I’m in trouble for cc’ing a laid-off coworker on a message questioning her layoff

A reader writes:

Yesterday my manager sent a message to the members of my team (teapot makers) and another team (teapot designers), whose manager just went on maternity leave, and for whom he is covering. This message announced that a position on the design team, Tipping Tester, was being eliminated, and gave the effective date. The message specifically said that the person in the to-be-eliminated position is being invited to interview for other positions and that he hoped she would be remaining with the company. The current Tipping Tester was included on the email, as was our HR manager.

Today I sent a response to my manager, the on-leave manager, the HR manager, and (this is important) the current Tipping Tester, saying that I was worried about this change. Prior to creating this position and hiring the Tipping Tester several months ago, we were routinely producing teapots that didn’t, in fact, pour out when tipped over. Obviously this meant that buyers of our teapots were unhappy that they didn’t perform their intended function well. I said that since hiring the Teapot Tester, this happens far less frequently, which makes my work of making teapots much better because I don’t have to spend as much time as I used to explaining the faulty tipping to customers and fixing it. I said that I was worried that we would return to the former state of too many tip-less teapots, and asked for information about how we could ensure that that wouldn’t happen with this position being eliminated.

While I made it clear that I questioned the decision, and any reader would understand that I hoped the decision to eliminate the position would be reversed, my only specific request was for specifics on how they planned to avoid the return of our pre-Teapot Tester problems.

The HR manager wrote back quickly, saying that it was completely inappropriate for me to have included the current Teapot Tester. I had a conversation about it with my manager, and apparently people above him are considering taking some kind of punitive action. My manager said that this is only about the recipient list and not the content of my message. I explained my rationale for including her, which was that since I was writing the email, and I wanted the Teapot Tester to know that I appreciated her work and was asking these questions, I was going to either forward the email to her or bcc her anyway. By including her as a cc, I was merely making my decision to share the message with the Teapot Tester transparent.

If the announcement had not specifically stated that this was a decision to eliminate a position, and that the incumbent was not only welcome to stay, but that it was hoped that a way could be found for her to do so, I would not have done the same thing. I have no HR responsibility here, but did in a previous job, and reading AAM has certainly further convinced me of the value of transparency and honesty. Obviously many HR situations require confidentiality and care around the audience and timing of sharing information. Did I miss something here? Do you agree that including the affected individual on this message was way out of line? If some material punishment is announced, should I resist? I think that termination is very unlikely, but one never knows, I guess.

Yeah, I think you were in the wrong. I understand where you were coming from and I don’t think it was an outrageous thing to do, but it did demonstrate a lack of sensitivity to politics around layoffs.

The reason that people above you are pissed off is that by including the tipping tester, you basically said that you think the layoff decision is a bad one and encouraged the tipping tester to think the same. That’s bad for your employer because when people think they’re being wrongly laid off, they’re much more likely to be bitter, do things like sue the company (if they start thinking that there might be discrimination or other illegal behavior involved), and generally spread discord.

The messaging around layoffs is usually very carefully managed, both for morale reasons and legal reasons, and you threw a big old “I don’t care about that” right in the middle of a delicate situation. Depending on how well they know you and what the larger context is, it’s possible that it even came across as “I’m trying to start some shit here.”

From your perspective, I get that you felt that you were raising important issues and being transparent, but … well, it was tone-deaf to the above. Plus, this is a conversation that would have been better to have in person rather than via email. Layoff decisions are just super sensitive.

That said, this shouldn’t get anywhere near firing level. In a reasonable company (and assuming there’s no history that would make this more problematic), you’d get a serious talking-to about why this was inappropriate, and that would be that.

But to ensure that that’s the case, I’d tell your manager and others involved — quickly — that you misjudged the appropriateness of including your coworker on your email, that you understand now why it could have ended up being problematic, and that you’ll be more discreet with sensitive issues in the future.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 173 comments… read them below }

  1. louise*

    I understand and partially agree with Alison’s response, but have a very strong OTOH reaction to this: the manager included the affected person in the initial email. Had that not happened first, I would 100% agree with everything Alison said. However, I think the original sender of the email opened it up for something like this — anyone could have accidentally “replied all” or, in the case of the OP, had a very well thought out reason for including one of the original recipients in a response to the original message.

    1. louise*

      To clarify further: OP, I totally get why you did this. It doesn’t seem like a huge misstep to me unless the original recipient list was also a misstep on the part of the manager.

      1. Who Watches the Watcher's?*

        That’s something that stuck out in my mind too. What if the OP didn’t even have any well thought out reasons and just hit “reply all”? But I think that all the concerns the OP was raising were valid ones that needed to be discussed. Of course the higher ups could’ve already spent weeks discussing them, but then I’d expect that they’d be prepared to field questions like that.

    2. Swarley*

      I think that including the affected employee in the original email was appropriate (assuming this wasn’t the first that this employee was hearing of the layoff) because it does allow for transparency. Had he/she not been included, I would have wondered whether this was news that shouldn’t be shared, and potentially bothered that we might know something before the employee did and now have to tiptoe around the subject.

      1. BRR*

        Me too. In addition to your reason, also because it sounds like they still work there and are part of the team.

      2. Just Another Techie*

        Honestly I’m surprised the announcement happened by email at all. At my company this sort of thing would be passed down in person in a meeting. The affected persons wouldn’t be in the “So you know, we just eliminated Sansa’s job” meeting but the managers would make it clear “And Sansa already knows about this, so there’s no need to keep quiet around her.”

        Given that the initial email included the person who is being laid off, I think OP’s management is wildly overreacting to a minor mistep.

    3. Dot Warner*

      However, the OP didn’t just hit “reply all” – they deliberately started a new e-mail thread with a bunch of the managers and the Tipping Tester. That’s drama llama behavior and I would not appreciate it if I were the Tipping Tester. People might think that I put the OP up to this and I’m trying to prevent being laid off by picking a fight with management and getting everyone else involved.

      Don’t get me wrong, the OP’s concerns are legit; they just picked a lousy way to voice their concerns.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. It isn’t just insensitive to the higher ups and their process, it is a potential betrayal of the riffed co-worker who now may be viewed as organizing a protest of her layoff. I have had a co-worker cc me on a protest email on an issue I had fought for, had lost on and of course had accepted that. The cc made ME look like a trouble maker on something that had been decided. (you win some, you lose some and there is a time to shut up about it) I don’t think I ever scraped that off my shoe with one of the higher ups involved in this process. Don’t involve me in your protest without MY permission. So it is a bit of a disaster in both directions.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I had a coworker do that to me, once, too. They sent an email complaining about an issue that I had already spoken about in person to the associate dean, but the coworker’s email made it look like I was stirring up the issue again. As soon as I saw it go out, and that I was cc’d on it, I jumped up and went to the associate dean’s office and basically told her that, despite appearances to the contrary, I had nothing to do with the new line of questioning on the issue. Fortunately, that convinced and appeased her, and my political capital was saved, but I didn’t appreciate having it endangered without my knowledge or consent.

        2. Adonday Veeah*

          I agree. As an HR person, if I received this, I would wonder if it was an attempt to stay the layoff, and I would wonder if the to-be-laid-off employee was involved.

      2. Sadsack*

        Yeah, obviously the decision had already been made. OP could have discussed it with her own manager if she was concerned that the tipping issue hadn’t been taken into consideration. I’d do that and let my manager decide if it should be brought up to upper management.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          OP could have discussed it with her own manager if she was concerned that the tipping issue hadn’t been taken into consideration. I’d do that and let my manager decide if it should be brought up to upper management.

          This would have been the best move, and then OP could have sent the coworker an email extolling all of her hard work.

        2. TootsNYC*

          yes–her own manager is the only person she should have been having that conversation with. And it should have been a conversation, not an email memo.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      That was my first thought too, but now I’m wondering if they were just attempting to be polite by including the affected employee when really, behind the scenes, they’re hoping that employee does not stay on in another role. Politics.

