a fired employee still wants to attend the office holiday party

A reader writes:

Our office recently let an employee go for numerous reasons after several warnings. It for was for minor things such as frequent lateness, too many personal calls and emails on company time, and general friction with other coworkers, to more serious things such as a very sharp decline in his work quality, cursing at other coworkers, and admitting to getting high at work. The employee was laid off instead of fired as a sort of favor, and was told the reason was a lack of work for his position.

The problem is, the employee had previously RSVP’ed for the staff Christmas party, which is a fairly formal gathering. He also requested a hotel reservation, which is generously supplied free of charge for those needing one. He has mentioned it to other workers that he will be attending, and they see no problem with it, as he got the party invitation before being let go.

This employee most definitely burned bridges during his final few weeks of work — using four-letter words towards coworkers and calling us a “venomous” office, and did not finish his final tasks without informing anyone, leading to very late nights for the rest of the department to meet a tight deadline. This former employee is now very disliked, and the department mood is now much more relaxed and relieved now that he is gone. As such, most of this department is now refusing to attend the staff party because of the potential for confrontations, especially considering the open bar.

The person in charge of the party is not aware of any of this, and said the company has a policy to let laid-off workers attend the Christmas party. However, this is an industry that lays off many workers in the winter and hires them back in the spring, which does not apply to this former employee. As his former manager, should I let someone know about the true reason for this firing and have the invitation rescinded?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. paul

    For all the people wondering how to get out of their/their SO’s Christmas party, apparently some people *really* get attached to them I guess.

  2. Enough

    I would love to know what ended up happening. Especially as they had plenty of time to handle it as letter was originally from Nov 2015.

    1. Birdie

      Not really helpful then to the letter writer to get a response this late then. I think certain and many questions are time sensitive. For the sake to the letter writers, I think it would be helpful for advice columnists( not just this one) to respond to the most recent letters that they get and have time for. Otherwise, whatever advice comes in, may be too late.

      1. Mamunia

        Per Alison’s post “…I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago..”

          1. Jennifer Thneed

            And that’s actually pretty common here, for her to do the re-run columns. Maybe twice a month?

            Anyway, the answer to your original concern is the same answer to people who wonder if a given letter is real: even if it’s not real, it’s still going to be helpful to *someone*.

  3. Akcipitrokulo

    The problem I think stemz from his being told that the lay off was due to factors outwith his control. It sounds as if it would be normal for him, in this office, to expect to come to the party when he was let go because the work wasn’t there. Maybe telling the truth would have made it easier for you folks as well as kinder in the long run for him.

    1. Myrin

      Yeah, I agree. Although I’m surprised to hear that apparently he didn’t catch on by himself – he was let go “after several warnings” stemming from “numerous reasons” and yet he thought he was being let go because of a lack of work? (I mean, yes, that’s what the company told him, but didn’t he put two and two together?)

      1. JulieBulie

        If this employee had been able to put two and two together, they might not have had to fire him.

        I’m amazed by the number of letters we read here about employees who are told countless times – often bluntly – about things they should be doing, or doing better; but they still don’t do them.

        If you take someone with that kind of obliviousness and then say something “nice” to spare their feelings, there is ZERO hope for improvement. They will never put two and two together, even if you write them a memo with a diagram instructing them to put two and two together.

        1. the gold digger

          Yes, but if he has been warned and has not reformed, I just want him gone. He has already shown me that he won’t improve. Now I just want to get rid of him the easiest way possible.

  4. Woodswoman

    Your company has a commitment to celebrating your current employees. Whatever discomfort you may feel about rescinding an invitation is nothing compared to the resentment of the staff the ex-employee worked with who would skip the holiday party to avoid this guy. If this ex-employee was difficult at work, imagine the potential ugliness when he has no commitment at all combined with the influence of alcohol. If I were the party planner, I would definitely want to know about this, to revoke the invitation and cancel the hotel room the company would be paying for. You owe it to your staff and the company to un-invite him.

  5. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors

    Alison your advice is spot on – he basically gave the office the finger in more than one way and a disinvitation isnt rude because this is business, not personal.

    Is he really that obtuse that he wants to attend this get together, where he’s clearly not wanted? Or is he just poking because it’s another way to basically give the finger by showing up? Regardless, sounds like good riddance.

    Also, if the workplace thinks he might try to sabotage anythig (saw it happen in a workplace once…) there is always banning him from the company property or events in writing, and the police will be called if he shows up. Hopefully that will get thru to him, if nothing else.

    1. Pollygrammer

      Yeah, I wouldn’t use “you are not invited.” I would use “you are not permitted to attend.” And I would put it in writing.

    2. Samata

      I wholeheartedly agree with Alison, too.

      And also….Is he really that obtuse that he wants to attend this get together, where he’s clearly not wanted? Or is he just poking because it’s another way to basically give the finger by showing up?

      I’m guessing it’s the latter, which I would have questioned before the letter last week (or 2) about the guy who wanted to come to the ex-company party just to make his co-workers uncomfortable.

    3. Wicked Odd

      Granted, if it was personal, not business, I’d still uninvite him for the burned bridges and four letter words…

  6. NYC Redhead

    I just had to say that the photo to illustrate the letter is a great choice! Inc. is giving New York’s retro photos a run for their money!

  7. Amy Farrah Fowler

    “You’re allowed to rescind invitations to people who treat you poorly”

    Yep. People who treat you poorly do not deserve the same courtesy that other people do.

  8. Anon and on and on

    I agree with the part about being straight forward about why he was let go. There’s a difference between couldn’t and wouldn’t. He can still collect unemployment if you let him go because he couldn’t do the job.
    I was let go from a position that was just a bad fit. I couldn’t do the job well enough. I was let go and told why. I was also told to file for unemployment because, no blood, no foul, both parties tried their best.

