can you fire someone in the midst of a pandemic?

A reader writes:

In the weeks before the outbreak hit, I was preparing to put someone on my team on a performance improvement plan. We’ve addressed my concerns about her work in performance reviews and will see some improvement, but it keeps slipping so the improvement plan will be the last step before letting this person go. I had a call with HR two weeks ago about the process and asked if we should wait until after things calm down. HR’s position was that the performance issues still need to be addressed and we should proceed, and “it’s never a good time to be fired.”

I do want to address everything, but also really don’t want to have to fire someone in the middle of a pandemic. I like this employee as a person and would feel absolutely terrible taking away her health care and income right now. Also, my company has started to float around the possibility of potential layoffs, and I’m interviewing somewhere else and might be leaving soon. Should I just … drag out this process so I don’t have to deal with it?

I answer this question — and several others — over at New York Magazine today. You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I don’t have anything to do at work now
  • Is it OK to take time off right now?
  • How should I follow up on a job interview in the middle of all this?

{ 211 comments… read them below }

  1. TimeTravlR*

    A lot of us have less to do (letter #2). Some of our work is done in the office, especially our admin assistants’. It’s good that your boss recognizes it at least and doesn’t expect you to be turning something out when there is nothing! Just do what’s available to the best of your ability and use this time perhaps to do some online training??

    1. Bubbles McPherson*

      Came here to say this and emphasize online training. There are plenty of free courses or video tutorials that you can take advantage of to boost your skills in certain areas or with specific software packages. A colleague of mine is a training manager who has no one to train right now; he’s filling part of his day taking courses to keep his skills sharp and improve his curricula. You could do the same with an eye on improving your agency’s processes when this gets back to whatever normal will look like.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        We are trying to do one training course per week and encouraging people to pursue other opportunities on their own (have provided a list of resources, both internal and external).

        I am a big fan of Lynda.com, which all of our local libraries offer institutional access to. As long as you have a library card, you log in and pursue nearly any software training that appeals with exercise files to play along, if you have the tool available.

    2. Amy Sly*

      Or perhaps create some SOPs for tasks you do if they don’t exist. If you won the lotto, would your replacement know exactly what they’re supposed to do and how to do it? If not, might as well draft the documents they’d need. Think about your role and responsibilities and try to put your current ones and maybe even ones you think ought to be part of your job. Worst case scenario, you keep them in a file somewhere until you quit. Best case, you have the verbiage to take to boss during evaluation time.

    3. Artemesia*

      And be grateful they haven’t laid you off; plan to use the time as best you can to improve work skills or master some new skill ( do you know basic accounting to manage budgets? are you a whiz at excel? do you have skill with varied on line tools like white board, various meeting technologies etc? If not any of those may help with future promotions or make you more valuable now. If you normally coordinate meetings, maybe you can take leadership on virtual meetings and be the guru of the many tools that exist to do this. In your situation I would be worried about a lay off and plan to use the time I had while paid to build value.

      1. Admiral Thrawn is Still Blue*

        I agree completely. I really would not care to draw attention to my lack of work right now.

        1. Cordoba*

          +1

          There are times when the smart move is to just keep your head down and do the best you can with what you have.

          For many people, now is one of those times.

    4. Mid*

      I’m in a similar situation. Courts are shut down, half my duties are admin work around the physical office. There just isn’t that much for me to do.

      I’ve been doing old CLE credits (I’m not a lawyer, just bored), reorganizing files that are a digital mess, making sure everyone’s contact info is up to date, etc. I’ve also let people know that I can try and take on some of their work (basic drafting and legal research) if they’re busy.

      But I’m also not working anywhere close to an 8 hour day. There just isn’t that much to do.

    5. Diahann Carroll*

      A lot of us have less to do (letter #2).

      Preach. Proposals have slowed as companies are figuring out their budgets and pushing back response deadlines, so I’m working on developing more canned content and templates. When I’m not doing that, I’m taking online courses in content marketing and doing yoga to keep sane.

      This is our reality now.

    6. Steveo*

      Please Yes! Pluralsight is free all month and so are some others. LW – Please invest in yourself and don’t spend all day with busy work!

    7. Cobol*

      OP sounds young, and there’s a tendency at this age, especially with young Millennials (please note, what follows is not a Boomer dig on Millennials) to feel that doing good work is proven by pointing to big accomplishments.

      Right now, and to an extent always, that’s not always the main thing. It’s about doing your job, day-in and day-out, with some big accomplishments.

      1. lemon*

        I think part of the problem (outside of the whole current crisis) is that doing the day-in, day-out in your job isn’t often recognized, rewarded, or appreciated. I’ve had lots of jobs where I put together my own projects that weren’t necessarily Big Things, but were focused on the kinds of things folks here are suggesting: SOPs, improving processes, taking online classes, etc. But when it came to my annual review and I pointed to these things as accomplishments, I’ve been told that these things weren’t anything special or new (which affected the rating I received). Not only was that demoralizing, but it made it hard to make the case for a raise or a promotion. In many places, it’s the Big Things that get you noticed, help you build social capital, and position you to one day advance in the company.

        If companies want their employees to be happy with the day-in, day-out, they should incentivize them to do that. If employees don’t have a chance to work on the Big Things and aren’t appreciated for doing the day-in, day-out, they’re being incentivized to do as little as possible.

        Sorry to be long-winded, but I’m starting to think these “The problem with the Millennial work ethic…” takes is the same as the problem with all the frustrating career advice that tells women the 1854354902 things they’re doing wrong at work that are holding them back, when the real answer isn’t that we’re doing something wrong, it’s actually because of bias against women (See that article All Career Advice for Women is a Form of Gaslighting that came out about a year ago).

        1. Cobol*

          I get it, but I specifically made it not about work ethic. I’m at the younger end of Gen X, and loved just about all Millennials who’ve worked for me. I also advocate for Millennials being more self starters in general than other cohorts.

          I’m sorry you weren’t rewarded for doing the little things, but my experience is, thinking about the big things hurts younger people (including me when I was younger).

          When I promote people, I point to big things (because they’re easy to point to, and you do need 1-2), but the people who are invaluable are the ones who go above in the day-to-day.

          I don’t need you to win the big account. I need you to anticipate the needs and be ahead of everybody else in what that prospective big account needs, and then be a contributor when we win it. And frankly, if you don’t have big wins, I can make the case that your medium wins are big.

        2. AcademiaNut*

          It prioritizes being a superstar innovator ninja rockstar type. The problem is that you can’t staff an entire business with ninja rockstars. You need the innovative new idea people, but you also need people who do their jobs competently, efficiently, and thoroughly, without fuss or excessive oversight, and you need a lot more of the latter than the former. And you need people to take initiative on the mundane stuff – updating documents, improving process – not just the flashy look at me public stuff.

          And really, for entry level employees and people new to the work force or the field, the chances that they’re going to come up with amazing new innovations are pretty low – we’ve seen enough letters here from supervisors frustrated with junior employees who skimp on essential tasks while trying to do the flashy stuff, and junior employees upset that they’re not being given upper level responsibilities or jobs as idea people that they’re not prepared for.

          1. Alternative Person*

            I wish more people realized this. Where I am, the ‘must be a rockstar’ metric has created a situation where long term projects get kneecapped years too early for the sake of managers getting something flashy on their evaluations. I’d go as far as to argue that its hurting the business because it jerks around both staff who do very strong non-flashy work and clients who end up reluctant to work with us because they think we’re going to shut down that arm on what appears to be a whim.

    8. Quill*

      Same but my job has been swinging wildly between “we need this yesterday” and “there is nothing you can do about this.”

