why won’t my employer tell us why our coworker was fired?

A reader writes:

I was hoping you and your readers could help me understand something. I’m fairly new to the white-collar workforce, and am in the middle of an awkward situation in my job at a satellite location of a larger non-profit. A couple days ago, the site manager was fired. As in, came in to work, was told to pack up their things by the higher-ups who had come to the location, and escorted out of the building while everyone watched. No email announcements or explanations, not even a “Site Manager has left to pursue other opportunities! We wish them the best of luck!” and apparently we’re supposed to pretend it didn’t happen.

I’ve been told that usually when someone is fired, people aren’t told why, in order to respect the firee’s privacy. But in the wake of the firing, a bunch of gossip has circulated as to why. Explanations range from “sent weird emails” to “had trouble making eye contact” to “corporate wanted to send a message to keep us in line” to “we’re all going to get canned; they were just the first.” Obviously this is not good for morale and it’s made an already bad workplace worse, so I’m not sure what all the secrecy is supposed to accomplish.

My question is: why is this the supposed norm in the white collar world? I’ve worked in food service, and we always knew why someone got fired. They stole, were rude to customers, or left early without telling anyone. It seemed to greatly reduced gossip and didn’t affect morale at all. So why is this different in the white collar world?

Yep, in general most managers in the white collar world aren’t going to explain in the entire rest of the staff why someone was let go, although they’ll explain to the people who it’s necessary to explain it (for instance, letting you know that the person had a hidden stash of unprocessed vendor payments, so that you understand why you have to suddenly process a bunch of them yourself and why your vendors are a bit irritated, or in other cases where your work really does require you to know details).

The reason for that is that is a general belief that if you’re fired, it’s not your coworkers’ business as to why — and that it violates the fired person’s privacy and dignity to share with coworkers what happened. It can also signal to your remaining employees that if they’re struggling with their own performance at some point, everyone else will hear about it. Which rarely feels good to contemplate.

This is a tricky thing, though, because if the fired person has friends on staff, she’s likely to share with them her version of what happened — which is sometimes quite different from what actually happened, particularly if the person is trying to save face with colleagues. I’ve seen people say they were fired for no reason or for an unfair reason, when in fact the problems with their work were carefully documented, they were warned multiple times, and given a chance to improve. That can leave the remaining employees feeling like they work for an unfair and jerky employer, as well as it can making them worry that they too might be fired out of the blue. So employers are in a difficult spot, with two competing interests to juggle — wanting not to spread the fired’s employees business all over the place, but also needing to think about the impact on the rest of their employees.

The key to handling this, though, is to make sure that employees understand generally how performance problems are handled. They don’t need to know that Jane was fired because she had terrible follow-through and let one too many projects slip through the cracks, but they do need to know how problems and firings are handled in general, and whether or not you’re a fair and reasonable person. So as a manager, it’s useful to share, for instance, that you warn people clearly before they’re fired and give them an opportunity to address the issues (except in particularly egregious cases, like embezzlement or assault). And it’s useful to establish a culture where your staff believes what you tell them about this kind of thing – because they see for themselves that you give clear, regular, and reasonable feedback, that you operate in a fair and straightforward manner, and that you don’t make arbitrary personnel decisions.

Given what happened at your office in the wake of your coworker’s firing, I’m betting that your employer hasn’t established that sort of culture, and that’s why not knowing what happened with your coworker has generated so many unsettling rumors.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

  1. Yup

    Off topic, but I just want to sympathize about how weird it is when there is no announcement at all when someone leaves (fired, quit, whatever). I’ve worked in places like that. It’s such a fundamentally bizarre management practice. I get that *why* a person left might be kept quiet, but why on earth is the fact that they no longer work here a secret? Just send an email saying, “Chris will no longer be working here effective today. Please direct questions about Chocolate Teapots to Frank, and forward Teapot Invoices to Mary.” Unless the former employee was actually Voldemort or Beetlejuice, just saying their name won’t tear open the universe. (Sorry for the rant. This is a major pet peeve of mine.)

    1. some1

      Ditto. I understand not always getting a reason, but I’d like to know when it affects my job before the email bounces back or I walk into an empty cube.

    2. Jubilance

      My company recently did layoffs, and while the number was relatively small, there was zero communication to employees that it was even a possibility, or that it even happened. Yet our company made a statement to the local newspapers. Needless to say it did not inspire any good feelings for the employees who had friends, family members or even spouses who were let go quite suddenly on a Wednesday morning.

      1. sharon g

        I went through something similar at a bank I worked at. The CEO said for years how great we were doing & he’d never sell out. One day, 85% of the employees found out by watching the morning news we were sold to another bank. This is why I never keep personal items at work. If I suddenly get let go, all I have to do is grab my purse.

        1. hamster

          I love that i work in a country where the employer is REQUIRED to give you two weeks notice. Nobody can escort you out. Plus, i’ve quitted and see people quit in the past. No-one escorted anyone out. We ussualy organised a good-bye party. Even one of the managers who was beyond upset that i’m leaving this job that “we were in togheter” wouldn’t say hi to me on the streets anymore, but got me a good-bye card and addmitedy unusal a pair of earrings

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            If it’s like most countries that require notice, they can still make you leave and escort you out; they just need to pay you for that additional two weeks.