  2. Sharon*

    I’m also a bit confused by an apparent change in tone between the OP and Alison’s response. The OP made it clear that management expressed a strong desire to keep the teapot tipper, by helping her find another position in the company. I don’t translate that to mean they wanted to get lay her off. Obviously if she doesn’t want another position with the company she’d have to go, but it sounds like they’re making that her option. Sometimes I don’t get the nuances in biz-speak, but I don’t read the OP’s situation as a layoff.

    1. Sharon*

      “wanted to get lay her off”

      Started to write “get rid of her” and changed it… incorrectly. Sorry!

    2. 12345678910112 do do do*

      They might just be saying that they want her to stay, but don’t really mean it. It could be a way to soften the blow, or get rid of her as easily as possible.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Their email said she’s “being invited to interview for other positions and that he hoped she would be remaining with the company.” That could mean anything from “we’re trying everything we can to move her into a different role and have high hopes that we can” to “this is a perfunctory statement of good will toward her, but who knows what will happen” to “this is a perfunctory statement of good will toward her, but she’s not likely to be here in a month.” Either way, though, I’d say that as of right now it’s a layoff; her position is being eliminated and there’s no guarantee that she’ll be hired for another job there.

      1. Pete*

        The problem with perfunctory statements is that they are still statements, and you are still saying them.

        Put another way – if you are requiring your employees to assume you are lying, you need to reconsider your approach (and the inclusion of the word “integrity” in anything you do going forward).

        I think if you send out an e-mail that essentially says “Jane did good work, and we hope she stays even though we’re eliminating her job” you have very little ground to stand on getting upset when someone *echos your comments* in replying “I agree with you that Jane did good work. I’m concerned that because we created her position for good reason, there might be an impact on my job. I want to know how we will be handling it. Jane may have some input on this, since she does good work in this area (like you said).”

    4. nofelix*

      Layoff = the position is being eliminated, and is ostensibly not personal. They are saying they want to keep her because she’s a good member of staff and may still be useful in another position. This may just be lip service for her sake, but it does not indicate uncertainty about the layoff.

    5. bridget*

      Even if they truly want to do anything they can to keep her somewhere, she’s inherently in limbo because the job she has is going away. OP was basically saying that the job shouldn’t go away at all, and that the soon-to-be-laid-off co-worker should be safe in her original job (which I’m sure is her preference). I’m guessing that management prepared this script very carefully (“there’s really nothing we can do about your current position, we will do what we can about others”), and have managed her morale pretty well. This throws a wrench in the works, in that it undermines management’s position that at the end of the day, the position must be eliminated. It either makes management look dishonest (which I have no idea if they are, maybe they know something OP doesn’t), or it makes the employee feel terrible (“why am I being put through this ordeal when OP says I should be safe in my job?”), or both.

  3. Bend & Snap*

    Eh, I’m WTFing this. Layoffs are so sensitive. A better route would have been a private conversation and a personal note of appreciation to the teapot tipper.

  4. S.I. Newhouse*

    It seems to me that the email itself was perfectly appropriate — but should have been sent just to her managers and not the laid-off individual. Certainly not ideal, but not the end of the world and certainly not worth *severe* disciplinary action.
    But on the other hand, does it strike anyone else as odd that the original email that was sent out to the entire company said that they hoped the laid-off employee would remain with the company in a different position? That could make it seem like maybe the “layoff” could be more of a reassignment — and it would *really* make things weird if the laid-off individual didn’t end up getting re-hired.

    1. Glod Glodsson*

      That reads like damage control to me. It’s basically signalling that they theoretically don’t want to let go of this employee, without making any promises.

    2. Ad Astra*

      We don’t have all the context here, but to me this statement seems premature. Why not interview this employee for new positions, make a decision, and then announce it? Instead, management has set it up so that this employee will look like she failed if they decide to lay her off instead of hiring her into another position.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The timing may not make that possible. The timing of the layoff might not line up with the hiring timelines for other positions, and/or they want to be transparent with others (who may need to know the position is being eliminated so they can plan accordingly), etc.

        Or it’s unlikely that they’re going to hire her for something else, but they’re saying that to let her preserve some dignity.

      2. MsM*

        I don’t see it that way. If the employee’s skills and interests are very clearly focused on Teapot Testing, and there are no positions open that would be a good fit for a Teapot Tester, that’s not the employee’s fault. I think it is more a polite way of saying “nothing personal” than an actual hope the employee will be able to stay, which makes OP’s decision to jump in all the more ill-advised, but they probably figured it was better to send this out now than let rumors spread.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Or, in the organization I’m currently in, this would also potentially be communicated as a flag to managers with open positions that “yes, we are eliminating the position, we’d like to keep the employee” and a heads-up that they might want to consider whether her experience was a fit with their opening. It might lead to someone reaching out about a position they think she’d be great for even if she’s not an on-paper match.

    3. Sunflower*

      I thought it was weird but me thinks they are using this lay off as a way to calm employees. Maybe layoffs are happening all over or there are rumors or talks- sounds like the company wants to reassure them ‘don’t worry if you get laid off, we might still have a job for you!’. Not very reassuring but I could see what they think they’re doing there.

    4. Elkay*

      But on the other hand, does it strike anyone else as odd that the original email that was sent out to the entire company said that they hoped the laid-off employee would remain with the company in a different position? That could make it seem like maybe the “layoff” could be more of a reassignment — and it would *really* make things weird if the laid-off individual didn’t end up getting re-hired.

      No, it reads as standard HR email wording. It’s just a way of communicating to the rest of the company that Jane didn’t screw up, they just don’t need her position anymore.

    5. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      But on the other hand, does it strike anyone else as odd that the original email that was sent out to the entire company said that they hoped the laid-off employee would remain with the company in a different position?

      At my old job when someone was fired, we would get an email that said, “they have left the company to pursue other opportunities” and that “Chocolate Teapots Unlimited wished them much success in their future endeavors.” We all knew what happened, but it was the corporate way of making an announcement.

      So that sentence about finding another position just read like corporate HR speak to me.

  5. Glod Glodsson*

    I think it might also be interpreted as being combative, and that by including the involved person you might be seen as ‘taking her side’, thus creating a situation in which management might have done wrong by someone instead of just a shitty alround thing that everyone regrets.

    1. lulu*

      Agreed, but I don’t think this encourages the laid off employee to think the decision was bad. Let’s face it, anybody being laid off already think that decision is bad, they don’t need one email questioning it to feel bitter about it. If the email had been about alleged discrimination, then yes it could push them to sue, but OP kept it professional in my opinion. Still better to have this kind of discussion in person, but I don’t see this as a major offense.

      1. Glod Glodsson*

        I agree. As a TL I would be a little annoyed by this, I think. If we have to let anyone go it’s a long and arduous process and we go over all the options. It’s emotionally draining to have to decide if someone can stay employed but it’s something that has to be done. And obviously, this is something you just keep private, since the employee in question doesn’t want to hear that it’s hard for you too :P So you’re at the tail end of that process and someone mails you with the laid off person in CC to question stuff. Without the person in the CC I think it would be fine, but with the person I’d roll me eyes and ask myself why they want to stir the pot. But this wouldn’t be a reason for any official warning or whatever, that seems like an overreaction to me.

      2. Kassy*

        I definitely thought this when I read it. Most people find it hard to hear “we don’t need this position any more,” because, you show up and you do something for 40+ hours a week, right? Unless there’s a concrete explanation like “We built an Automated Teapot Testing Machine that does this job now,” (and how often is it that simple?) generally people are going to think the work they do contributes. Not that this always matches up with what’s going on management-side necessarily, but I see where that view comes from.

        But then, I probably wouldn’t be evolved enough to say “Well, this sucks, but it’s what’s best for them.” Maybe if a person did have that view, and someone above them disagreed with the decision openly, it could change their outlook to something more negative.

  6. nofelix*

    “While I made it clear that I questioned the decision, and any reader would understand that I hoped the decision to eliminate the position would be reversed, my only specific request was for specifics on how they planned to avoid the return of our pre-Teapot Tester problems.”