    1. MommyMD

      It’s up to the unemployment board whether or not an employee was fired with cause and can connect unemployment. I’m glad it worked out for you but there are plenty of denials.

  9. Anony

    I agree he should be uninvited, but the reason is not that the party is only for current employees and giving that as a reason could cause confusion. The OP said that the company has a policy of allowing laid off employees to come to the Christmas party. Telling him that only current employees are allowed could result in other laid off employees not feeling welcome. Tell him that due to his behavior he is no longer welcome at company functions.

    1. The Supreme Troll

      “due to his behavior he is no longer welcome at company functions” – exactly this point. While I agree with Alison that the company cannot go back on what it said to him and re-word the word “layoff”, giving this very valid reason to this very toxic former employee is a perfect answer, that is backed up by observed examples if he is going to be annoying enough to push back on it.

  10. Elizabeth West

    I hope they decided to rescind the invitation. It sends a very bad message to the remaining employees to let this person further walk all over them by allowing him to attend the party. I’m pretty sure he only wants to go so he can continue to be rude. His mere presence there would tank morale (and a waste of money, since others have already said they wouldn’t go if he would be there).

  11. CJMster

    I wish low performers were fired outright, not given layoffs with juicy severance packages. It’s an important message for the remaining employees who had to suffer due to the low performers, for one thing.

    The company I retired from early this year had a some layoffs in November of last year, and I heard afterwards that each director was allowed to decide what to do for his or her department. There were nice severance packages included: nearly a year’s pay and health-care benefits. When I got word that layoffs were coming, I visited my director (my boss was out of town, and this was his boss) to ask if I could be considered because I was thinking of retiring soon. Nope, he said. He later told our department that he picked only low performers. One of them was someone my team had begged our boss to fire for years. She was absent a lot, inept at her job, and played online all day long instead of working (even shopping for lingerie sometimes, as witnessed by her cube neighbors and anyone walking by her!). Apparently I was too high performing to be considered, but I’m glad I asked.

    I learned that other directors picked high-performing employees who were on the verge of retirement like I was. That stung to hear; I wish I’d had one of those directors.

    So I hope my department’s director was at least honest with the low performers he laid off and told them why he picked them. That would have been a bit of justice! But firing them in the first place without a generous severance package would have been true justice.

    1. Specialk9

      Severance is rarely enough to get one through till a new job, so your desire to fire people so they can’t get severance seems pretty mean spirited to me.

      1. CJMster

        If someone is performing badly, why is firing wrong? It seems just to me.

        I don’t feel mean-spirited — just frustrated that good performers have to deal with low performers who are kept on for too long and then given soft landings. In our case, they were VERY soft landings.

        1. WeevilWobble

          Wishing people wouldn’t be given some amount to live on is definitely mean spirited.

          You not only want then to lose their job you want them homeless and starving too.

          1. God Emperor of Dune

            I know this is an old comment but it struck me.

            If those people wanted to be in continuous paid employment and not be fired, they wouldn’t be low performing slackers in the first place. To be fired with no recourse and no soft landing is their own fault, not the company’s and not the fault of chagrined co-workers who have to do the slacker’s work on top of their own.

  12. Sue Wilson

    The should rescind, but they shouldn’t say it’s for current employees when it’s not. That’s exactly the type of fudging they used when they fire him and it’s going to cause the same confusion.

  13. JulieBulie

    I did a double-take on this letter. Didn’t we have a similar one a few days ago from someone who had recently received a layoff notice and was debating whether or not to go to the company holiday party? It was a little different than this one, not to mention much more recent, but for a moment I wondered if we were finally getting one story from two sides.

    1. EvilQueenRegina

      The one it made me think of was a recent one where an employee had been sacked but some other guy who worked there was going to bring this guy as his plus one, and sacked guy had apparently made some stupid comments.

  14. Liane

    I’m reading the letter as “We told Hux he was being let go over chronic tardies, being high on the clock, etc. after warnings” NOT “We fired Hux for chronic tardies and being high on the clock but told told him it was a layoff.”

    1. Elsajeni

      It says “he was told the reason was a lack of work for his position,” though — I think it’s clear that they softpedaled this, and while it sounds like he certainly should realize he’s been comprehensively screwing up and won’t be welcome back, it’s also kind of understandable that he, and the party coordinator, are acting like this was part of the normal seasonal layoffs that happen due to lack of work.

  15. Argh!

    Re: firing vs. layoff

    If the company hasn’t adequately documented an attempt to rehab the employee through training and PIPs, wouldn’t firing run the risk of a lawsuit?

    1. AcademiaNut

      In the US you can fire someone for almost any reason, up to and including “I don’t like your shoes” and “I’m in a bad mood and want to take it out on someone” as long as it’s not because of a few very specific reasons (race, gender, etc). So while there’s always the possibility of a nuisance lawsuit, there’s no requirement to try to retrain/warn/coach a bad employee. And they can still threaten to to sue even if they were fired for stealing or punching someone.

  16. Persephoneunderground

    I found the closing advice about the layoff vs. firing a bit odd. It *is* kinder to lay him off, because then he won’t have to answer yes if asked if he’s ever been fired. A firing, especially a recent one, looks really bad on an employment history, and can make it much harder to get another job. I know you all/Alison knows that, so I don’t get why she would say firing would have been better. I’m all for clear communication, but I’d consider from an employee p.o.v. that would be less important than getting another job. Whether he deserved to be given that consideration is debatable, but if you wanted to you can say “We’re going to have to let you go for performance/x and y issues but we’ll do you a favor and officially consider it a layoff.” And that’s plenty clear.

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