        2. fluffy bear

          At my last job, my co-worker was fired without notice. Watching her pack up her personal stuff while an HR person stood over her was heartbreaking.

          At the time, I had a big teddy bear (present from another co-worker) on my desk which I removed that day. The idea of getting fired and escorted out of the building with a teddy bear under my arm seemed utterly pathetic and demoralizing. Now I keep nothing on my desk!

      2. myswtghst

        We had something similar happen recently with voluntary severance – it’s all been whispers and rumors, and we didn’t even find out two major players in our org were leaving until after they were gone, but the local paper had an article about the opportunity for people to retire. Not great for morale.

    3. Bean

      The company I work for right now will not tell anybody who does not work for the company that the previous president is retired, and that one of our other workers has retired. They have both been retired for nearly five years…it is very annoying to deal with phonecalls for these two when we are not allowed to disclose why they are never in the office.

    4. Gjest

      Yes. My last employer did this multiple times. The overall management perspective (for most situations, not just firings) was that employees did not need to know anything. The firing/layoff situations just added to the frustration of the rest of us that management really thought we were not important enough to explain anything to us, even if it affected our everyday operations. Really frustrating.

    5. RJ

      Yes. It’s unsettling from the standpoint of walking into the empty cubicle, but the security concerns are my biggest problem with this process. In theory, no employee should let anyone else on to the floor; everyone should have to swipe their badge. In practice, I’ve seen directors and VPs violate the rule and “piggyback” in behind the person in front of them. And if you see someone who you’ve worked with for years stranded in the hall, it’s human nature for someone to let them in. If we knew they no longer worked here, we’d know not to let them in and possibly expose the floor to an uncomfortable or even violent confrontation.

      1. Elizabeth West

        That is a no-no where I work. If you forget your badge, you have to get a temporary one from the receptionist. Nobody enters the secure area without signing in and getting a badge, not even a baby.

        1. RJ

          Elizabeth, if we had a better workaround system, it would probably be easier to insist on enforcing the policy. The reality is that if you show up without your badge, or even accidentally exit the floor without your badge, you have to call one of three assistants on the phone to get them to let you in and be issued a paper visitor sticker. Good luck if it’s between 11:30 and 1 because they all go to lunch at approximately the same time. And of course there are plenty of other times that they’re away from their desks or not able to answer the phone. The worst part is that the restrooms are outside in the lobby, so even if you sign in and get the paper badge, you still need someone to let you back in from the bathroom. It’s a really flawed system.

      2. egg

        Yes, at my workplace we no longer get any sort of notification when someone leaves (before, we used to get a companywide “John is no longer with XXX Corp.” email) other than within the affected department, and even that is usually more “So-and-so left, here’s how we’re redistributing the work.”

        Which is fine, except that it’s a significant threat to physical security. We’re not big enough for guards, but big enough that it’s feasible not to see a coworker for a couple weeks and think nothing of it. It always scares me a little, to be honest.

    6. Girasol

      +1 I remember someone asking me once, “I heard Mary was fired last month. She was our project manager. We haven’t done anything on the project in weeks. Nobody knows what to do. Do you know what we’re supposed to do?” If they’d just said what Yup advised: “She’s no longer with us; if you need info on her work, ask So and So,” then the project wouldn’t have been simply dropped.

    7. Vicki

      Yep.
      When I was laid off last, I was told “log out now”. No sending email. No notification. Management didn’t tell anyone. People go silent.

      It happens al the time at that company. People find out when they call your number or send email and it bounces or they look someone up in the corp directory and the record is gone.

      No one tells your coworkers, the people you had meetings scheduled with the next day, no one is told EVER.

        1. anon in the uk

          I worked once at a place where a particular client was served by a team of three who were all made redundant and told to pack up and go. The client apparently spent a week sending increasingly desperate emails before someone convinced the big boss that the departed people’s emails needed to be read and accounts shut.

  2. PEBCAK

    Another aspect when I hear “non-profit” is that I think about funding issues (yes, I know, not all non-profits rely on grant funding). So the employer should reassure the staff that there isn’t some larger issue putting lots of jobs in jeopardy.

  3. Just a Reader

    My old employer fired people on the regular and then acted like they didn’t exist. Once they finally started sending the “Bob has moved on to pursue other opportunities and we wish him all the best,” the staff anxiety died down. The gossip continued but the fear was gone.

    1. Brittany

      I wish my company would do this. We have a call center type group where gossip spreads like wildfire about why someone left and management never explains and then wonders why morale is low.

  4. The Cosmic Avenger

    Yep….I <3 my company, but the one thing they need to work on is communication. Someone was once fired who made threats of violence, so a general "don't hold the doors open for anyone without their key" message went out. But if you recognize someone, you usually hold the door for them, right? I maintain that our company should just send around emails stating at a minimum "Jane Doe is no longer with XYZ International as of today. We wish her luck in her future endeavors." That way at least people know they don't work here any longer! And as it is, people start wondering what happened once they see an empty office, and then you have to trust the rumor mill if you want to know why they left.