    When questioning a decision from management, it’s really important to show that you’re focused only on the business and not bucking their authority. If the reader would understand from your email that you disagreed with the decision, then you were already skirting the line. At that point, copying in your colleague is taking a giant leap over the line. The fact that your specific wording only referenced quality control is irrelevant to most people, who will see right through this to what they assume is your true agenda.

    1. Artemesia*

      Worse yet, it is not just something that marks one as a trouble maker to management, but it is a betrayal of the dismissed co-worker and may reduce her chances (if indeed there are any) of being hired elsewhere in the company. The cc makes it look like the co-worker may be organizing a protest of the decision. I once had a co-worker cc me on a protest of a decision on a program closure that I had fought against; the decision had been made — you win some, you lose some and I had accepted that that was the decision. The cc made it look like I was stirring up trouble and associated me with beating that dead horse. I never got that scraped off my shoe with one powerful higher up who forever associated me with this inappropriate rabble rousing. Never cc someone on a protest without their permission. I think the co-worker is gone — the wording sounded like a fig leaf not a genuine commitment to retaining her but this would reduce her chances considerably many places.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      From the tone, it sounded to me like the OP is focused on the business. They are making a decision that will make the quality of their product worse, and the OP was concerned how they were going to handle that. Instead of addressing that, the business is getting all up in arms about her communication methods. Maybe the OP did handle it wrong by not asking the question in person, but it’s still a valid question. I don’t see an agenda here.

      1. Observer*

        It’s a valid question. But, by cc’ing the laid of worker, it appears like the question might be a pretext.

      2. Ultraviolet*

        As the OP explained in the email, she “wanted the Teapot Tester to know that [she] appreciated her work and was asking these questions.” That’s what hints at an agenda. From OP’s letter to Alison it sounds like her agenda was just letting the tester know her work had been valuable. But it could also be interpreted as the beginning of an effort to talk the company out of the layoff or give the tester enough ammunition to drag out a lawsuit for awhile.

        1. TootsNYC*

          wanting the Teapot Tester to know that she appreciated her work should be done in a personal contact (in person, by email, whatever).

          But she “wanted the Teapot Tester to know that [she] . . .was asking these questions.

          That’s very different, and it was also very clear to the higher-ups, which is why they are so mad. You wanted the Teapot Tester to know that you were taking her side, essentially.

          Because once she’s been laid off from that position, these QC issues are not her “cause” anymore. So she wouldn’t essentially have a stake in how the company solves those issues.

  7. Bowserkitty*

    As an avid tea drinker currently on her fourth cup of the morning, I have to say the teapot company is my FAVORITE AAM gag. The detail that goes into coming up with these positions on the LWs’ parts makes it that much better.

    I’m sorry, I don’t really have anything helpful to say…haha.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Except to add: teapots that don’t pour correctly are a bane, and I’m glad someone is interested in that part of the quality control. :)

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    There’s also one other issue: legal stuff.

    You don’t know why this person’s job was eliminated.  As AAM said, it could run anything from “we really want to keep her” to “she sucked but we’re making sure she leaves here with her dignity intact” or some combination of the two.

    But you acted on your ignorance anyway.

    Let’s say this worker wants to sue.  Congratulations.  She now has your email that questions management’s decision and praises her ability to do her job well even though you didn’t have the whole picture on that.

    I understand the chances of a lawsuit are one in a zillion, but that’s not the point.  You’ve made your employer vulnerable with that email.  That’s where the frustration is coming from.

    Is there any reason you couldn’t have taken care of this matter in person?  

    1. nofelix*

      And depending on how the law works regarding layoffs in this office’s country/state, the OP may have challenged the legality of the layoff by asserting that the position is still required. This is not something to do in writing, let alone copied to the person who could sue.

      1. neverjaunty*

        And also not entirely correct. OP hasn’t made the employer “vulnerable” – it’s an email from a team member saying “gosh I hope this change isn’t going to cause X problem with the position”. And of course nothing stopped OP’s manager from privately replying “That won’t be an issue”. Maybe I’m missing something but I really, really don’t see that this is some kind of employment lawsuit smoking gun.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Management eliminated this employee’s position and justified it by saying it was an unnecessary job.

          The OP’s email to management and the employee challenged that decision and said it should be reversed.

          It’s not a leap to say, “My client was targeted because she’s a woman. This layoff justification is clearly false. Look at this other email that said so!”

          That’s a vulnerability.

          1. neverjaunty*

            If the OP had replied *privately* to her manager saying “Gee, that’s too bad, I liked working with Wakeena but I’m sure the company made the right decision” – an email which would be entirely appropriate under the circumstances – that would be a “vulnerability” in an employment lawsuit too. I think you’re way overblowing the evidentiary value of OP’s email.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The issue is encouraging the laid-off person to think the company’s decision sucks and that everyone there thinks that too. That’s a liability in a bunch of ways — not just potentially causing her to wonder if the “real” reason she’s being laid off is something illegal, but just making her more likely to be bitter, etc.

            2. Observer*

              Sure. But if the person most likely to sue never sees it, it won’t be there for her to show a lawyer who will say “Maybe we have something there.”

              And, that’s one of the reasons why I’m sure her company would have been happier if the OP had had the conversation in person rather than via email.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Of course it will still be there. If the laid-off employee sues, her lawyer will demand that the company turn over all emails related to that decision, and she’ll get a copy of that email. No competent lawyer is going to ask for ‘only those emails my client personally saw’.

                I agree that OP’s email was unwise, but it’s so overblown to treat this as “You fool! That’s the self-destruct button for the entire lawsuit! You’ve doomed us all!”

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think anyone is saying it’s a smoking gun, but rather that it’s distinctly unhelpful from multiple perspective, including potentially a legal one.

                2. M-C*

                  I agree with neverjaunty that a decent lawyer wouldn’t be hindered by anything so trivial as the laid-off person not being directly cc’ed with objections. But what’s downright entertaining is Snarkosaurus’ assumption that management knows better than OP whether the teapot tester was doing her job correctly. Nobody was in a better position to know that, that’s why the OP was expressing her opinion. In decades of work at startups, with veritable tsunamis of layoffs, I’ve only -once- seen a layoff that was truly justified for a reason that was unknown to the general staff. And it had strictly nothing to do with competence. Management is always the last to be able to detect competence, that’s not their highest priority.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I was deposed in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

        I’ve collaborated on the dismissal of two employees. (I don’t care to again, but I will if asked.)

        I was almost a plaintiff in a small claims lawsuit until the defendant-to-be paid up the day before I filed the complaint. The defendant said on multiple occasions that I wasn’t the “type” to sue.

        I’ve seen how innocuous things can snowball. Plaintiff’s attorneys live for this stuff, especially emails like this.

        I’m sure the person that wrote that anonymous note to Lilly Ledbetter never thought things would turn out the way the did. (For which I’m grateful of course!)

        1. neverjaunty*

          I am a plaintiffs’ attorney. ;)

          And while, again, I don’t disagree that OP’s email was unhelpful, it’s not a smoking gun, and unless the company actually did something wrong, it supports nothing. I wouldn’t want to go to a jury with this and wave it around shouting “Proof that they fired Wakeena because she’s a woman!”

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The point is that it’s unwise for the same reason that it’s unwise to treat an employee badly while you’re firing them — it makes it more likely that they’ll go looking for a reason to sue you. It doesn’t give them a reason to sue you, just may prompt them to go hunting for one where they otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s exactly the reasoning that’s behind best practices like “find ways to help fired employees leave with dignity.”

          2. Snarkus Aurelius*

            I didn’t mean to come off as so alarmist, and you’re right this isn’t a smoking gun. And I certainly don’t think the OP should be disciplined over this.

            But that email doesn’t help. It bolsters a plaintiff’s case in a wrongful termination suit, specifically the argument over whether or not the position was needed.

            Who knows what the real situation is but don’t help fuel an employee’s grievance.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Again, while I don’t disagree, I think “what if she sues?!” is not really a huge concern here – it’s based on a lot of assumptions that aren’t in the LW’s letter, and I seriously doubt from the wording that it would push an employee over the edge, as actual mistreatment might. That’s all.

