she has also moved, so we don’t have her address, and I have tried leaving a message (generic voicemail, so she may have lost her phone service), sending her an email, and texting her, with no response. I finally just sent her another email stating that we were letting her go, but she hasn’t responded to that, either.

    My issue is that she has our key (we are changing the locks tomorrow), but we have her winter coat, which she left last time she was at our house. I have no way of getting it to her, short of delivering it to the preschool that her son attends (we think).

  24. Judy Hawes*

    I fired a person over the phone, because she wouldn’t come in to work. She worked for me for 7 weeks and missed 40% of the time. She didn’t call in one day and I called and told her that I had to let her go. She said I couldn’t fire her for being sick. I didn’t. I fired her for not calling in to work by the start of her shift. Sometimes a person just gets tired of doing two jobs.

  25. Anonymous*

    I was fired by email…WHILE I WAS OUT ON VACATION.

    Didn’t matter anyway as I had already started planning on moving out of state within the next few months (did not discuss with any coworkers, boss, or on social media so no one had wind of it) to live with my fiance, but still. My former employers were super shady anyway so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

  26. Anonymous*

    I believe the reasons why that employers choose to terminate employees over the phone or email is for protective reasons. The employer may want to protect the dignity of the person who is being severed from employment being fired or laid off. If you are called into your manager’s office with another manager, your supervisor, or most telling a security person, the next day you are a “no show” everyone will figure out how your employment ended, then they will investigate why. So, let’s say there is someone that needs to be fired. The employer may call the employee stating that they want to protect their privacy, then proceed to tell them. Furthermore, this will help prevent other employees to give details to inquiring client companies that the former employee may be applying to. This could be falsely seen by the former employee that the former employer is bad mouthing them, and return, a potential lawsuit.
    Another reason that an employer would fire or lay off an employee is for protection against a physical hostile response. Imagine that you are a manager and you have to fire or lay off someone twice your size. You tell that person the accusations brought against him. Then you tell him that because of those accusations, his employment has been severed. That employee may beg for a second chance, try to give his side of the story, to finally the family to support. Your response is, being your own will or an overhead’s will is, “I’m sorry! There is nothing I can do about it. “All of the sudden, he lunges towards you and starts to give your body a fist massage. You know I am not referring to the one a masseuse gives.

  27. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    If someone was to be terminated, and makes himself or herself unavailable to be terminated – there is a way around this.

    You send a letter – FedEx package, USPS/Canada Post letter requiring a signature – and the termination letter and details are contained therein. And try to have the letter delivered on a Saturday, if possible.

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