    1. Windchime

      This is the kind of email that is sent out at my workplace. “Jane is no longer employed at OurCompany, effective today. We wish her well in her future endeavors. Please direct any teapot requests to John Smith.”

      Short and sweet. When we get those kinds of emails, it’s usually understood that the person was let go. When a person resigns, it’s usually a warmer, fuzzier version: “I am sad to announce that Jane will be leaving OurCompany. Her last day will be Friday, Nov 30. There will be cake and coffee in the lunchroom at 2 pm. Please join us then to wish her well.”

  5. KarenT

    I get why companies don’t tell people why someone left, but I don’t get the complete lack of announcement.

    A few years ago I had scheduled a budget meeting and one of the key stakeholders wasn’t there. We couldn’t make decisions without her approval so we rescheduled the meeting. Then she didn’t show up again, and finally someone ‘fessed up that she had been fired.
    GIANT waste of time–that project was late simply because no one told us she had left.

  6. Non-profit HR

    +1 to having the fired employee give a wildly different account of events when they speak to former colleagues. We had someone who had meetings repeatedly, consistently escalating up to the chain of the command until the CEO himself joined to give him a clear two-week warning, along with list of goals to be met. The employee signed the list of goals. When terminated two weeks later (didn’t meet ANY of the goals on the list, or really even make progress), proceeded to tell anyone he could that he’d never seen it coming and was totally blindsided. So frustrating!

    1. LisaLyn

      I was involved in a situation like that. Due to our relative positions, I knew all the steps that had been taken to try to correct the problems and how the eventual-firee actively worked against his manager. But, when he was finally, after two years of PIPs and warnings, let go, you would have thought his manager shot the Pope or something.

      1. Non-profit HR

        This helps me remember why there is very much such a thing as too many chances. We’ve been guilty as well on this; I’ve learned to stop hesitating so much and if it hasn’t gone well for 3 months of intensive intervention, it’s probably never going to.

      2. A Hiring Manager

        I tolerated an employee’s attitude and disruptive gossip for two years. It got to a point where talking to him didn’t help but only exacerbated his arrogance and defiance. PIP’s followed and finally termination. It was difficult but it had to be done. Everyone knew why but we just told associates ‘he moved on to pursue other opportunities’ as usual. No one mentions it, but morale and performance has improved.

  7. TootsNYC

    Remember also that if the employer says anything negative, they leave themselves open the possibility of a lawsuit for slander or libel. (or they may believe that they do)

    If someone was stealing but the company is not going to press charges, they may be warned by a lawyer that if they even *hint* such a thing, the lack of criminal charges is going to mean that they’ll lose the libel case. (this happened in a case I know of–and just as the letter-writer notes, the complete silence of the employer had people speculating wildly about what *other*, more damaging misdeeds could have prompted the firing)

    And even if they think they could win it, most companies simply don’t want to bother with the legal expenses or the hassle.

    And yes, they forget that there is a lot of gossip that messes stuff up for the people who remain. And they forget that even saying innocuous stuff like, “We’ve decided that it’s best for all if Fired Employee finds employment somewhere else” can help tons, especially if it’s accompanied by reassurances like: “This was a decision specific to this employee and in no way reflects on the rest of you. We’re grateful to you for keeping things moving through the transition, and we ask your help and patience as management does likewise. We know the hardest part of this will fall on you, and we thank you.”

    Even platitudes can calm the waters. And they can be true as well.

    1. Rebecca

      Yes, I have seen firings handled in very different ways and this by far is the most helpful. It won’t necessarily stop rumors from swirling, but at least people aren’t in fear that they’ll be next.

  8. Daisee

    I’ve experienced this quite a bit at my last workplace, but even odder is the higher ups wouldn’t even let staff know when someone was fired or laid of. You’d just find out months later that so-so was gone. It was really odd because it was a small office of maybe 50 people.

  9. Anon

    Just had a firing at the director level that was more than a long time coming. While I, as a fellow director in the same dept, knew a few of the reasons why, there was no mass email out. For us it was for legal reasons as the fired person is a lawsuit waiting to happen. We are usually pretty good about notifying managers when someone has left but we never add the “wish them the best” if they were fired. Because clearly you don’t. Unless the reasons were violations of procedures, there is no reason for you to know why someone was fired. You just need to know the right way to do your job.

      1. KellyK

        Yeah, I think you should. It seems like leaving that off is needlessly negative, and it might not be hard for someone to figure out that if you leave that part off, it means the person was fired.

        1. some1

          Most places I have worked, whenever the employee’s sup sends out an email saying, “Employee So-and-so is no longer with Chocolate Teapots Inc.” you knew they were either let go or they quit without notice.

          If the employee resigned, the sup always sent an email pretty much right after the employee gave notice and it was a Congratulations and join us for a good-bye lunch, etc.

          1. Jennifer

            Right, that’s exactly what my office does. “So and so does not work here any more” is code for firing. If someone voluntarily leaves, we’re told that they got a new job and what it is (or in the case of student employees who graduated, that their term is up).

            I am still wondering about the last guy who doesn’t work here any more, though, seeing as he’d been out on leave for a couple of months before the canning. It’s like, what the heck did he DO if he wasn’t here? He’d also been here a long time, so it was weird.