    2. Billy Mumphrey*

      Management may have decided upon looking at the numbers that the cost of keeping the laid off employee’s salary and benefits was more than replacing or dealing with defective teapots. These types of decisions are made all the time, eg car companies that will not fix a defect because what they will pay out in damages is less than the cost of changing the manufacturing process to fix the defect. The OP would not necessarily be privy to this, and her email, particularly if the laid off employee had already been let go, was stirring things up. Was the email copied to the laid off employee to her personal email? If so, that was bad.

      1. OP Teapot Maker*

        The laid-off employee had not yet left the company; their end date was 2.5 weeks from the announcement email. The cc was to her work email.

        If the company’s decision was that the cost of managing the blowback from the eliminated position’s work not being done or being done less well was less than the cost of keeping the person on, I would want to make sure that the company is including remaining employees’ morale and effectiveness in their cost calculations, including possible attrition.

        I HATE telling people that I know their teapot doesn’t work well, and that I can’t do anything to fix it right now. That they can get back the $30 they spent on the teapot if they want, but I can’t do anything about the $100 they spent on a third-party tea brewing course that we recommended, and whatever they might spend to revert to their old brewer. Not having to do that as much has been a major improvement to my personal morale, and that of colleagues as well.

        1. BananaPants*

          It probably would have been better to go to your manager with that concern to discuss it verbally, then putting your appreciation for the laid-off employee separately. Looping in the worker the way you did makes it seem like you’re trying to get them to reverse the decision.

        2. TootsNYC*

          Yeah, all that stuff is not the concern of your laid-off colleague anymore. Not her circus now, not her monkeys now.

          Your looping her in at all makes it seem like you are arguing that it still should be.
          Anything related to business decisions, layoffs, morale, etc., is best be initiated in person. And it’s wisest and clearest to NOT combine purposes in a single email.

          Express worry: to manager(s), not to outgoing colleague.
          Express appreciation: to outgoing colleague, not to manager(s).
          And none of those things are HR’s concern.

          1. Billy Mumphrey*

            I really understand that you are factoring in the nontangibles into this— employee morale, etc., but being in the world of work has taught me that, particularly for publicly traded companies, what matters is how financially the month, the quarter, and the year ended. Not much else! And that is dad.

  9. CADMonkey007*

    Yeah, when management sends the memo about so and so being layed off, it’s a decree, there’s no debate or discussion about it. Your question about teapot testing is probably a valid one, but needed to be a completely separate conversation with your manager only, and from the premise of “now that Tipping Tester is gone, how can we ensure X?” and not “are you suuuuure you want to let Tipping Tester go?”

  10. Cat*

    I think I disagree with everyone on this one. I get why the company is reacting the way they are but I also think they should suck it up. When you announce layoffs that way, you invite dissent. And you should welcome it. The fastest way to end up with employees who feel disempowered to do things like voice their extremely relevant opinions on how clients feel about your quality control measures is to penalize them for not presenting that opinion in precisely the way you want them to.

    Could the person sue? I guess, but it’s not likely; it’s much more likely that you’ll crack down to try and avoid a lawsuit and end up doing things like not finding out that this person’s job is extremely important to your clients’ satisfaction.

    1. Nicole*

      I don’t think the main issue here is whether you can voice your disagreement, it’s just the manner in which it was done. If I had received that email I would have gone to my boss’ office to express my concerns. I wouldn’t have put it in email, and if for some reason I felt compelled to do so, I definitely wouldn’t have copied the person whose position was being eliminated. It causes too much drama.

    2. Cat*

      Reply to both: I understand it’s not the content that’s at issue, but I think when you take actual punitive action because of the form of this kind of thing, you’re going to end up silencing this kind of dissent whether you want to or not.

      I’m not saying it’s great to copy the laid off person for a number of reasons. But not everyone gets the nuances of every situation right all the time – when you’re an employer, you can’t punish someone for that without creating a bad atmosphere. (Stopping by and saying “hey, I am happy to have this discussion but I wish you hadn’t copied X on it” is another matter, IMO.)

      1. esra*

        I’m with Cat on this. I don’t think punitive action is warranted, honestly, I don’t even think a stern talking to is warranted. A mild, “please brings these concerns directly to X in the future, cc’ing everyone is a problem because of Y.” would solve things.

        1. Grad Student*

          I concur. Punitive action for this? It sounds like company heads are worried over nothing much, unless there may be legitimate grounds for wrongful termination.

  11. OP Teapot Maker*

    This: “That’s bad for your employer because when people think they’re being wrongly laid off, they’re much more likely to be bitter, do things like sue the company (if they start thinking that there might be discrimination or other illegal behavior involved), and generally spread discord,” is what I had been trying to think of – the negative impact from the employer’s perspective. I’m still not sure that I agree with AAM here, but it’s helpful to have something in that blank. I had already been in touch with the Tester, and knew that she already thought the layoff was a bad strategic decision, separate from the personal impact, to the extent that one can make that judgment in that scenario. I considered the lawsuit factor (in my post-email ruminations), but given the individual involved, the fact that “poor management decision” is not really actionable, and that a general release is typically required as a condition of any severance, or in this case, new position, I don’t think that’s really a valid concern in this circumstance. But I can see how copying this person would be seen as inappropriately sowing foment. Thanks for responding to my letter.

    To Dot Warner’s point – I removed the people below manager level to limit the drama.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      given the individual involved, the fact that “poor management decision” is not really actionable, and that a general release is typically required as a condition of any severance, or in this case, new position, I don’t think that’s really a valid concern in this circumstance

      The thing is, you’re not the one with standing to make that decision, and people above you may know something that you don’t. Or they may not — but it’s still really frustrating in their shoes to have someone else decide to make that decision for you.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        It’s true that the people above the OP know things about the business, position, and employee that the OP doesn’t know. But the OP was trying to communicate something business related that the people above her may not know. Sometimes those of us in the trenches know and understand things that management is unaware of (and yes, we should probably communicate that better). It appears to me that the OP is pointing out a valid negative consequences of a business decision. Maybe those above her knew that and maybe they didn’t.

        So, while I see your point about the method of communication, I still think it was valid for the OP to communicate it.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          I agree but that email was not the best way to do it.

          I think eliminating X is a bad idea, and I question management’s actions. This decision should be reversed because I think this person does a good job.


          Now that X is gone, how can we best ensure that these teapots are fully functional and we maintain customer satisfaction?

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      “I considered the lawsuit factor (in my post-email ruminations), but given the individual involved, the fact that “poor management decision” is not really actionable, and that a general release is typically required as a condition of any severance, or in this case, new position, I don’t think that’s really a valid concern in this circumstance.”

      Do you know if the person in question won’t sue?  Do you know that no lawyer can make “poor management decision” into a legal case?  Do you know if releasing the company from a lawsuit as part of a severance will hold up in civil case?  Do you know the real reason this person’s job was eliminated?  Do you know if she’s thinking she was laid off due to a protect class issue?  Do you know if your employer put a target on her back for personal reasons?  Do you know if this worker, regardless of how you well you think she did her job, was

      You may very well think the layoff and your accompanying email aren’t “valid concerns” but it’s not for you to decide that.  Clearly management’s judgment in this situation doesn’t match yours, and that’s where your concern needs to be.

      Telling someone that something isn’t a big deal is not a good strategy.  It’s a strategy that quite often backfires.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I hit post too soon.

        That question should read, “Do you know if this worker, regardless of how you well you think she did her job, was engaging in some other criminal activity or unethical practices?”

        1. OP Teapot Maker*

          No, I don’t *know* that. But in a company that explicitly states “trust of one another” as a core value, I took the layoff announcement at face value: that this was elimination of a position based on strategy and perceived business need, and not individual performance. If any of the hypotheticals that you lay out were in play, I “trust” that my managers would take a different approach to the announcement – not including the incumbent on the original message, and/or waiting until she was actually gone to announce that she had left (as is usually done in terms-for-cause). On the other hand, even baseless lawsuits with no merit that are dismissed at the earliest opportunity incur cost to the employer, and contributing, however slightly, to that risk is clearly not acceptable from someone in my current position.