      Fortunately I have long planned to work on some SOP’s and templates to standardize some of our processes, so… between that and the mindless work of searching reference docs in our database I guess I will have enough to fill most days.

    9. SuzieQ*

      I’m a boss and grand-boss and have several staff members (about 4 out of my team of 13) who have pretty much nothing to do; about 5 have been working non-stop and the others are probably about half time. A few of my team members who have very little work have reached out to let me know that they feel guilty and are available should something come up. I appreciate the heads up about their availability but there’s not much I can do – it is what is it at this time. I’ve let everyone know not to feel guilty if they do other things (watch Netflix, take a walk) during working hours as long as they check their email once in a while in order to make sure they’re on top of any tasks that do come in, and I’ve also offered to call them if anything urgent comes up so they don’t have to feel like they need to be checking their work mail all the time when the odds of any tasks coming in is low. I feel like they should rest up now because if other team members or their families get sick things could change and they could be called on to work a lot. I wouldn’t recommend reminding the boss again if you’re not busy; believe me, they know, and they are probably dealing with a million other things at the moment and appreciate not having to find a make-work project for you.

    10. JSPA*

      Let your boss know that you’re keeping abreast of which airlines are changing their frequent flier policies (many are), which insurers or car rental agencies are offering discounts, which countries and states (!) are requiring quarantines (and for how long)…basically ensuring and demonstrating that you’ll be ready to do a job that will have changed A LOT, whenever your employer is ready to have anyone travel again.

      For example, make a spreadsheet, with columns for each week, pasting over “same status” or updating status.

      If your job goes away, you can put that as a self-directed accomplishment in a resume. And it means you’ll have a greater sense of the whole industry, down the line.

      1. always in email jail*

        ^This is such a great idea! I would be so impressed if someone in our agency did this!

    11. Bookworm (also a librarian)*

      A suggestion for something to do. If you are a Microsoft site, find a process in your company (travel approvals, attendance, department spending approvals, report submission, etc.) where you can create a SharePoint list, then create a MS Flow (automate) for the process part and a Power BI app for the input. Even if no one uses it going forward, you are now the SharePoint expert.

    12. always in email jail*

      As someone who is a director-level employee dealing with this response directly, the best thing you can do is do a stellar job at anything random she throws at you. Excel sheets, etc. Triple-check and quadruple-check every piece of data, spelling, etc. I don’t blame the folks that don’t have a lot to do right now, but I get VERY irritated when I send them a small project and they are returning a sub-par product, when I know it should take about 2 hours and that is all they have been assigned over the past two days.
      If- AND ONLY IF- you truly feel comfortable, maybe propose some COVID-specific tasks you could help with? Are they looking for people to work in the state call center answering questions from residents? Is there a newsletter going out that could use more editing or formatting to look more polished? Is there some office in the state or local department of health you could be detailed to to provide administrative assistance? There is so much data and so much administrative support I would kill for right now! Someone to organize spreadsheets that include hundreds of items we need to source and order and their ever-changing costs, someone to collect data from multiple agencies and politely but firmly follow-up when they don’t turn it in, someone to make spreadsheets look presentable for me or update daily reports.

      1. always in email jail*

        Also- is she using any contact lists right now? Can she forward you any bounces she is getting so you can reach out to those agencies/organizations and identify the new point of contact?

    13. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      Document every task you do. Seriously. Step by Step very detailed instructions. Include pictures and screen shots. Not only will this give you something to do, it will impress your boss (hopefully) and it will make life much easier on your successor.

  2. Neon*

    Does the advice about firing somebody change if you know they will be able to get on their spouse’s insurance, or otherwise arrange for coverage of basically equivalent cost/quality to what they are getting from their current employer? Or if you’re in a civilized country that doesn’t tie health care to employment?

    I’m sympathetic to the fact that many people are working under new and challenging circumstances and that work output in many cases isn’t going to be as high as it was before the pandemic, but I’m not comfortable with the new rule being “just don’t embezzle or punch anybody and you can’t be fired for cause”.

    This is especially true if somebody was already not performing well before things changed, rather than a previously-good employee who is struggling to adapt to the new reality.

    1. Mediamaven*

      I have to agree with you. Right now, many companies are just trying to survive and we absolutely have to accommodate this temporary normal and support staff. But, when do we decide it’s ok again to release someone who isn’t able to fulfill the role in a way that helps the company survive and others to keep their jobs? It won’t be May? Is it the fall? Next year?

      1. Colette*

        When people’s lives are mostly back to normal, it’s fine to deal with general performance problems. But if the company is surviving and people are locked in their houses due to a global pandemic, that’s not the time to deal with underperforming employees.

        1. Annony*

          I disagree that you shouldn’t deal with under performing employees at all. I think that she should continue to work with the employee on the issues. She probably shouldn’t be put on an official PIP right now (the added stress would not be good right now and the OP wouldn’t be able to give the normal amount of support and oversight). But she can continue to bring up the issues, especially if lay offs are coming and this person would likely be close to the top of the list if she doesn’t improve.

          1. Colette*

            Oh yes, working on the issues is fine. It’s firing that should be on hold – especially since many people are at less than 100% right now.

    2. Amy Sly*

      Yeah … I have a bit of a problem with that. With this particular employee and situation, I might tell HR to avoid the PIP for now but not complain if she’s toward the top on the layoff list. As a general “pandemic” rule, I’d say the “fired for cause” bar might be a higher if the cause is related to overall productivity (e.g. don’t worry if they’re at 75% of normal, but start a PIP if they’re at 5%), but if the cause is for any other behaviors it shouldn’t make a difference.

      1. LizardOfOdds*

        This is my view, too. I’m in the same spot with a couple of employees, and it’s not going to be any easier to let them go after giving them a free pass for months. In fact, it looks a whole lot more like wrongful termination or mismanagement on my part when I change the success criteria for a job temporarily, change it back later, then fire them.

        I think the advice to hang on to people because of the pandemic also misses the costs of keeping low performers. The impact to morale of good employees, the double work we have to do to clean up the messes they make, the toxicity they can add to an already stressful situation… sometimes we need to do what’s best for the larger whole.

        1. winter*

          Also keeping them might mean that other, good, employees might suffer financially (or even lose their job) because the numbers are not adding up.

          I do think if they are very dependent, like they get health insurance through the employer, one should really be lenient right now. but if they would have a “soft landing” and we’re talking longstanding issues, I would at least consider it.

          I do geht Alison’s point about optics though. you don’t want to have high performers jump ship over this.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I don’t think it changes the advice that much. If performance issues were happening in the office, this situation we’re all dealing with right now will most likely make them worse. HR seems to want to take one extreme (fire them), the OP seems to want to take the other (ignore the problem because I may be gone soon) and the solution lies somewhere in the middle. I think OP needs to have another conversation, and see if this can be resolved.

    4. Roscoe*

      I think the problem is you can never really know if they can get on their spouse’s insurance, because for all you know, the spouse could lose their job.

      And a lot of it goes to what Alison said about the morale. The way employers treat employees now says a lot about them. I can absolutely say that if I worked for a company that did that now, it would very much change my opinion of the company. I’d have even less loyalty than I typically have.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        Generally speaking coworkers know who the underperforming workers are… I’ve never seen a firing for legitimate poor performance that has been a shock to anyone. We’ve seen how keeping a bad employee in a job can be a worse moral killer than letting them go.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Except that with a global pandemic going on, my gut feeling is that everyone is extending a little grace to everyone right now. True, coworkers generally don’t want underperformers on their team. But seeing someone thrown to the wolves in such a horrible moment probably wouldn’t do great for morale either.