            Years ago we interviewed a lady for a job in my area and well, she was nice but gave off the crazy vibe a mile away, and that seemed to be why she’d been let go from her last job as well. Unfortunately, another section of the office didn’t pick that up and hired her. I ran into her about six months later after having been out of the office on leave myself and then found out she’d been let go again. Awkward.

      2. Anon

        But why would we wish someone the best when they were verbally abusing staff, falsifying information and breaking establish protocol on a variety of levels. (All of these things were widely known, I’ll add.)

      1. Anon

        I wish comments would nest properly. We have a great workplace. This particular employee was verbally abusive and manage to fire/run off 4 great staff members in less than a year. It was only because the 5th person planning to quit had documentation of blatant rule/protocol breaking that were fireable offenses that they were able to get her out.

        Normally, I’d agree with you. In this particular case, this person has managed to abuse a group of people into a giant case of PTSD and I’m not even kidding. So, no I don’t wish her well. The people she manage to run off/fire I did wish the best and offered glowing references for.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          But then you’re talking about one particular situation rather than all firings, whereas the original comment seemed to refer to all firings, which is why this drew these responses.

    1. some1

      “We are usually pretty good about notifying managers when someone has left but we never add the “wish them the best” if they were fired. Because clearly you don’t.”

      This just seems really petty and spiteful to me. I have congratulated certain co-workers who were resigning for different jobs before, as well as commiserated with the let-go ones, even though I didn’t care for them much and was either (privately) glad they were leaving. And I’ve had co-workers congratulate me on getting a new job who I know didn’t like me and were glad that I was leaving.

      Maybe it seems fake to some people, but I think of it as a common courtesy. Like when you tell the loved ones: “I’m sorry for your loss” even if the person who died wasn’t your favorite person.

      1. Anonymous

        If good things happen to Fired Employee, it reduces the chances Former Employer will get sued. So, if for no other reason, wish them the best!

      2. A Hiring Manager

        I agree. It’s a hard enough situation for all involved. Why not be gracious and wish them the best.

        1. Tax Nerd

          Even if it’s a “I hope they learn the error of their ways and get better”, that seems preferable to “And may the door hit them in the ass on their way out, right before they get hit by a bus”.

    2. MR

      It always baffles me as to why companies are so worried about the retaliatory lawsuits from a fired employee. Unless the person had a contract with specific language or were fired due to being in a protected class, most people are ‘at will’ and can be fired at any time for any reason.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Because people sue for all kinds of things even when it’s baseless. if they’re treated poorly, they’re more likely to decide that the “real” reason they were fired was because of their disability or their age, or so forth. And even if the company can successfully prove that wasn’t the case, the lawsuit takes time and money and energy and is a general nightmare.

      2. Another Emily

        I agree. It’s like that classic line from Fiddler on the Roof: “Maybe God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!”

  10. Belle

    My past employer was the worst. They fired people at around 2PM randomly through the week – never on Monday’s or Friday’s. They wouldn’t send out an email… it was like the person never existed. Definitetly affected morale. I worked within the HR department, which made it even worse (HR departments are the worst!). Mind you, this was one of the largest entertainment (film) companies, so it was a shocking experience.

      1. some1

        I think Belle meant that the HR Depts she worked in were ironically the worst at communicating that one of their own employees had been let go to the others on the team.

    1. Cat

      Wait, is there a consensus that you should fire people on Monday or Friday and not in the middle of the day? This doesn’t necessarily seem intuitive to me.

      1. some1

        This has come up on the blog before and opinions were split, I believe.

        Some people said if they have to be let go they’d like it to be on a Friday so they have the weekend to let the news sink in before there are any changes to their routine. Others would like it Monday-Thursday so they can hit the ground running on filing for UI and job searching.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s connected to theories on workplace violence. There’s a school of thought that if you fire someone on a Friday, they have the weekend to calm down and process it and are less likely to show up at your workplace with a gun the next day. Then there’s a different school of thought that says that if you fire someone on Friday, the person will spend the weekend stewing because they can’t start reaching out to business contacts and otherwise moving forward, and thus are more likely to show up with a gun on Monday.

        1. Cruella Da Boss

          If you Google all the workplace shootings, you will see that they pretty much happen any day of the week.

          If an employee is disgruntled enough, has access to a gun, and wants to shoot his/her coworkers, what day he/she is let go really has little to do with it.

    2. holly

      i worked somewhere that the policy (assumed through observation) was to do firings at the end of the day Thursday. so they got allll this work out of them for the week, but had the next day to alert the rest of the staff. jeez. at least do it in the morning.

  11. nyxalinth

    I worked very briefly at a pet insurance call center two years ago (they insisted you be able to memorize each and every detail of the insurance without looking it up, and I failed the testing because I don’t learn well via the kind of memorization without hands-on repetition that this would have required) and so was let go. Every call center I ever worked in allowed employees to look things up in their reference materials, and had I known that they required this, I would never have taken the job offer. I had a nice farewell, and I told people why I was fired (everyone who was an on the phones employee thought it was BS–the rule, not my words) but it also served to let them know that they would be safe. (I also think the trainer had a strong dislike of me from day one, but that’s a story best saved for the open thread.)