          1. Snarkus Aurelius*

            Fair point and I’m trying not to be a pessimist here.

            One thing to consider: employers are going to be open and honest as much as layoffs/the legal team/crises/PR disasters allow them to be. That claim is more aspirational than practical.

            1. nofelix*

              Speaking generally, I’m not sure how much I sympathise with employers who tout core values and then abandon them because it’s difficult. They shouldn’t promise things they can’t deliver, and shouldn’t get mad at people who take those promises seriously.

          2. hbc*

            Do you also trust them to notice that teapots are now pouring more effectively and to take that into account in their decision?

            That’s the part I would take issue with as a recipient of this email–someone breathlessly (and semi-publicly) saying, “Wait, you may have forgotten to take into account this obvious thing!” I wouldn’t go punishing you over it, but I’d be pretty ticked off to have you implying that I didn’t think through that eliminating a Tip Tester might result in more tipping problems.

            And yes, saying, “These guys are wrong, we totally need you” is a quick way to bad feelings on the part of the departing employee.

            1. OP Teapot Maker*

              The announcement email said that the eliminated position’s responsibilities would be spread across the remaining members of the team. While there have been some minor reorganizations, the roles these people fill are the roles that were responsible for teapot testing before we hired the dedicated tester. Hiring the dedicated tester was publicly (within the company) acknowledged as a response to the miserable testing results we were getting, and the problems that caused. It has also been acknowledged that we still have room for improvement in the teapot testing arena. In that case, reverting to the previous resource allocation for testing without proactively disclosing a plan for achieving different results, or at the very least acknowledging that one needs to be made, struck me as a really key piece that was missing from the announcement. Sure, perhaps that message shouldn’t have included the tester, but it should have followed closely enough to the affected people (those staying) that it would’ve come before I pressed send on my ill-addressed message.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I’m a little concerned that you keep arguing; I’m worried you’re not willing to see how this was a goof on your part.

                You’re actually arguing that they should have done exactly what YOU did:
                –confuse issues by covering two completely separate points in the same email (discuss the laid-off coworker, and also lay out the manufacturing plan–these are very different topics and should not be dealt with together).

                –start conversations about manufacturing processes and job reassignment and quality control in a long email instead of in person

                And I maintain it would have been as big a mistake for them to do this as it was for you.

                1. OP Teapot Maker*

                  I explicitly acknowledged that the information I sought might be more appropriate for them to send in a second email without the Tester on it; let me amend that to “would have been more appropriate…”. I’m saying that making an announcement that we are returning to a solution that had previously been acknowledged as failing should have been accompanied, in temporal proximity, with an acknowledgement that they understood that we are returning to that solution, and are either prepared to accept failure on that point, or that they have some idea of how to prevent failure this time around.

                  I wasn’t trying to argue with hbc – just trying to give more detail. I have explicitly acknowledged my goof in several other comments.

                2. M-C*

                  Looks more like concern trolling than real concern to me. Would it be possible to post different interpretations and suggestions without making all this a personal attack on the OP? She knows she has a problem, that’s why she wrote. But being incredibly snarky and demanding remorseful chest-beatings on the public place don’t seem terribly constructive to me..

              2. Creag an Tuire*

                “Hiring the dedicated tester was publicly (within the company) acknowledged as a response to the miserable testing results we were getting, and the problems that caused. It has also been acknowledged that we still have room for improvement in the teapot testing arena.”

                Look at it another way: how likely is it that management -forgot- all of the good reasons it created this position in the first place and needs to be reminded of them? There are two likely
                possibilities here:
                a) Despite the above Good Reasons, either the position or Jane herself simply isn’t working out like they hoped. The ways in which it didn’t work out are probably not anything Jane needs to hear (or are things Jane already has heard and would prefer not to be aired publicly).
                b) Despite the above Good Reasons, the Teapot department is bleeding red ink and somebody had to go. In which case, your protest has a slim chance of giving Jane her job back, but probably not in the way that you’d prefer.

                1. nofelix*

                  I agree with the OP to the extent that it appears to be a blunder to revert to poor quality control and there should have been some communication from above to reassure staff what the plan was. Not doing so invites the kind of email the OP sent.

    3. BRR*

      The thing about layoffs sometimes is they are not popular but need to happen. In regards to the negative impact, the best way to handle it would have been to address it with your manager or whoever would be an appropriate person to bring this up with. Once this person was laid off, that decision has been made and it’s done. From that point work wise, you need to move forward and figure out how to handle things without them.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah — it’s very rare that someone is laid off and people think “ah, good, that was a waste of a position.” Layoffs are nearly always painful and not ideal, but sometimes other factors trump the considerations that the person’s immediate coworkers can see.

    4. Sharkey*

      You don’t seem able to be very objective about this. You liked the work being done by the employee being laid off, you benefited from it, and you seem friendly towards this employee. When you opted to send the email, you did so viewing the impact from your limited perspective (what it means to you vs. what is best for the company as a whole), didn’t consider that there may be things that you don’t know about the decision (it certainly wouldn’t be shared with you), and you turned around and thumbed your nose at it in front of the person whose job is being impacted. Your company is willing to hear you out, to discuss concerns as it pertains to the impact on your job. Good on them! It’s the part where you expressed disdain for the decision in front of the person being laid off that they’re focused on. I don’t see why it’s so hard to get that this would be a problem.

      Your notion of transparency is coming across to me similarly to those who say unkind things and then blame it on being “too honest” or their need to “keep it real”. It feels like you’re using it as a license to hit back at those who made this decision which is fine but you’ll have to live with the consequences.

    5. Observer*

      I had already been in touch with the Tester, and knew that she already thought the layoff was a bad strategic decision, separate from the personal impact, to the extent that one can make that judgment in that scenario. I considered the lawsuit factor (in my post-email ruminations), but given the individual involved, the fact that “poor management decision” is not really actionable, and that a general release is typically required as a condition of any severance, or in this case, new position, I don’t think that’s really a valid concern in this circumstance

      You are missing a key component here. She thinks it’s a bad strategic decision, but if she is smart, she also knows that her self-interest could be skewing her judgement. Now, she hears from you that you are so adamant that it’s a bad idea that you actually took it up with management. At that point, what IS potentially actionable is discrimination. ie If the Tester is in a protected class (and if it really is she rather than AAM convention, she is) she could argue that the reason for her layoff was pretextual. Management was not REALLY intending to eliminate the position long term. After all it made no sense. In fact, it was such a stupid idea that even Teapot Maker took up the cause. So what’s the REAL reason for the layoff? Could it be that they were looking for a way to get rid of a her because she is a woman (who maybe doesn’t act the way a woman “should”). And, be aware that if she did sue, this email would be part of the evidence.

      So, yes, your email cc’ing her definitely did increase the possibility of a law suit.

  12. INTP*

    Besides implying that you think the decision to lay off the Teapot Tester was wrong, as Alison pointed out, you’ve also put everyone on that email in an awkward position in terms of response. They either have to include the Teapot Tester on their justifications of why her position should be eliminated (which might not be a big deal if it’s a simple explanation like they’ve lost funding and must eliminate one job and chose the most recently created one, but could be a big deal if there are personal, performance, or other sensitive reasons for the elimination), or deliberately remove her from the reply and look like they are hiding something for sure.

    I agree that it wasn’t an outrageously bad thing to do, just a bit naive, and I think the people considering punitive action are probably just lashing out from their own embarrassment/awkwardness in the situation. I understand your reasoning but it assumes that everyone else has been purely transparent and there are no hidden politics or motives involved, which is often not the case in business even if everyone is ACTING purely transparent.