          1. A*

            Bingo. This would really shake my confidence and trust in my employer. It’s just not the time, and at the end of the day this is the risk that is run if performance issues aren’t dealt with in the immediate. If it was already a problem prior to the pandemic, now is not the moment to decide to take the harshest of actions (firing). PIP etc. is the way to go until this blows over, so long as that is possible.

            1. Hlyssande*

              Yeah, the optics would be…..bad.

              Just like how my boss excitedly told me we’d finally been approved to add another person to the team in the Philippines office the day after we lost a critical team member to local layoffs. Feels bad, man,

        2. Roscoe*

          True. But even if during normal times I may question why someone still has a job there, I just wouldn’t be ok with firing them during a pandemic. If it was that bad, you should have done it previously, or wait until it gets better. But just doing it now is cruel. Now, it is very different if there is a round of layoffs and they are one of the ones laid off. But just firing them? No, that would tell me all I needed to know about my manager and company.

        3. Diahann Carroll*

          Generally speaking coworkers know who the underperforming workers are… I’ve never seen a firing for legitimate poor performance that has been a shock to anyone. We’ve seen how keeping a bad employee in a job can be a worse moral killer than letting them go.

          This may be true on a team, but the broader department and the company wouldn’t necessarily know about the underperforming coworker being underperforming, so without that context, it would look like the OP (and the company as a whole) is now just firing people willy nilly.

    5. ...*

      Yeah, I agree. Theres an extra $600 a week and stimulus money for unemployment to help out. Also tons of great people are getting laid off or furloughed, why go out of your way to keep a bad employee? You can always lay someone off and keep paying their healthcare for a couple months.

      1. Gatomon*

        Being fired for poor performance is generally not a qualifying reason for UI, so it’s likely this person wouldn’t qualify for any UI benefits at all. The program is really geared for people who’ve been laid off, though in theory this person could file and the employer could choose not to contest. If the company laid this person off instead of firing them, that would likely allow them to qualify for the UI benefits. But that still leaves health insurance as an open question.

        They’d still get the $1200 stimulus check if they fell within those income guidelines regardless, but that’s not nearly as helpful as the additional UI.

        1. Generalist*

          In most states, you *can* get unemployment if you’re fired, except if the reason for firing shows a gross disregard for the employer’s interests – like theft.

    6. SomebodyElse*

      I kind of don’t think the insurance should be a consideration at all. It would be different if the employee was not performing after the SHTF so to speak, but this was an underperforming employee before.

      I mean, would it be appropriate to say “I can’t fire him he has a family to support” or “I can’t fire her, she’s a single mom” or any other non work related considerations?

      I really disagree with the advice on this one…

      1. Mary*

        But those aren’t general reasons that apply to everyone: they’re specific facts about individual employees, so you’d potentially be discriminating against other employees. Whereas “Don’t take away someone’s income and access to healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic unless it’s the only way to protect other employees, clients or the security of the business” can be applied across the board.

        And frankly, I don’t know why “don’t fire people unless you absolutely have to” should be the rule all the time. I often shocked by how cavalier people are about taking away someone’s only means of survival.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Agreed. The US, at least, could use much better worker protections. This pandemic highlights the immediacy of the problem, where if a company fires someone, it might very well be a death sentence. But that isn’t untrue during non-pandemic times. It’s a good argument for divorcing access to healthcare from employment, so that employers aren’t serving as the gateway between an individual and their ability to stay healthy. No other developed nation has this requirement.

            1. Perpal*

              it’s not a death sentence to fire someone right now. Even if they have no insurance, people aren’t left to die on the street. Chronic conditions are the hard ones to get long term care for without insurance in some states (my state has pretty good medicare/medicaid and a lot of extra hospital support which is why I work here)

              … I’m not disagreeing with allison or anyone really firing should be considered very carefully at a bad time like this and probably put off if reasonable to do so; just calling it a death sentence seemed a little over the top

              1. Peach*

                for someone with housing/food insecurity, or for whom their job is the only way they can access ANY healthcare, yes, it could be. This was true well before the pandemic, too. Take away someone’s money and access to healthcare and that makes it hard for them to get things necessary to remain alive, like food, prescription medication, preventative treatment etc.

                And unfortunately, people also do die in the streets, it’s just that a lot of us don’t think or seem to care much about the homeless/transient population.

              2. Mary*

                I have definitely seen people posting on here saying, “I can’t afford to quit right now as my husband’s cancer care is dependent on me keeping my insurance”.

    7. CC*

      Yeah, I’m also wondering how this advice might change if it’s in a role on the front lines of crisis response. Like, if essential services aren’t getting to people who desperately need them right now because an employee keeps dropping balls (and was on a PIP before this crisis, and knew that crisis response was a core part of the job when they were hired well before the pandemic, and there’s no financial option to hire someone else in addition to keeping the employee on)? While it’s important that we do right by our staff right now, how does that balance with doing right by the communities that we serve?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Eh, I saw an article where a doc got fired for wearing a mask. So I guess some places aren’t too worried? I think there are so many variables involved here that it is really hard to just give a one-size-fits-all answer. I do believe that if an employee is not doing any of the work and passing the load to others, then that employer is probably better off without them. BUT, there can be exceptions here. And it depends on the situation. I have seen low performers get assigned to thing where they have to keep up with the pacing, they have no choice. Sometimes assignments can be changed and that is a solution.

    8. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      > Does the advice about firing somebody change if you know they will be able to get on their spouse’s insurance, or otherwise arrange for coverage of basically equivalent cost/quality to what they are getting from their current employer?

      No! Because firing someone (or putting them on a PIP or whatever) should be a rational and evidence orientated act independent of their own circumstances.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Right, I agree. This type of decision making can lead to a scenario where there are two low performers who need to be let go. One gets let go because spouse has Wonderful Insurance, Inc. The other gets to stay because they are single/spouse is unemployed/other scenario.

        When establishing criteria, it is best to use criteria that will be applied across the board in all cases.

    9. BTDT*

      I agree- COBRA and the Exchange are still available even with job loss. The last thing a company needs at this point is an employee who hasn’t improved despite months of feedback regarding needed changes. Firing is usually based on an employee’s decisions/actions/inactions and not just the employers.

    10. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, I would’ve agreed with Alison’s advice for #1 if the problems started post-pandemic or if layoffs were completely off the table, but OP said the company is considering layoffs down the line. Since clearly somebody, probably several somebodies are going to lose their jobs here, it’s very logical to me that the person who is doing a poor enough job to be fired would be among them.

    11. Claire*

      I feel like generally speaking, you shouldn’t ask, “Is this a good time for X to be fired?” because it never is; you should first ask, “Will there be a better time for X to be fired?” and then ask “Will the company be okay if we wait until then?” In most situations, the answer to the first question is no, there’s no time in the reasonably foreseeable future when it will be better for X to be fired, so you might as well do it now.

      However, right now, the answer to the first question is yes, it would be better for X to be fired in a few months, or whenever the global situation improves. That brings us to the second question, can you wait a few months to fire X. If X is embezzling or punching clients, then no, you can’t wait a few months. If X is performing at 90% of the required standard, you probably can wait a few months. If X is performing at 5% of the required standard, you probably can’t. It sounds like OP is in a position where she can feasibly keep this person on her team for a few months, so she probably should.

    12. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think if they were on a performance improvement plan, this isn’t a very reasonable time to be checking whether their performance is improving. Most people are going to be performing below their usual level right now with having to juggle taking care of kids now that schools are closed, figuring out the whole work-from-home setup if that’s new for their position, and of course just general stress and anxiety over the fact that we are currently living through a global pandemic and are just trying to push through.