    Also, not long after I started there, the call center director was fired. He’d just spoken to us individually a few days before, asking how we liked it so far, etc. Just bam, out of the blue, he was gone, and no one knew why. It didn’t boost anyone’s morale, for sure.

  12. Dan

    My company has had multiple rounds of layoffs, and I unexpectedly got caught up in the last one. While I liked my job, and used to like the company, I wasn’t terribly bothered.

    Why? The only formal announcement we would ever get is “there as a RIF.” They wouldn’t name names, so we all had to guess or get it through the grape vine. The layoffs were also occurring without warning, and it was starting to get unsettling. At least now I don’t have to go to work worrying about my job every day and I can move on with my life. The worst part is that company management doesn’t lead — when they send out the RIF notices, they aren’t exactly reassuring to the rest of us that we don’t have to worry.

    1. Collarbone High

      I can sympathize with this. The job I left a year ago is now in the midst of laying off 20 percent of the staff, and they’re doing it 2 people at a time over the course of a year. Everyone is incredibly stressed and demoralized, because every day they wonder if it will be their last. It seems to me like the worst possible way to handle an already bad situation.

  13. De Minimis

    My former workplace was awful in this respect….they refused to acknowledge that layoffs were happening even while they were doing it—they removed a lot of people on the basis of performance who had been doing well prior to that.

    This was so they could tell potential recruits that they weren’t laying people off.

    1. kelly

      That happened at a former job, first full time job out of college. It was at a background check company working for the international division. I got hired to process paperwork need to complete the checks, for which more is needed than domestic checks. One person at another site got a promotion to a trainer, and another person was transferred from another area to do her role at my site. I was surprised that they replaced her right away because the work load was starting to slow down. They said they were expecting a large order from a client with over a third needing international checks sometime after the start of the new year, but they had been saying this order had been coming for the past month and the date was being pushed back. I was let go second week of January with performance issues being cited. I felt that was odd because less than a month before the manager who fired me was praising me in front of my two co-workers who did the same job. The new person who transferred in was older and had had worked for the company in various roles for a longer time. I wonder if something didn’t work out in those other roles because she was bounced around in the entry level positions. She had a Kitty Foreman-esque nasal voice and I think hurt her for the phone heavy jobs. I was the newest hire and the youngest, so it was easier to let me go than to admit they had made a mistake with bringing in the transfer. I also think they received the news that the large international order had fallen through and someone had to go.

      It was a strange place to work. They made a big deal the week before about buying the company that did the drug testing for Wal-Mart and the head honchos from corporate flew in from Minneapolis on the private corporate plan to announce it. At the annual meeting, they announced if we met a goal at the end of the 2012 financial year, they’d take us on a cruise. They were also in the process of buying new corporate headquarters with a more prestigious address in Minneapolis.

      Layoffs continued in 2011, with about 30 people laid off in April and another 50 laid off in December. Corporate announced that they were shutting down the two sites that were leased in May 2012. They leased new facilities down in Arizona, using the weather as an excuse. I really think that corporate idiots wanted to go golfing in Arizona in the winter rather than fly to South Dakota.

      It took a while to get over being fired and how I was treated. I felt bad for the people who stayed until the end. The manager who fired me quit less than a month before it was announced the site was being closed down. I felt a bit of schaudenfreunde when I saw her working at a local grocery store as a floor supervisor. It was a significant step downwards from her previous job where she had a closed office and absolute power. It would have been better if she had been just a cashier, but it was nice seeing her wear a uniform and name tag. I heard from other people that there have been some changes at that grocery store, including most of the floor level supervisors being let go, including her. I think she’s finally getting what she deserves for how she treated me and others.

  14. Ann Furthermore

    2 VP’s left my company within a few weeks of each other a couple years ago. We found out about the first through a lengthy and effusive email from the CEO, thanking the VP for his years of service and numerous contributions to the company and the industry overall.

    We also found out about the other one through an email from the CEO, but this one said, “Effective immediately, Ex-VP no longer works for Our Company.”

    It was pretty clear who left voluntarily and who didn’t.

  15. anon-2

    There is NEVER a good time to fire someone.

    Usually it’s done during the week. They do it in the morning.

    Then, before the day is out, a meeting is called with the survivors , and it’s a “there, there, the blue meanies are gone now, we can go forward, rock’em, sock’em, we’re better than anyone!”

    As far as someone getting whacked, and no one else knowing – I saw it happen in the financial world. Sometimes it has to be addressed, informally.

    Example – in the financial world, you can’t work there if you have a criminal record. What if a guy or gal lies on the application, gets in, does a great job, gets along — and a subsequent check shows — this person was convicted of a felony, in say, 1988, and has to be let go immediately?

    Do you tell staff informally, confidentially? Or let everyone guess?

    1. Rayner

      You don’t tell them the ‘real’ reason why. You just say, “Person X is no longer with this company, we wish them well in future endeavors – here’s the contact information for work and documentation for that role.”