  13. Bob*

    When layoffs are announced, there has typically already been a lot of thought and discussion behind closed doors about the potential issues and benefits. It has already been decided that it’s not in the budget to pay someone to only test teapots, even though it may indeed be an important task. There is nothing wrong with questioning how the laid off person’s responsibilities will be handled but what purpose does it serve to include that person in the email? That person doesn’t get a vote (or probably even care) in what happens after their role is gone. As someone who has witnessed more layoffs than I can count, openly discussing who will do that person’s work in front of the person in question (or copying them on emails about that) just rips off the band-aid over and over again. All that person wants to hear is you’re sorry to see them go and you will do whatever you can to support them in finding a new job.

    1. MsM*

      Exactly. I feel like a message like this implies that you think management didn’t take the issues you’re bringing up into account when making their decision, when their next email could very well be to set up a meeting to discuss how this is going to affect the department and customer service. If they don’t take that step, then sure, bring it up, but do so with the people who are going to be handling the situation moving forward.

    2. Charityb*

      In addition to that, I’ve always thought that announcements of layoffs, mergers, reorganizations, terminations, etc were just notification, not an invitation for a debate. That’s not to say that the OP was wrong to have an opinion or to share it with management, but I feel like it’s not common to reply to an email about something like this. Usually if you want to get some feedback on how an issue will be handled it makes sense to talk to a designated person like a manager or supervisor who can either answer the question or help you find the next person to talk to.

      I agree that CC’ing the other employee wasn’t helpful or nice to them (even though it was well-meant) but I’m not sure if the email itself was the best way to get that question answered even if the OP had only directed it at senior management.

      I think this might be for bigger orgs though.

      1. some1*

        “In addition to that, I’ve always thought that announcements of layoffs, mergers, reorganizations, terminations, etc were just notification, not an invitation for a debate.”

        You touched on what was bothering me about this but I couldn’t put into words.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Yeah, I know I’d have a certain “who do you think you are?” reaction if I were the manager.

      2. BananaPants*

        Yeah. They’re not going to suddenly change their minds and say, “You know, you’re right – Teapot Tester can keep her job!” Layoffs are usually considered very carefully before companies embark on them – they are costly in a lot of ways and they’re not taken lightly.

  14. Mimmy*

    At first I didn’t understand the problem with including the laid-off employee, but I see the reasoning in Alison’s answer. Not exactly the same, but when I was laid off, my employer (medium-ish nonprofit, ~20-25 employees) announced my upcoming departure AND the hiring of the individual replacing me (long story), and I was included in that email. As we were leaving for the day, two of my coworkers were discussing their displeasure at how that was handled, one saying it made her “angry”. It definitely increased my bitterness some.

    1. some1*

      Yeah, I had a former work friend take her displeasure at my layoff public as well, and it didn’t feel great.

      I agree with the poster upthread who wrote that your laid-off colleagues just want to you to say you will miss them & they did a good job (assuming that’s true).

  15. Juli G.*

    So your company is pissed because you’re the first one deposed in any potential lawsuit now.

    I would this out there too. You may have pulled in someone who has no desire to be pulled into this – the tester. Maybe she gets a nice severance package if the layoff happens and she can go to grad school or focus on her side project and she’s okay with this. Maybe she hates her job and this have her a kick to look elsewhere. Maybe she’s embarrassed by the announcement that went out and she’s even more embarrassed you didn’t ignore it.

    Once myself and a coworker were overlooked on something and it wasn’t just unfair, it made terrible business sense. Our manager’s manager was PISSED and wanted to raise hell. I was all for it, coworker wasn’t even though she was really upset about what had happened. Manager respected that and focused all his righteous anger around me.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Oh c’mon. The first ones deposed in any potential lawsuit are going to be 1) the suing employee 2) her manager 3) HR 4) her manager’s managers 5) anyone else in the decision-making tree.

      I agree that OP’s email wasn’t the wisest move, but I’m not getting this “how dare you put the company at risk” stuff. Maybe the company should be put at risk, if they’re firing the tipping tester for nefarious reasons.

      1. Observer*

        By an employee? Any employee who deliberately puts their company at risk should be fired.

        If you really think there is a discrimination issue, then deal with it in an appropriate way – and there ARE appropriate and legally protected ways to do that. But, the OP clearly does not think it’s a discrimination issue, just corporate stupidity. If the stupidity is too much for her to stomach, she should start looking for a new job.

        I’m not pointing fingers at the OP. I’m just making the point that there are right ways to handle issues and wrong ways. Putting your company at risk is generally the wrong way.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Being a whistleblower, as the law defines it, is ‘putting your company at risk’.

          My point was not that the OP acted correctly, but that I don’t understand all the hand-waving about how maybe the employee is going to sue and maybe the OP has doomed them all because some cackling plaintiffs’ lawyer is going to get hold of it and sue for a bajillion squintillion dollars.

          1. OP Teapot Maker*

            But if someone DID due for a bajillion squintillion dollars and WON, I bet that, even after the attorneys took their share, if the termed employee then divided her winnings among the entire US population, it would solve poverty.

          2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

            I think the concern is more that this email will push laid off employee toward filing suit in the first place, rather than that this email will have an appreciable impact on a case once it’s proceeded to litigation (which I agree that it won’t).

            1. neverjaunty*

              Which, honestly, doesn’t make any sense to me either. This isn’t an email passionately defending Wakeena against charges that she’s a bad employee, or that suggests anything in the manager’s original email (which included Wakeena) is a lie.

              I agree that ‘don’t dis management in email’ is a good rule of thumb, as is ‘be mindful of how what you say could be used if it got turned over in litigation’. But the idea that this would convince the tipping tester to seek out a lawyer, and that it would lead to a lawsuit, makes no sense to me. Unless, of course, there really was lots of other evidence that the tipping tester was unfairly treated.

              1. Annonymouse*

                I can see it.
                I imagine management had a conversation to Wakeena telling her her job is no longer needed/necessary. Wakeena isn’t happy but she can accept it.

                Wakeena is then cc’d into an email indicating her job IS necessary and management should think about it.

                If I was Wakeena I’d start to consider other possibilities about why I lost my job and/or get bitter and unpleasant in interactions. (Unless told they couldn’t afford it)

  16. Erin*

    The answer to this one surprised me, but as usual Alison provided very good points to consider.

    My initial thought was, honestly, that it was inappropriate for the managers to include that employee in the first, initial email. By including her, they signaled (to me) that it was okay for you to include her on the response, *especially* since they were trying their best to keep her in the company. They were transparent. You, in turn, were also transparent.

    So, for what it’s worth, I 100% fall in line with your thinking, OP. Be reassured that you’re not crazy and that at least one, probably more commenters here would have done what you did.

    That being said, again Alison brought up good points to consider.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      It’s actually really, really helpful to have the employee included when the announcement is made because it lets the other employees know that this has already been discussed and handled with the employee.

      We had a situation where a position was being eliminated, but other departments did not know the person was aware of their end date. (1) it caused a lot of confusion about what people could/could not say to this employee and (2) said employee had hurt feelings because it made the entire situation feeling like there was something going on, rather than a layoff.

      The next time around, the employee whose position was eliminated was included on the announcement and other conversations and everyone had vastly improved feelings about the situation.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Yes, I thought that was a good move to include the laid-off employee – and it showed the employee exactly what was being said about her.

    2. M-C*

      +1, I could totally have done the same :-). But then I’m also seeing things from the point of view of (good) work needing to be done, rather than the managerial politics that seems to dominate here. You’re not alone OP, and while Allison has some good points woth pondering, please don’t take too closely to heart the comments by the people who know better than the employment lawyer.

    3. Annonymouse*

      But it wasn’t a reply all response to an announcement.

      It was a new and separate email chain.

      Also arguing with an announcement doesn’t change it. Announcements by there nature mean something’s happened and we are informing you. Not a discussion

  17. Elizabeth*

    If you want to make a departing coworker feel valued for their contributions, taking them for coffee/drinks/lunch/whatever might be a more appropriate, more personal route in a context like this.

  18. KR*

    I agree that it could have come across as tone deaf. I was also thinking that perhaps the management was only just saying that the Teapot Tester would be missed and they hoped they would find another position with the company and didn’t really mean it. I think sometimes people say that to be diplomatic but don’t really mean it.