  3. Anon4This*

    We fired someone recently – it was not work performance related, it was because they would not stop making inappropriate comments to their female coworkers after multiple counseling conversations during which they continued to argue with us about the very clear and direct instructions given to them (do not, ever, comment on your coworkers’ bodies, at all). It was not ideal, but I couldn’t trust this person to go one day without making someone uncomfortable.

    1. Artemesia*

      And he is out there whining about how PC you all were and he was fired for just complimenting his boss on her hairstyle.

      1. Anon4This*

        Nailed it! The Glassdoor posting was a brilliant work of fiction, plus the I-was-only-joking cliche piled on top of the PC-police accusation.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          If I were reading his review and saw him say something about you guys being the PC police, I would know to take his review with a giant helping of a salt. People who say this are usually offensive asshats with zero boundaries and no respect for others, so I would assume his review was leaving out the real reason he was fired.

          1. Clisby*

            Yep. People complaining about the “PC police” almost always seem to really be complaining that someone expects them to behave with basic civility.

        2. JSPA*

          Eh, if you want to respond, “Repeated unwelcome comments on people’s bodies is indeed grounds for a) first warning b) training c) PIP and d) firing here (in that order). If your need to comment on people’s bodies is stronger than your need for a job, you will be happier working elsewhere” pretty much writes itself. You don’t have to go into dude’s specific case to state policy, either. And I bet you get a lot of extra interest from people who appreciate that stance.

    2. Chili*

      I think that continued sexual harassment falls under the caveat Alison made about severity: “severe enough that you had no choice (for example, if she were embezzling money or, say, punched several clients).”

      1. Anon4This*

        Oh, I do as well, but I’ve already taken the social media hit that, of course, paints my organization as heartless ogres, and there are already commenters here saying they wouldn’t work for a company that fired people right now. (You know, because sexual harassers typically include that bit in their Glassdoor reviews.)

        1. Lupe*

          Hey Anon4this, really sorry about this. I was the person below saying I’d not work for a company who fired someone at this time. Obviously, this is really different from someone just not preforming as well as you need them to, and a completely legitimate reason to fire someone, at any time

          I’d hope they managed to out themselves as enough of a terrible human in the review that it seems obvious why they were fired.
          Sorry you’re going through this

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I don’t want to hire anyone to work for us that thinks that anything going on in the world gives you a pass to be engaging in sexual harassment. By all means, don’t work for us, bro[s].

    3. LabTechNoMore*

      As someone who was forced out of a workplace because of a coworker who wouldn’t stop inappropriate comments (and whose boss was no help in the matter): Thank you!

    4. JSPA*

      That falls under “special circumstance” like embezzlement and punching. For that matter, a person does not need to punch “multiple” people to get fired. Anything that’s “instant firing with extreme prejudice” should still be firing.

  4. Chili*

    1) There is never a good time to be fired but there are definitely some particularly bad ones and “in the midst of a pandemic and global financial meltdown” is certainly amongst them. I would try to make very clear to her what level of performance you need to see right now, but otherwise, delay putting forward any action that could get her fired. As Alison said, it would be demoralizing to the whole team and potentially make remaining members feel like they could be next on the chopping block.

    1. Nonny*

      It could also be a huge relief to the rest of the team if they are picking up her slack. The times I have been most frustrated with management have been when I have a coworker who I know will never be disciplined or let go despite mountains of evidence.

      1. Quill*

        Complete opposite situation but I DESPERATELY want the team member who was laid off in february back because I am in so far over my new-to-the company head right now.

        Like yes, business went down in her sector but she was a cornerstone in keeping all our outdated systems working and they didn’t even give her an hour to try and dump her institutional knowlege on me. now half my answers are “sorry, only Jane knew that.”

        1. 'Tis Me*

          Urgh, sounds like Jane did lots of business critical stuff that wasn’t part of her core role and may not have been being properly accounted for when the powers that be decided she wasn’t doing all she should be :(

          1. A New Level of Anon*

            Yes. This is why it’s smart to GTFO of a job where your job description isn’t very closely aligned to what you’re doing most of the time and what people value most among your contributions. Even if people love the side-of-the-desk stuff it will. not. keep. you. hired.

      2. spock*

        In normal times, sure. But now, if the employee is fired, they’re just going to have to do more work probably. Not like the company will hire anyone to replace them soon if they’re already considering layoffs.

      3. Claire*

        The question here is if the problem is that she’s badly messing up and her teammates have to correct her work, or if she just isn’t performing as well as she should be–like, taking an hour for a task that really should take fifteen minutes. If it’s the former, her team might be relieved; if it’s the latter, her team will probably just end up with more work, as it’s unlikely that they’re going to be able to replace her with a better performer at this time.

        1. Brittany Constable*

          I think there are also degrees to “performing as well as they should be.” Like I have a friend whose company just let someone go who was more on the scale of taking two days for a task that should take 15 minutes. Plus they were missing major things that caused huge multi-team crises–and all of these problems predated the shutdown. And this person’s failures were creating significantly more work for my friend, who was already stretched thin, dealing with their own health problems, and also going to school full time. I feel bad for the person who was let go, but they were fundamentally unsuited for the job, and keeping them around would have been at the expense of everyone else.

    2. KHB*

      Does that calculus change if the rest of your team is working harder to compensate for the underperforming colleague (while possibly juggling childcare/their own personal situations during the pandemic)? Because, while I’m sure it’s demoralizing to work for a company that’s letting people go right now for any reason, it’s also demoralizing to be stuck on a team with somebody who’s not pulling their weight, and knowing that nothing can be done about it.

      1. Mediamaven*

        I made this same point in a different place. I don’t think we can just give blanket advice without considering the employee, the dynamics on the rest of the team, the financial ramifications etc…

        1. KHB*

          Yeah, I think there’s a whole lot of “it depends” to be factored in here. Another thing it might depend on is whether the underperformance is more of a general deficiency (slacking off, missing deadlines, making mistakes because they’re just not paying enough attention) as opposed to the person just not being quite right for this particular role (e.g., you needed a brilliant rice sculptor, you hired a brilliant millet sculptor, but oops, those skills aren’t as cross-transferable as you’d hoped). If you hired the wrong person for the job, that’s at least as much a you problem as it is a them problem.

      2. Chili*

        That’s definitely something to consider! It could change the calculus depending on how bad the performance is and if you could fill the role right away and onboard remotely right now. It seems like from the letter the OP doesn’t really want to fire the employee, so I had assumed this employee, while underperforming, was not causing a bunch of issues or burdening others, but that could be wrong!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I believe OP also said she is nice.

          More proof that being likable matters. It makes bosses pause in moments like this.

  5. Bookworm*

    #2: Agree, would try to couch it as that you are an available resource to help and may be able to do take a task or two off of your supervisor’s load OR perhaps help somewhere else utilizing your skills. Good luck!

    1. TCO*

      Yes, if there’s anyone else OP #2 works with, OP could consider offering their help to those coworkers.

    2. SusanB*

      Yep. And ask around. At my work a lot of people are being furloughed but we need a ton more people working in IT so anyone with any amount of computer skills has been helpful to that department and they’ve taken on quite a few people. I took on someone extra from another area to help some of the weekend work so I’m not working 7 days a week. He had messaged me a few times but in the intial week after we all went remotely I didn’t have the time to develop the training documents for him. I finally did in late last week so we were able to start then. Be patient, think of areas you might be able to help out and be patient with the people who lead those areas so they can find the right time to onboard you.

    3. old curmudgeon*

      Additionally, depending on which state and which agency OP#2 is in, there is a possibility that agencies could be lending/borrowing staff to help with overloads in certain areas. If OP#2 can get her boss’s permission to check in with her state’s Labor agency, or with the Health Service agency, she might find that her help would be very, very welcome there.