      It’s not your job to explain why someone was fired or let go or laid off, even if it’s for a scandalous reason. It’s important to maintain the company integrity, rather than spreading gossip.

  16. Curious Coworker OP

    Aah, my question got answered! So awesome. :D

    So, I really should have waited a week to write to AAM, because the exact same thing happened to my direct supervisor later that week: come in, corporate higher-ups are there, supervisor was told to pack up and leave. Again, no forewarning or e-mails, just buh-bye. VERY disconcerting. The message from corporate has been that they would like to be a “more healthy” organization (which they started pushing months before the firings), which some of us have speculated was the reason behind the sudden firings: my supervisor was a very malicious bully and encouraged the employees to bully each other to the point where 20% of the staff quit within 2 weeks of each other. One department basically threatened to quit en masse unless something was done. Yeah, not a pleasant place.

    To answer PEBCAK’s thought, I don’t think it has anything to do with funding. While I think the organization does get some public money, the majority of the funding comes from donations and purchases. So, perhaps worries about funding were present, but I don’t think it would be a major concern.

    Things have been somewhat better. The new site manager is a lot nicer and there’s a lot better communication all around, although we still have no idea what caused the forced turnover at the top. But a lot of toxic employees are still there, and while I’m no longer losing my hair (seriously, I could run my fingers through and take out a bunch of strands. Luckily, I have a lot to lose before it would get noticeable), I’m still looking for a new job. One company has strongly hinted that they’re going to give me an offer next week*, and I hope it comes through. I love the mission of the company and my actual work, but there’s just so much anxiety for me there. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drive there without an uneasy feeling in my gut. And I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of my coworkers felt the same way.

    *Although, thanks to AAM, I know I don’t have an offer until I have an offer, so I haven’t quit my current job yet. ;)

    1. anon-2

      Bad choice of words = “healthy organization” — especially if the firee had a medical history, or has a family member with a medical history — or, is over 50 or so and they’re fearful of health insurance costs.

      If you’re a firing manager – be VERY careful of the words you use toward the firee, or in the workplace. It could come back to haunt you.

  17. Cruella Da Boss

    I’m confused as to why it matters. This person has left the company, either voluntarily or involuntarily. This person is gone. The only thing anyone really needs to know is 1) where to direct any calls, 2) who is filling in on that job until someone new is hired.

    Why would anyone need any details? Besides getting everyone left to go back to their desks and stop huddling around the water cooler whispering?

    “Site Manager has left to pursue other opportunities! We wish them the best of luck!” “Site Manager is no longer employeed with this company. ”

    Both are adequate announcements. I would say that to anyone who calls for Former Site Manager. I might add “Bob from Accounting will be filling in until a replacement is hired”

    Nosey employees irk me.

    1. anon-2

      Those “nosey employees” may fear that they’re next.

      Those “nosey employees” also worked with the fired person… and people generally worry about people they know and have worked with, even if they don’t necessarily like them.

      1. MrSparkles

        As someone who has been on both sides of the spectrum, it matters quite a bit. From personal experience, it has symbolize a decline in the industry/business/company. Also, as anon-2 mentioned, company morale nose dives as people fear that anyone could be next. And that’s just for those who haven’t found themselves suddenly unemployed at no fault of their own.*

        At this point those unaffected by the downsizing may begin to start looking for work, speeding up the potential decline of the company.

        *Being laid off and being fired are two different things; though one could argue you have some control of the latter, from experience one almost never has control of the former.

        1. Cruella Da Boss

          If the company is laying people off, employees will be worried anyway. That information is only secret for a short time.

          If an employee got fired for say, embezzlement, and security is handing them off to the authorities, now that doesn’t really concern them does it? Unless this person stole the “funeral fund” too.

          The dignity of the employee should be guarded either way.
          I don’t see how that’s anyone else’s business.

    2. Jake

      One thing that our manager harps on us about is ownership. He wants us to own everything we do. If he asks a question about our realm or responsibilities he expects, or even demands, that we know the answer. He wants us to take personal and professional responsibility for the success of our project.

      He facilitates this by making sure we are well informed of all official and unofficial business that could affect our work in any way. It makes us feel like we actually matter. Like what we do actually matters.

      Treating employees that are worried about the future of their own position as “nosy” because they want to know why somebody was fired in such a way (which by the sounds of it was a highly unusual way of firing somebody in this organization) is condescending and makes them feel less important, which in turn makes them take less ownership of their work.

      That is never a good thing.

    3. Del

      There are plenty of reasons why people might want to have a little more information, and starting with the assumption that they’re just being nosy shows a pretty poor opinion of those employees.

      About six months after I started my current job, for instance, the main person who trained me was fired, after the boss had spent pretty much my entire time at the job pounding into our heads over and over that our error/write-off rate was unacceptable and the people who were costing the department the most money were going to find their heads on the chopping block. You can bet I was sweating bullets for a while, wondering if I was acting on a whole bunch of wrong information that’d have me next in line!

      (In hindsight, I probably could have taken that specific concern to the boss; at the time, I had no idea whether it was a good idea or whether it would be painting a target on my own back.)