    However, I can totally understand where the OP was coming from. I probably would have discussed this with the Teapot Tester too because I would be wondering how they would leave their work and how it would be delegated going forward, much like the process if they were giving their 2 weeks notice.

  19. Viva L*

    I think it was fine to include her – if the layoff email was all good to include her on, why wouldn’t it be ok to include her on an email, business related that asks about the strategy going forward. She must be part of that decision making, since she’s have to hand off her duties/speak to them about the business issues involved in eliminating her position. Especially if she’s staying-she’ll still get a lot of questions. If she’s not staying/there was some sensitivity about it, they shouldn’t have sent an email making it sound like they wanted her to stay/everything was on the up and up.

    1. jaxon*

      The outgoing person does not necessarily have anything to do with the company’s next steps. If she wanted to quit at 5pm the day they sent this email, she could have done so. While you hope the outgoing person will write up a good transition document and leave the new person her rolodex (so to speak), the outgoing person does not need to be kept in the loop on anything having to do with her replacement or her department’s ongoing strategy because she is no longer a part of it.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s actually pretty rare for a laid-off person to be involved in the strategy going forward — both because of the sensitivities that often exist around that (“they laid me off and then asked me to help them figure out how to survive without me”) and because the layoff is often evidence of the company going in a very different direction that the person isn’t ideally suited to help them navigate.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Because the ongoing strategy is not her business anymore.

      It’s one thing to say, “We’ll absorb her tasks,” which does sort of affect what she’s going to do in the very immediate future (i.e., hand over documentation, etc.), so she needs to know exactly what was said.

      But the more detailed problem solving? Not her problem. Not her business.

      1. VivaL*

        If she were leaving, for sure, I understand that. But if she’s staying with the company? Seems a bit adversarial to me to just drop everything with no concern about the future workings of the defunct department – there’s usually some sort of transition plan for that kind of employee. The announcement was a way to say “We’re keeping this employee on, just not the tasks” and expressing concern for dropping entire departments is pretty normal. In fact, I probably would have told the OP to talk to the departing employee first! If it’s all on the up and up, it’s probably been discussed with her, and as a manager, and the closest person to the issue, she should have the authority to speak to it. Or refer the OP to the higher ups, if it is a truly sensitive issue.
        But if it is a truly sensitive issue, or a layoff in the general sense, then they pretty much shouldn’t have sent that email in the first place – it should have been worded and presented differently, in my experience.

  20. Mike B.*

    It’s a fairly marginal offense, honestly. Yeah, it no doubt caused some additional awkwardness between the TT and the organization by making it clear to everyone that the rank and file was not on board with this decision…but that can’t have come as much of a surprise. You didn’t disclose any confidential information, and (as they’ve told you) you didn’t say anything inappropriate in the email itself. I suspect cooler heads will prevail and this won’t go beyond a stern conversation.

    That said, you might want to consider looking for a new job here. Not because this has irreparably damaged your standing within the organization, but because it looks like your values are out of alignment–you’ve observed that creating this position has resulted in a marked improvement in quality control, but the organization doesn’t consider that to be sufficiently important to retain the position. And when pressed on the matter, management’s sole response has been to reprimand you for communicating your objections to the wrong person. This is not a place I’d want to work at for the long term.

    And re. Alison’s comment on your email’s effect on morale: this is the opposite of the approach they should be taking if that’s the concern. People are no doubt already unhappy about this change; hearing that their coworker got in trouble for questioning it (which is what they’re going to take away from the situation, even if the reality is somewhat more nuanced) is not going to help.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. I can understand the organization being annoyed at this, and it was tone-deaf, but… they’re threatening OP with a ‘punitive’ response, rather than a manager simply sitting her down and explaining the problem? And OP thinks this could include termination?

      Setting aside the question of whether this veers into punishing an employee for discussing their work conditions – this is a disproportionate response from the organization, and doesn’t sound like a health place to work. Sometimes a small mistake flips over a whole rock.

      1. Silver Radicand*

        Said punitive response could be exactly that, plus possibly a just a note in the file saying that this happened in case there are similar tone-deaf actions in the future.

        And saying that they are considering a punitive response is valuable information for the OP to have. It lets them know the seriousness of this action, but also that they are actually evaluting the situation, which is important given that, as others have noted, to her management it may look like she was intentionally causing potential drama.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Eh, it’s valuable, but not helpful. In the context of having been told off by HR and then a one on one meeting with her manager, ‘higher ups are considering punitive action’ is threatening, not concrete.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Agreed — unless it came up in a context where the OP repeatedly stated she didn’t see what the big deal was the manager said something like, “Look, this IS actually a big deal, to the point that it could even be a fireable offense.”

    2. OP Teapot Maker*

      Well, I didn’t think that anyone would hear that their coworker got in trouble for questioning the detail – I didn’t include any of the other line employees on my message, and the reprimand from HR had the Tester taken off. But then this happened (which I included in my email to AAM, but acknowledged wasn’t part of the main story and would be quite reasonably left off my already-long tale):

      Today I was on a web conference call with the teapot maker team. Part way through, our manager said he needed to drop off for a few minutes for another call. He left his computer mic open and his connection unmuted as he used his regular phone to call into, apparently, a management call where Item 1 on the agenda was my digression. His end of the call was completely audible to those of us still on the web conference – it was clear that I had done something bad and potential consequences were being discussed. After he didn’t respond to a couple IMs, a colleague kindly and quickly suggested we drop off the conference and reconvene when the manager was free. I thought about sending a message to just my few colleagues that experienced this to give a very high overview (“I responded to the Teapot Tester announcement and included some of the wrong people.”) , but, having been chastised already for transparency, decided to leave the relative opacity alone for now.

      PS, as this more strongly implies, the teapot company is geographically dispersed, which is part of why (but not a sufficient excuse, I now see) that I didn’t handle it more directly with my manager.

      And yes, I am well aware that it may be time to move on. I’m really passionate about the segment of tea-drinkers that we attempt to serve, and have remained hopeful that we could produce a pot that really would improve their tea brewing and drinking experience. Moving on likely means either a reduction in comp or working with a different tea-drinking segment that I’m less enthusiastic about, so that’s been my challenge.

      1. Mike B.*

        This is straight out of O. Henry. “We have to discipline OP for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person! Whoops, forgot to hit MUTE.”

      2. Observer*

        That’s jaw dropping. What you did was not appropriate, but understandable. But, while I understand how your manager made his mistake, it’s a MUCH bigger deal. Not just because it allowed a bunch of people to listen in on a conversation about you, but because you would want a manager to be a bit more careful about letting people hear conversations they have no business knowing about. And, given what it was a follow-up to, the irony is breath taking.

        Good luck with this one. I’d be tempted to ask my boss how he wants me to handle inevitable questions, but I would not do that.

      3. M-C*

        Oh, facepalm! These clowns are taking you to task for miscommunication?? Sorry, OP, it really sounds as if you could probably do a lot more for tea drinkers from a different company. Hopefully they’ll be disorganized enough in Disciplining The Wayward Person that you’ll have plenty of time to find a better fit at a place that appreciates both you and its users. Good luck!

        1. CM*

          This is a pretty funny update (although not for the OP, who was probably not happy to hear that phone conversation.) I guess I should say ironic rather than funny. Anyway, I don’t think either the management or the OP are “clowns” that did really terrible things… I do think they both made a mistake in the way they communicated, and it does seem to me like management may be blowing OP’s mistake out of proportion. Hopefully OP can just apologize and chalk it up to a learning opportunity, and they can all move on.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree with your last paragraph — it would be ridiculous and really unwise to fire the OP for this, unless there’s some larger context going on with the OP that we don’t know about. But I also doubt that’s going to happen; that’s not a typical response to this kind of thing.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But “higher ups wanting to take punitive action” isn’t a typical response to this kind of thing either, is it? (As opposed to OP’s manager having a stern one-on-one about why this was Not Appropriate.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Nope — like I said in the post, in a reasonable company (and assuming there’s no history that would make this more problematic), the OP would get a serious talking-to about why this was inappropriate, and that would be that.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I wonder if the heavily punitive tone has come because the OP has been resistant to recognizing that the email was a big error in the first place.
            If the OP has been as defensive in person as on this thread, I might be bearing down as well.