      I realize she said that she doesn’t have experience in other areas, but neither do any of our agency’s program and policy analysts who got drafted to help process UI claims when the volume shot up by 9,000% (no exaggeration). People who are helping out start with an intensive 3-day training course before they’re turned loose, and they’re kept focused on the simpler issues to free up the experienced people for the complex ones, but even that much makes a big difference in the agency’s ability to respond to the desperate need for help in our state.

      There are definitely positions and tasks that have pretty much come to a screeching halt right now, but there are also jobs that have simply exploded, where it’s all-hands-on-deck and no questions asked, they’ll take anyone who’s willing to help. If OP#2’s boss is willing to let her offer, that could be a very effective way to engage in productive effort.

  6. Lupe*

    For LW1, I’d push back with the suggestion that firing someone in the middle of a pandemic is has the potential to cause significant bad PR for the business if it gets out, and is likely to hurt morale internally too. A glassdoor review about the company firing someone in the middle of a pandemic would absolutely stop me from working there, or generally dealing with them in future.

    1. Anon4This*

      So, I have recent personal experience with this because the person that I mentioned above, who we fired for making pretty gross comments about female coworkers’ bodies and ethnicities, despite repeated instruction to stop, already posted a Glassdoor review flaming us for firing him in the midst of a global pandemic. It, of course, makes no reference to the actual, explicitly-stated reasons for the firing, but it does call us cruel and heartless for letting him go under these circumstances.

      I could not keep this person on my team – I’m not sure a Glassdoor review saying, “I quit during a global pandemic because a coworker was repeatedly sexually harassing me, and management didn’t do anything about it,” is any better, and I also can’t do anything about being flamed online for firing him.

      1. User 483*

        You could maybe have a couple of the harrassed employees post their own Glassdoor reviews about how the company looked after them in such a situation even when it was more difficult with the current situation.

      2. Lupe*

        Urg, that is really awful, and is also one of the few reasons I’d view as being acceptable to fire someone in this time. Wish you had a right to respond, definitely don’t get the harrassed employees involved there though.

        I think there’s something to be discussed here about messaging, internally. I’m not sure there’s a good way of letting employees know that there was a very good reason this guy was fired, but as an employee, I’d love to know.

        1. JessB*

          I think this is a good reminder that many situations are more complicated than they might appear at first, including firing someone during a global pandemic. It’s really hard to stand behind a blanket statement like ‘I’d never work for or deal with a company who fired someone during the COVID-19 pandemic.’

          1. Lupe*

            So, I’m actually pretty comfortable saying that, without any other information, firing someone in the USA, in the middle of a pandemic, makes you morally repugnant enough that people shouldn’t work for you.

            1) Health insurance is tied to employment.

            2) Causing someone to lose health insurance in the middle of a pandemic endangers their life, making it more likely for them to wait longer to seek treatment for, say, COVID based pneumonia, and making it harder to access treatment in general.

            3) If the company fires someone in the middle of a pandemic, I now have pretty good information that the company values the productivity of its workers more than keeping them alive. Therefore, I would not work for them.

            This does not hold in the case discussed by Anon4this, because there’s generally safety concerns, and the doctrine of double effect applies. You’re removing a threat to the health and well-being (mental or physical) of your employees, and in the process someone terrible happens to get fired. It sucks that there’s not a good way to convey this, because it is absolutely a mitigating circumstance.

            This is a bit more complex in other countries with national health services, but I think it’s morally pretty clear cut in America.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Anon4, I think that many people read those reviews carefully, if they do read them. It’s surprising how many of the reviews can be transparent to the reader. The reader can get the idea that the company needed to be shed of the writer.

        Eh, prepare how you will answer various audiences- employees, new hires. interviewees, etc. It’s a legit question and Alison has already said it is fine to ask a potential employer what their response to the current crisis is.
        Some people might not bat an eye about one firing but are more concerned about patterns say – numerous firings.
        Also I think that review falls from sight after a bit?

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Why would it cause bad PR for the business? “I was fired for bad performance” is a factual statement — anything else like “I was fired to save money in the context of an epidemic” is likely to be perceived as the sour grapes that it would be. I especially don’t understand why it would hurt morale internally to keep someone who’s not pulling their weight, places an additional load on their co-workers to pick up as a result…

      1. Nephron*

        There is unlikely to be a 100% fair unbiased accounting of what happened. The employee might not even be the person bringing it up in public. If an employee is fired right now you will easily have rumors spreading and people could disagree with whether she was that bad an employee and now within the industry there is chatter about company X fired someone during the pandemic. That can look bad to applicant pools, customers, or current employees, and if a facebook post or a small news article goes viral it could get worse. And as the company you don’t want to start releasing why you fired the person, because they might not have said anything publicly it was all a coworker.

  7. Fikly*

    #1: I agree 100% with AAM here.

    But “Should I just … drag out this process so I don’t have to deal with it?” is super problematic. As a manager, your strategy for dealing with problems should never be avoidance (with perhaps the rare exception).

    I’m hoping this is just reflective of the massive amount of stress everyone is under, but please, check this attitude.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Yeah, I don’t agree with the last sentence. Over here we’ve seen a good amount of people talking about bad coworkers that no manager ever dealt with, despite all the evidence.

  8. MollyG*

    #1 You said that you were going to put them on a PIP, which implies that you did not yet, but you are talking about firing them. I know you probably believe the PIP will do nothing to help, but the purpose of a PIP is to give the person a fair shot of redemption. It seems like you already have your mind made up and that is not right.

    1. Neon*

      This depends on the company.

      The purpose of a PIP is often to have a very complete and mutually agreed-upon paper trail prior to firing somebody for poor performance, so that they can’t claim that it was unfair/discriminatory or surprising due to lack of prior negative feedback etc. Why do you think they make people sign and date the contents of their PIP documents – it’s to prove that they actually saw them.

      Sure, it occasionally happens that a PIP is a wake-up call and upon receiving one an employee starts to perform at standard and goes on to be a contributing member of the team.

      But realistically, it’s also part of the process of “I am going to fire this person”.

      1. MollyG*

        I understand that is how it commonly works but that is dishonest and defeats the purpose of a PIP.

        1. A New Level of Anon*

          Is it really dishonest? By the time a PIP gets written up an employee has usually already established a pattern of poor performance. If the pattern’s persisted despite more informal interventions, why would anyone assume they’ll get their act together just because of a piece of paper?

          1. Improving Reads*

            Yes, it’s dishonest. It’s a Performance Improvement Plan. The clue is in the name! The point is to try to improve the performance. If you go in with the assumption that the performance will not improve, that’s likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. No one feels supported and motivated by such a plan when it’s coming from hopeless management who’ve clearly given up and have no idea how to help employees improve! Why even bother unless you are genuinely interested in helping them improve? Just fire them. At least that’s honest!

  9. OP #4*

    Thanks, Alison! I did reach out after I sent in my letter using verbage from other AAM follow-up recommendations, and it came out to be along the same lines as this advice. I had a second interview after that exchange, and the hiring manager was set to make a final decision afterward. She did mention that she does not yet have any idea of how this new hire would onboard, and she has not yet received work equipment/materials needed for the new position to start. No word yet since the interview, but I am hopeful.

  10. Holy Moley*

    As an office manager “teleworking” I am like LW2 however, Im not pestering my boss who is dealing with bigger issues right now. He knows I am here and ready to work on projects. I check in daily. You can really only do so much as an admin via telework and thats ok. This isn’t a normal situation. Find something to do professionally (training courses, write SOPs, etc.) or personally (podcasts, hobby, etc.). You will be ok.