  18. Anon for this

    I work at a university, and a couple of years ago, one of the faculty members was fired by the dean with a gag order. All of his computers and equipment were immediately confiscated, packed up and sent to the dean’s office. His staff couldn’t get any of the data they needed off of it.

    No one still knows why he was fired. Of course, TONS of speculation and gossip has followed. He is friends with my boss, and a couple of weeks ago, he and my boss copied me in an email exchange where they were scheming to have my boss use his faculty account to get the fired guy cheaper software through the university’s computer store. I was extremely angry that they copied me on these emails.

  19. egg

    Reading this thread, it occurs to me that it’s common for employers to wish resigning employees luck/have a cake/do a farewell lunch, etc.

    We are allowed to do these things at my office, but upper/middle management is forbidden from initiating them, as the powers-that-be don’t want to “celebrate people leaving.” They must come from coworkers/people a level lower than you. Is this normal?

    1. Jake

      That is how it is where I work.

      What it usually leads to is the popular employees getting huge parties at the local restaurant and the unpopular employees getting a handshake and well wishes.

      1. Callie

        Ugh, I hate this. I was a teacher and left after 14 years to go back to graduate school and get my PhD. 14 years at the same school and all I got was a plant… when I was moving across the country. It ended up dying before I left. More popular teachers had scrapbooks made for them, pictures of their classes signed by the kids, handwritten goodbye letters… and I got a little plant.

    2. glennis

      My public agency has a employee newsletter that has a little section called “transistions”, where you learn about people who’ve retired or been transferred. I think they also list it when someone accepts a job outside.

      We recently did a re-org, where an entire division of some 27 people was eliminated. Everybody scrambled to find a transfer position within the agency – some folks got promotions, some folks got straight transfers, other folks had to take demotional positions just to stay with the agency – this wasn’t because of performance issues, but because these were the only vacancies open. Some folks retired, and there were a few people who were actually laid off.

      The newsletter congratulated the promotions and retirees, and completely ignored the straight transfers, demotions, and lay-offs. I thought that was lousy.

  20. Anonymous

    I once worked for a company that laid off (not fired) multiple people one day with no warning and no announcement. We received an email at the end of the day explaining that these people would no longer be with the company. Upper management didn’t address the situation until the staff practically revolted. Although being fired involves privacy, lay offs are scary because potentially anyone could be let go. I can see why with firings there is a good argument to keep things quiet, but with layoffs it seems its better to get in front of the situation (before your staff has a complete melt down from uncertainty).

  21. Brett

    Having the fired employee present their own side to ex-co-workers is one thing. Having them present their own side to _clients_ is another.

    One employee failed to complete a 4 year long PIP and was finally fired after over 18 months of hearings took a voluntary pay grade to drop down into union pay grades). My wife’s employer does not comment on why employees are fired (and the union involvement would have made that difficult anyway). The employee though had been compiling a list of client emails throughout the PIP. went straight to the client list and emailed them all to complain that the firing was maliciously and a pretext for illegal discrimination. They lost dozens of clients within a matter of a few days. The employee was even bound by a non-compete, but immediately started their own competing business and poached right and left by lying about the termination reason.

    The workplace has been trying to prepare a lawsuit, but the former clients are so angry at the workplace that they are decidedly unwilling to testify. So, they dropped any possibility of a lawsuit and moved on.

  22. Felicia

    I don’t expect to be told why an employee was fired – it’s not my business and it’s not the norm for me to be told. But I do expect to be told when an employee I see every day won’t be there anymore. Once the man who sat behind me who I said hi to every morning just basically disappeared, thought he was on vacation, until 2 weeks later I asked when he’d be back and was told he’d been fired. It was one of those workplaces where people just would disappear with no announcment of where they’d gone

  23. glennis

    I work for a public agency, and all new hires go through a year’s probation, and undergo performance evaluations every three months. It is not uncommon for probbies to be let go at the nine-month review. I’ve seen it happen at least four times. And it is immediate – they go into the conference room for the review meeting and they are out the door next. Co-workers learn nothing about it, other than if you were working with the person on a project, you’re directed to work with someone else.

    In order for this to happen, I know the review has to be written by the supervisors and approved in advance by the manager AND department head, plus HR, so clearly someone knows about it well in advance, but on two of the occasions I was closest to, the employee had NO IDEA this was coming.

  24. EvilQueenRegina

    I don’t think it’s unusual to not give the reasons why someone was fired. A few months back we all just got an email saying something like “Wakeen Smith’s contract has ended today” – we’d seen the guy first thing in the morning and all had seemed fine and this came around that afternoon. He was a temp and someone had been recruited to his post but wasn’t due to start for another two weeks and he’d been supposed to stay until then. Later on the real story behind the disciplinary issue that led to him being terminated early did spread.

  25. Karma

    I got fired and banned and they are saying I quit. I was getting bullied just plain treated like trash. Till the point I started crying I was told to leave and never come back. I was humiliated and lied about. I don’t know what to think..

  26. Donna

    I would agree that 99% of the time, there are good reasons for firings. However, I was just fired after 25 years of service at a company, and they told me I was unhappy at work and it showed, and that’s why they were firing me. My department has been busier than ever, and I asked for a new person and got approval for same. I had accomplished 6 of 7 objectives for the year by mid-Nov and was working on the last one. I am always polite and respectful to people. One of the managers came out and told me they could not tell me everything. Unfortunately, sometimes people get fired and are not told why and really don’t know why.