            But I agree that generally when someone makes this sort of mistake, it’s not something that gets much beyond a talking-to and a possibly permanent “ding” to your reputation.

  21. Weekday Warrior*

    As other commenters have noted, including the laid off person in an email critiquing the possible impacts of the layoff puts that person in a very difficult position. What are they supposed to do, chime in with solutions? Not to mention that they well might be seen as fomenting discontent through other employees. I have to wonder what the OP really thought they were accomplishing with this? I have seen similar situations where employees feel the need to “stand up” for others who haven’t invited it or would choose different methods. Even if well meant, ultimately disrespectful.

    1. fposte*

      Right. I don’t know that that’s why management is displeased about the email, so the OP may be overlooking this aspect of the problem. But even if she doesn’t care about management’s annoyance, the fact that she put her co-worker in an awkward position is reason enough not to have done it.

    2. TootsNYC*

      “I have seen similar situations where employees feel the need to “stand up” for others who haven’t invited it or would choose different methods. Even if well meant, ultimately disrespectful.”

      Oh, you mean like in Oregon?

  22. MommaTRex*

    What’s done is done, so I would take Alison’s advice on what to do now: “tell your manager and others involved that you misjudged the appropriateness of including your coworker on your email…and that you’ll be more discreet with sensitive issues in the future.” But don’t cc the Tipping Tester again.

  23. J-nonymous*

    If you’d just emailed your manager, the teapot tester’s manager (assuming it’s a different person) and copied Teapot Tester and explained that you wanted to ensure there was a transition plan in place for making sure the teapots continued to pour correctly, you’d be in a much better position here. But that’s not what you did.

    I would draft a message, as Alison suggests, and make it clear that you let your emotional response to the situation cloud your judgment about how you addressed your questions. It’s not that you had a terrible impulse (to protect a valued coworker, or to question a decision that may have a negative effect on your company), but that you didn’t stop to consider how the message would be perceived before addressing it to leadership, HR and the person whose position is being eliminated.

    1. Mike B.*

      It doesn’t sound as though OP was particularly emotional in this message. She pointed out that her coworker’s contribution was quantifiably significant, and asked how they would proceed without it. Somewhat tactless, but that’s quite different from being emotional.

  24. jaxon*

    It’s understandable that the OP would want to forward an email like this to the tester. That’s a very different conversation than including the tester in the original email. I feel like OP did not initially see it that way. Transparency is vital but this is not the sort of situation where OP’s actions were “transparent” any more than telling someone you hate their new hairdo is “honest.”

  25. some1*

    I think including someone from HR is what makes it look like you are trying to question the tester getting laid off.

  26. OP Teapot Maker*

    Thanks, AAM, for responding, and all the commenters for the great additional feedback. I’ve got to get back to fixing some of these darned poor-pouring pots, but have definitely learned some good stuff here. I continue to learn so much from this site, although I read less frequently than I used to (when I had direct reports and HR reponsibilities at previous gigs).

  27. jmkenrick*

    Many people are pointing out that it was a bit odd/confusing that the manager cc’ed the leaving employee in the original e-mail. To that point, I think it’s worth remembering that maybe that manager made an error in judgement with how they delivered the news, and they’re being spoken to as well, or the management is thinking about how to do it differently next time in order to avoid this.

  28. HRChick*

    As someone who is often involved in decision-making for terminations and lay-offs, what would annoy me about your email is that (1) it assumes that the issues you brought up were not ones management was aware of (2) implies a lack of forethought on the management’s side (3) with those, implies that the management did not take this lay off seriously. That is very off-putting. Then you CCed a bunch of people AND the laid off employee letting them know that you think you know better than them when you know nothing about what was discussed on a management level.

    If I were your manager, I would not fire you. But, I would let you know how professionally offensive your email was.

    1. jmkenrick*

      Well, hey – it sounds like the original e-mail didn’t really address how they were going to avoid the issues that had caused them to open the Teapot Tester position in the first place.

      I agree that cc’ing the employee was the wrong call, but are you suggesting that she shouldn’t be able to ask management for clarification on their decision making because they might be offended? That seems a little…petty, to be honest. Of course she’ll want clarification on an employment change that could make her job more difficult.

      1. HRChick*

        That should have been asked by her to her manager and that’s definitely not how she worded her email if she told them, basically, that she was concerned with their decision.

        1. HRChick*

          Sorry, to clarify- that’s a question that is reasonable to pose to her manager, not to management and HR in general.

          The second takes it from looking for practical instructions to looking to looking to questioning their strategy

          1. OP Teapot Maker*

            Good point. The fact of the matter is that, based on previous experience, I don’t actually have full confidence that our management will make resource allocation decisions that will enable us to produce the best product possible. Prior to this announcement, I was gaining confidence on that point, and this really set it back, pending additional information. And yes, that makes for a problematic employment relationship.

  29. JenGray*

    To me it’s odd that they would consider disciplinary action for including the laid-off employee in the email given that the manager included the employee to begin with. It’s possible that if it were anything else but a layoff this is how a discussion would have been handled at this office. This type of discussion was better to have with the manager in person instead of over email but maybe that wasn’t possible. But if it were me I still wouldn’t have sent an email but only because I prefer to keep my questioning of management on the the down-low. I think that this is a simple mistake since it sounds like the concerns are valid but actually taking formal disciplinary action against someone just seems like a bad management policy. Lay-off tend to have a very negative effect on a work place anyway but then to also compound it with disciplinary action seems overkill.

  30. The Enginner*

    Yes. Better to have asked the question directly to your manager without including the terminated employee. Much better would have been the original email from management with some explanation of why the position is no longer needed. The whole “tippy-tester is encouraged to apply elsewhere in the company” is a clear statement that it is not due to performance issues. The response to the OP’s question makes me think that the termination is due to performance issues and the email was just happy smoke. The OP’s question is very valid given the recent hire of the tippy-tester position. Had the original email included an explanation of how the “testing problem” was to be addressed going forward this drama would have been avoided.

    Remember that some of us “technical” folks just see the problem at hand and miss the intricacies of subtext in clever communication. (Which means that the clever folks are also missing something.)

  31. Noah*

    I think this response misses LW’s biggest offense. When LW’s boss tells her she shoudln’t have cc’d the employee being laid off, LW’s response was basically, “Well, be glad I didn’t hide the fact that I was sending it to her from you.” If I’m the boss, what I hear is: “Whatever you do to me this time, I’m just going to keep this a secret the next time I do it.” If I were her direct supervisor, I’d be watching her very closely and she’d be on extremely thin ice. Not because of the original mistake, but because of her response to being called out for it.

  32. MM2ss*

    I can certainly see where including the laid off employee is a problem. It falls under what many would call “bad form” at a minimum. But I understand the rationale behind doing so as well.

    Many here have expressed what seems to amount to horror at an employee asking about a management decision and casting doubt on it. Which again, certainly falls under bad form when done in the manner described. However, my own experience is that sometimes managers and higher level managers in particular often forget about details. The head person may be looking at the production figures and customer satisfaction ratings, going, “Wow, 98% satisfaction and faulty teapots have been down by 99.4% the last year!”…it is not a long reach to get from that point to saying, “We make great teapots that our customers are pleased with, just why do we need a teapot tester? We clearly know how to make working teapots”.

    Many times a junior person may make an observation or ask a question that points one to a radically different answer. In this case, perhaps that the decline in faulty teapots is due to testing, not that the increased output of good teapots negates the need for testing.

    All that being said, it is a concern that should have been raised in another manner. If your employer is reasonable, you might get a talking to, a “and don’t do it again” and move on. Hopefully, your other concerns will cause the management to at least consider how they will handle the need for testing going forward and to share the applicable measures.

    If your employer is not reasonable or if this is part of a larger history of mis-steps on your part, well the punitive action could be far more severe than a stern warning.

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