    1. Quill*

      I have to be on call for emergency analysis but there has been a LOT of podcast listening and random 10 minute chores going on here.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I’ve been getting lots of knitting done and learning how to make sourdough (along with half the country, judging by my FB feed). My boss is well aware I don’t have lots to do (since even before this happened I probably only had 25 hours of work a week, if that) but I don’t feel the need to point it out to her since I know she knows to ask me to do things if there’s something she can ask me to do. I am more than willing to step up and do random things outside my job description just to keep busy. Part of that stems from the issue that I don’t want them to suddenly look at me and be like, Hmm, SGL sure doesn’t do much around here, let’s just get rid of her. But more of it stems from the fact that I don’t like to be twiddling my thumbs while my coworkers are really busy with tasks I can’t help them with, so when there _is_ a task I can do, I’m happy to do it.

  11. Jdc*

    A note regarding time off right now. My husband is working from home and is a government employee. They sent out an email Friday saying to keep taking time off as needed or sick days. I was very impressed with their understanding that we are all a bit burnt out right now. They mentioned something about maintaining mental health. He is taking a half day today just because he’s a bit burned out so he can enjoy a warm day we are finally having outdoors in our garden. He has tons of PTO he risks losing by year end and with no idea when he will be back in the office it’s good timing. Plus I’m guessing once he’s back in the office his presence will be more important in getting f things back to normal.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      My boss called a short meeting with our team yesterday to remind us that while we’re working from home, we’re expected to be working our normal hours. Don’t work through lunch, don’t keep working into the evening, just your usual 8-5 (or whatever) and get away from your computer for lunch.

      As a more senior member of the team, I jumped in with a couple of pieces of advice:
      1 – Shut your work computer down at the end of the day. Don’t just lock the screen. Don’t just log off. Shut the whole thing down. Let it be an effort to get back on.
      2 – Take your vacation time. We’ve still got it, we can still take it. Also, I’m taking this Friday as a vacation day and won’t be around. (My boss had already approved said vacation day, which is why I felt comfortable mentioning this.)

    2. BadWolf*

      So many people will have cancelled vacations that taking some time now is probably useful to spread out time instead of everyone trying to jam it in later in the year (hopefully).

      Our management specifically said, consider taking a day or half day for a break. We could definitely take vacation too — just the nudge to take some smaller pieces isn’t bad.

      1. Tau*

        Yes – I’m in a non-US country with higher vacation allotments, and I’ve heard people really worrying about how they can possibly stop all their employees from immediately taking their weeks’ worth of accumulated leave when this is over and leaving the place a ghost town. Someone taking time off now would be very reassuring to those people!

    3. NowWhat?456*

      This. I just spoke with my manager yesterday about taking a day, and she fully encouraged it.

      That being said, I’m being much more flexible than I normally would when I take a day off. Typically I’ll ask for specific day because I’m doing something that day. Now, since I have nowhere to go I don’t have my heart set on specific days. So I asked for either Friday or Monday off so I could have a 3 day weekend, but my team could have a say in which day depending on workloads and meetings.

      1. Autumnheart*

        I don’t have any particular plans, but I just had a conversation today because my PTO is use-or-lose on the anniversary of our hire dates. I had already delayed taking PTO in order to accommodate other coworkers, high-visibility projects and general workload, but now I’ve got 80 hours to burn by the end of May. On the one hand, I’m like “Well, it’s not like I’m going anywhere, and frankly I feel glad to be employed right now,” but on the other hand, it would really chap my hide to lose two weeks of PTO just because I was too accommodating. But it’s on the calendar now, with my offer that if things get crazy, I can always log on.

        1. Jdc*

          Some of the most relaxing vacation days are those with no plans. My mom has a very large bank of pto after many years so she takes off a week every quarter. Just to, whatever. She then uses her other time as one usually would. She really looks forward to that week to relax, maybe do a project around the house, anything.

    4. Perse's Mom*

      Yep, this was asked recently at a company web meeting, if the PTO cap (currently 160 hours) would be raised to account for people being unable to travel. The CEO response was basically – take time off anyway. De-stress, focus on your family instead of work, focus on your health.

  12. JekyllandJavert*

    #1: I have to disagree with AAM here. At the end of the day, work is still going on and things still need to be done. It’s nothing personal. But if the business still has goals they need to meet and this person isn’t meeting those goals, they need to give those responsibilities to someone who can. There’s no telling how long this will go on and it’s not fair to the company to expect them to retain someone who has a history of poor performance. If this person just wasn’t performing well because of the changing circumstances, I’d feel differently. But since they evidently can’t perform when things are normal, it’s time to cut them loose. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Pushing it off to whoever may replace you though, would be an awful move on your part.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m usually the first one to say that. This is different.

      There was time to deal with performance problems before this happened. Ethics aside (although I don’t believe we should put ethics aside), doing it now at this particular moment in time will make you look horrible to other employees, who are always the audience for things like this.

      1. Tableau Wizard*

        I think part of the problem is the avoidance of the last line of the letter:
        ” Also, my company has started to float around the possibility of potential layoffs, and I’m interviewing somewhere else and might be leaving soon. Should I just … drag out this process so I don’t have to deal with it?”

        If the question was simply, “We’ve had performance problems with an employee in the past that we didn’t fully deal with, but should we even consider firing them in the current pandemic?”, it would be easier to accept the “this is different”

        If we remove the idea that the OP is pushing off this problem for their own replacement, and simply suggesting that they manage with the current team for the time being, then it’s easier to accept Alison’s advice (which i think is excellent)

        1. boo bot*

          I would agree with you in normal circumstances, but I kind of empathize with the OP on this, given that the best-case scenario is to put the firing on pause, rather than to prevent it.

          Decisive action by the OP would mean either firing the employee now (which they don’t want to do) or convincing HR not to fire her until pandemic-mode is over (which HR doesn’t seem to want to do).

          Dragging out the process so that the worker has pay and health insurance as long as possible might actually be the best outcome the OP can control, right now.

      2. Mediamaven*

        But what if the other employees are tired and fed up with having to work extra hard to make up for the poor performer? What if they are tired of picking up the slack and have been asking you to do something about it for months before this started, and everything you tried didn’t help, and now it’s even harder on them? It’s possible that there might be a sigh of relief if they felt that pressure alleviated.

        1. professor*

          But that pressure won’t be alleviated until someone new is hired, which is not going to happen right now…

          1. Cordoba*

            That depends on how bad the performance of the employee in question is.

            Many bad employees generate net negative work, and replacing them with an empty chair still improves the lives and workloads of the people they work with.

          2. Mediamaven*

            What do you mean that isn’t going to happen right now? Millions of people are out of work right now! It’s never been an easier time to hire if you have a position!

            1. G*

              Onboarding someone remotely to the point where they can operate independently and contribute in a meaningful manner is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in many industries and lines of work.

              And that’s assuming they are able to handle the interview/application process entirely remote and without service providers potentially shut down (3rd party back ground checks etc.).

              The vast majority of my clients are that have open positions have put them on hold for these reasons.

              1. Mediamaven*

                If I needed to hire someone right now I could do it very easily. Many, many people could. Would it be ideal? No, but definitely doable.

                1. fhqwhgads*

                  If the company is also considering layoffs, they’re very unlikely to be hiring right now.

            2. KD*

              Most employers (besides supermarkets) are implementing hiring freezes right now. At my university, if someone leaves right now, they won’t be able to hire a replacement for at least a year.

              1. Mr. Shark*

                Yes, this. If they are talking about possible layoffs, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to hire someone new.

                1. KHB*

                  On the other hand, if they’re talking about possible layoffs, firing the unproductive employee could mean that one less person needs to be laid off.