  27. OYH

    I agree with the sentiment that it is not the remaining employees’ business per se, but someone’s absence should at least be addressed. Aside from speculations as to why the person no longer works with the company, it is reasonable to want/need to know who to direct certain tasks or inquiries to. By pretending the incident didn’t happen, I would like to think the remaining employees would become skeptical or fearful of losing their jobs, especially when the departure was entirely unexpected.

    At my last position, I knew certain people (primarily my supervisor, but our relationship was never clear given that most of my work was done independently) didn’t care for me. The quality of my work was great. I never took time off or was late, etc. I received a raise two months prior to be fired. My second year into the job, I learned of very serious rumors. First it was one rumor. My coworker advised me of it and I laughed because it was ridiculous. With time, I learned of more rumors, all in greater detail. During my review with my supervisor, I was TOLD I was on XYZ drug and some kind of painkiller supervisor couldn’t “pinpoint.” I did not get the holiday bonus everyone receives. I did not receive a raise. Prior to that incident, I was receiving bonuses every time my associate had to leave the office for a week for legitimate reasons (approximately 4-5 times my first year there). Confused and obviously worried, I said that I should take a drug test. I even offered to supply a doctor’s note. That would clear my name, clear up any suspicions, etc., right?

    They never let me take a drug test (and I asked and was asked and subsequently said yes many times up until I was fired) for liability reasons. I was defamed. Everyone in the office thought I was a drug addict. I was told this to my face by my supervisor and the owners. My supervisor told others in the industry. I was suddenly panicking because I was am perhaps still am watching my professional image tarnish and there wasn’t anything nothing I could do. I knew the job was toxic, but at that time, I had some financial issues going on that prevented me from looking for other employment. I was also working 60-80 hours a week. I later realized the story didn’t add up. Certain professionals in the industry defended me or later talked to me about the incident. Having sound judgment, they all realized this person with whom they interacted daily, reviewed his/her work, was professional and eloquent, never missed a deadline, etc. was not a painkiller addict (among other things) for 5+ years, shooting up in the bathroom.

    The evening before I was fired a family member died. I told my boss who seemed sympathetic, worried, etc. I did not attend work the following day, but told the owner I would stay on top of things via email from home… and I did. As family suddenly flew in from out of town. The day after my family member’s passing, my supervisor called. It was the most bizarre and oddly formal conversation ever. Still dazed because of the loss of my family member, my supervisor told me I was fired effective immediately. At my expense, she would mail me my belongings. No thanks. I asked if anything happened to provoke this and was told no. My supervisor hung up.

    That SAME DAY, the owners and my supervisor told the entire office I lied about the death. This is on top of my intravenous drug use and pill-popping. I was never given the opportunity to provide proof. This happened in less than a day and even during that time, I was working from home. I am lucky that many professionals I worked with outside of the company can come to their own conclusions about the person I am, but it STUNG to learn from ex-coworkers that they were being told the drug addict lied about the death in her family. If you dislike me, fire me. I was an at-will employee and I knew it. What you don’t do is add insult to injury and state I’m lying and fire me for that reason after a significant loss.

    It’s been five months. I’m still upset, but mostly overwhelmed with being unemployed, losing a family member, having my family disrespected, other family problems, my own mental and physical health, paying for bills, eating on a daily basis… Some have said retain an attorney, but part of me is so turned off and exhausted, I don’t want to have to think about that period of time. Plus, I don’t have the funds and I understand these things can take time. I just want gainful employment and inner peace.

  28. carmen

    Hi i was working for a cleaning company for a month and got rear ended and wasn’t able to work i got a doctor’s note and gave it to my boss. When i got the release to go back i was fired and the person who got my job is using my badge and has been using it since i got injured what should i do

  29. nicole

    happened to me about two weeks ago, was never told why ( they assume I knew). it was embarrassing, like I committed some crime. I fear my former co-workers hate me.it was a great job( be it part time) but it gave me great confidence. I’m trying to pick up the pieces, scared about reentering the job search

  30. hey

    We had a co-worker resign from our office today.. Her resignation effective immediately / she left this morning. From what I know she’s going to look at other job opportunities and spend time with family..

    Now Im curious (just thinking and wanting to keep this curiosity to myself and this page) could it have been she was on her way out, that resignation was her best career and face saving choice?

    What likely scenarios, would a person resign and be able to do so immediately with a notice period. This person didnt have a job to go to…

    A possible termination of her job pending, that resignation was the best thing for all parties, without too much trouble??

  31. Wildcherry

    I’m going through this right now. I resigned almost a month ago and sent out an email to HR and managers to forward onto staff (the standard practice) — the manager called me and said ‘I’ll come meet you anywhere in the country to chat about it’ but I said thanks for the offer, its time for me to move on.

    The email was never sent to staff — and now several people are texting me asking where I am. Its like they are in denial that I’ve gone and don’t want to send out the email incase it inspires others to leave. It was a very friendly email saying thank you to everyone.

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