        2. Hiring Mgr*

          none of that was mentioned in the letter…there are millions of jobs where one person’s performance (good or bad), doesn’t affect others in that way

    2. Batgirl*

      “If this person just wasn’t performing well because of the changing circumstances, I’d feel differently”
      The thing is, the situation wasn’t bad enough for this person to be fired immediately during ‘normal times’. You can’t go back and post date the response. Yes, this person is failing to improve but that may well be because improvement is a bit of a tall order in times like these. The bottom of their life may be falling out.
      If OP thinks they were too hesitant with a no-hoper and should have fired them sooner; well lesson learned but it’s too late now. If however, they think it’s possible the employee could have possibly turned things around with a chance; I’d argue they still haven’t had that chance.

  13. Programs Staff*

    My company (35 employees) fired someone last week for performance issues.

    We are a non-profit funded by government grants and memberships, so we aren’t seeing a big drop in revenue just yet. Management has taken the point of view that the performance issues dated to the employee’s hire less than a year ago, and cutting this expense from the budget was the financially responsible choice.

    But, personally, I think it was a lousy thing to do and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  14. Trout 'Waver*

    I disagree with the response to #1. If you fire someone who’s not doing their job, you can hire someone else who will do the job. There are lots of people out there who got recently laid off that are looking for a job. How lousy must it be to be looking for a job, knowing that there are people out there not doing their own jobs, and not having openings because of optics.

    1. Mediamaven*

      I think this is an important point. It’s challenging to know there is an incredible talent pool out there right now but we can’t access it because we have a couple of underperformers who were so before this happened. I think we need to remember that healthy companies will help jumpstart the economy faster than struggling ones. Jobs will come back faster and more people will start working again much more quickly. That is critical for all the people out of work.

    2. Fikly*

      But it’s not “just” optics.

      Yes, you can get rid of the employee who is not doing there job. But those “optics” mean that you could very well lose employees who are doing their jobs. Especially the very good employees, who are the ones most likely to have other options.

      It’s not just about that one position. It’s about all the other positions. To fire this one person right now is very short-sighted, even if you look at this purely from the perspective of what will hurt or help the company the most, rather than morals or ethics.

      Maybe it shouldn’t be like this. But it is how it is, and we all have to deal with reality.

      1. Allonge*

        On the other hand, very good employees also leave as performance issues go unaddressed, and they have to carry a heavier workload to make up for the non-performers. So this is a double-edged mater, and as always, there is no good solution that will leave everyone feeling good about themselves.

        1. Fikly*

          Sure, but that’s all the more reason to make it extremely clear, if they do fire this person, that it’s a performance-related firing, and not a layoff. Because otherwise it looks like a company that wouldn’t take action until they had a convenient excuse.

    3. Programs Staff*

      I replied above that my company just fired someone.

      We aren’t hiring anyone right now. The job will just go unfilled. We won’t hire anyone because finances are uncertain but more because hiring and training remotely would be too challenging.

      In my company’s specific case, we’ve cast someone out – with no health insurance – into a very uncertain job market. Maybe if he were a bad person or had done something terrible, that would be warranted but in this case, it seems cruel.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Lots of those who are unemployed right now aren’t looking for jobs though. They’re classified as “temporary lay off” and all they have to do to stay on unemployment is “stay in contact” with their employer.

      I know a huge chunk of people who are not looking for work, they’re waiting for their phone call to return to work and the state’s lift of the stay-at-home order.

      And it’s a good point that lots of places are cutting jobs and not adding them right now.

  15. Phony Genius*

    It’s interesting that on #1, Alison’s bar for firing somebody has been raised to “punched several clients.” Apparently, punching one client will result in nothing worse than a PIP. (I know she was mostly joking there.)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Given the stories I hear coming out of the trenches in the grocery stores…I could def see raising the bar to “several” =X Kidding of course…but seriously, if you’re close enough to get punched…B-R-O. ;)

  16. MsChanandlerBong*

    My company has had to fire a couple people over the last few weeks, and I feel somewhat bad about it, but I don’t feel THAT bad. All the firings were for performance issues. With the exception of one person, who was fired for plagiarizing (the only thing we really have a “no-tolerance” policy against), every person had received multiple warnings and offers of assistance. We offered to jump on Google Hangouts/Skype and walk them through the style guide/writer handbook/training materials, answer questions, etc. None of them took us up on it. We informed them that their accounts were in danger of being closed due to poor quality work/missed deadlines. They continued to submit things late or not follow instructions. I do feel a bit bad that they lost a source of income, but I’m also happy that we now have some spots open for writers who are in need of money and will follow directions/meet deadlines. (Just to be clear, we hire freelancers on a 1099 basis, so no one is losing a full-time income, health insurance, dental insurance, etc.)

    1. Beehoppy*

      What kind of writing are you in need of ? I am a kick-ass writer who is obsessive about deadlines.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        We do projects for all kinds of companies, from Fortune 500 retailers to small businesses in need of monthly blog posts. A lot of it is marketing copy (product descriptions, for example), but we also do informative articles and such.

  17. anonymouse*

    Question 1 is just so…ouch to read. Someone in my department was fired the *day* before we all went to remote due to COVID-19. It was absolutely not planned that way – the first day of mandatory WFH was meant to be a test to make sure our IT systems could handle mass remote work if things escalated in the future. That was a Friday. Things escalated. By Sunday, management announced full-time WFH was optional for the entire company; by the following Friday, they’d closed the offices.

    I strongly suspect that if management had known just how bad things were going to get, and how quickly, they would have held off on firing her. Letting her go was absolutely merited under normal circumstances (serious performance issues, dysfunctional attitude towards her job and her team, on a PIP but not improving) and they had good reasons for doing it then, or what would have been good reasons, *under normal circumstances* (just ramping up on a major project for later in the year, and they needed someone competent in her role). But these are not normal circumstances. I can’t help thinking about her, and wondering how she’s doing.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Same here. On Friday WFH was optional and by Monday it was mandatory until further notice. I hope she was able to hand in everything and sign all the paperwork before the Goverment declared lockdown. Otherwise, it sucks even more.

      1. Gatomon*

        I think a lot of places are grabbing any cost savings they can, whether they “need” to yet or not. In telecom we are an essential business, but without the threat of disconnects or late fees for 60 days, how many customers will pay their bill? And lots of orders in progress that are on hold because the customer is closed, so new revenue isn’t getting turned up either…. There’s definitely a cash flow question looming.

  18. Retail not Retail*

    #2 – my crew doesn’t have enough essential work to do to justify exposing others and ourselves 40 hours a week. My boss is obsessed with appearing productive so we’re working through the backlog of projects.

    On the one hand, yay getting things done! On the other, we should be doing the bare minimum we shouldn’t be HERE. (I’m actually taking advantage of the fact that we’re getting paid every day this week whether we show up or not – to minimize exposure!)

    I wonder how others who have to be at the office but have less work are handling it. I’ve had boring jobs, they suck. But a boring job when you’re risking your health and safety?

    1. Tableau Wizard*

      wait, so you’re still required to show up to work even though there’s not enough work to justify that? and in order to justify it (and therefore put everyone at risk), they’re just working through old projects IN PERSON?

      oh that makes me so mad.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        Oh yeah – it’s bonkers. The other departments within our division are working reduced hours and days (on the 3 days I worked last week no one stayed until 3 on the dot but us!).

        It would be great if my boss had delegated ahead of time and said “okay we’ll alternate so not everyone is here at the same time, and these tasks can be done with plenty of space between you.” The basic maintenance tasks we have to do don’t take a whole week and definitely don’t require close contact.

        But he didn’t!

        It’s not even about justifying paying us our usual 40 hours, we are extra bodies that do not need to be here! We can get it, we can spread it, and uh i work at a zoo and the news out of the bronx helped seal the deal on “not coming in every day this week see ya”

          1. Retail not Retail*

            Yup! They’re getting extra enrichment and things are moving at about the same daily schedule. We hear the lion roaring about 30 minutes before he comes outside.

            Some of them clearly miss the attention and/or action – gibbons and lions miss their tv show. One animal saw me walking by and galloped across the long enclosure but just as it got next to me, it turned its head like. Okay now I know you’re here, please admire me.

            I don’t work with the animals but I do love watching them!

      2. MayLou*

        That’s ridiculous. If you have work that has to be done and can’t be done remotely, I can see an argument for being in the office if you’re not personally high risk or exposing someone at home who is. But otherwise, the default should be to stay home! Your management is not doing this right.

        1. Retail not Retail*

          Looking at the next post – he had to take a retroactive four day quarantine. He was supposed to contact the people who weren’t at work (half of us are tues-sat, he’s sun-thurs). He didn’t! So I walked in last Tuesday like… where are the managers…?

          When he explained this pay period to us he said he expected us to work our usual schedule because we care yadda yadda yadda but if you feel unsafe… meanwhile – except for poor food and animal people – no one else is working 40 hours a week on site!

  19. Angelinha*

    For the person who might be fired…if the company is going to do layoffs anyway, can they just lay her off? (Not to sound cavalier, but if someone has to be laid off, the person with performance issues sounds like a good candidate.)

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      …maybe. The problem with masking a firing with a layoff is that it’s better for the employee to know why this is happening. There’s a difference between “we can’t afford to keep you right now, sorry” and “your work doesn’t meet our standards and we can’t keep you here, sorry”.
      I only hope OP’s employer doesn’t lay off people.

    2. Amy Sly*

      She’s almost certainly going to be near the top of HR’s layoff list if she’s still working by the time layoffs come around.

    3. old curmudgeon*

      I had the same thought. The company I was working for in the 2008 crash used the first round of layoffs to remove a whole lot of deadwood that managers knew were problems but that the managers just didn’t want to go through the hassle of the whole PIP, warnings, suspensions, termination process. I didn’t agree with it, but I can see how an employer can see a layoff as an opportunity to focus on the ones they really want to get rid of.

      Obviously wouldn’t work at a union shop or in civil service settings with rigid rules about who has to be let go first, but there are a lot fewer of those nowadays than used to be the case.

  20. Tiffany In Houston*

    If you have to fire the person, it would be a kindness to offer a small severance and not contest their unemployment during this time. I was fired in this way, and while it wasn’t during a global health crisis, it was a help and I was grateful. I did deserve the firing.

    1. ...*

      Yeah I think there is a medium here. We have laid some people off already and healthcare is paid for a couple months for them, so they aren’t immediately out of healthcare.

  21. Delta Delta*

    Ouch. Yeah, I wouldn’t fire someone right now. I think it’s entirely fair to set guidelines of what’s expected, understanding of course that not everyone can do the same level of work due to various at-home circumstances. But it also feels unfair to not let the employee know there’s a need to work to a certain level.

    Also, I don’t know exactly how the small business loans work, but if the company gets one of those, it may be necessary to keep all the employees for a certain time so it becomes a grant.

  22. voyager1*

    My company announced a merger at the end of last year. They released to investors that the bulk of layoffs will be this year at the time. They are proceeding with that even with the pandemic.

    Personally if I knew I could get out by taking a another job somewhere else to avoid laying someone off I would. Sure it is cowardly.

    Laying anyone off for any reason isn’t going to end well right now.

    1. voyager1*

      Whoops meant to say firing instead of laying off in the second and last paragraphs.

    2. Mediamaven*

      Will not end well? Companies are laying people off right now not to be meanies, but to SURVIVE. To others employed. The ramifications of a recessions don’t just extend to line workers. It’s the ability to stay in business. It has nothing to do with being cowardly. It’s a very elementary way of looking at the mechanics of an economy. No one wants to lay people off. No one.

  23. Archaeopteryx*

    OP1 if it was behavioral, like aggression or rudeness they’d been warned about before, I’d say still fire them. But work performance? No one’s been performing at top ability these past few weeks; she may just be too stressed to adequately complete the PIP.

    It would definitely demoralize your staff to fire someone, especially someone nice, at a time like this.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I was waiting for someone to make this comment.

      I agree completely. It seems that the employee had issues before this pandemic began; if she’s going to improve her performance, it certainly isn’t going to be now.

  24. I'm just here for the cats*

    I am in the admin assistants shoes. What I’ve been able to do is take free professional development courses. It can be a bit boring but some are very interesting and I’ve started projects based on the info I’ve learned. I would see if your company has some type of online courses or if they would pay for online courses through LinkedIn leaning or other websites.

  25. Tinker*

    I think this goes to the thing that has come up repeatedly here over the years: it does not pay to sit on addressing performance issues. Because if you go on silently vibrating with frustration, in addition to that not being productive you run the risk of something happening that makes raising the issue a real bad look — the employee gets pregnant, the employee gets seriously ill, a massive disaster, etc.

    And I would guess too that when that happens it actually turns the screws on the frustration independent of whether it aggravates the productivity problem as well, because being relatively free to pursue firing is sort of a relief in the back of one’s mind and taking that away increases the pressure.

    I do think it’s a different matter that if layoffs were to occur the person who is notable for producing less looks awfully appealing — even though on purely practical grounds it’s basically the same thing of “you now don’t have a job anymore because you weren’t useful enough to justify it”, the economic cause being primary avoids the need to debate so much about what their individual performance was.

  26. Tomalak*

    What I find surprising about this letter is that it sounds like HR is gung-ho for firing her. HR departments are usually known for erring towards being super cautious, hamstringing managers who want to get rid of people and overreacting wildly to the risk of being sued by disgruntled employees. Why is this HR department taking the opposite tack?

    1. Amy Sly*

      Depends, but if it’s a company with a minimal corporate structure HR may be getting looped in on how precarious the company’s finances are. In which case, they’re thinking about how firing deadwood means that the productive workers can still get paid without borrowing money.

      I understand the concern about optics, and maybe I’m just more mercenary-minded than most, but my reaction to my company firing an under-performing coworker would be less “oh how awfully mean my employer is” but “they can afford to keep paying me for a while longer.”

      1. Mediamaven*

        Same. For some reason so many people aren’t understanding the intensity of the situation for companies right now. It’s precarious. Companies are legit going out of business and we are looking at 20 million people out of work. Optics are unfortunately not the only factor that needs to be considered right now. Can’t make payroll and rent with good optics.

      2. Allonge*

        No, yeah, me too. I have seen the comments on how ‘people should come before companies’ and sure, they should, but everyone else who works there, and performs well, is also a person, and their livelihood matters too – and if the company goes down, that goes away. And in this particular case low performance came before the pandemic, so it’s not firing somenone based on five days of not performing 110%.

        Of course, if it’s possible to keep people without any risk to the company, that is different.

    2. HR- Occam's Razor*

      I can’t speak to their HR but I can share my perspective coming from a recent termination.
      If the decision has been made than lets trust it’s the correct decision determined by both Management and HR.
      One thing HR hates almost as much as poorly planned terminations are terms that were initiated then backed off in process. If they’re terming correctly it’s not just walking up to the employee and saying pack up your desk. There is a lot going on behind the scenes. We recently had a payroll mess the CFO reamed me for because the VP, who waffles, had a change of heart at the last second.
      The other point I’ll make is support of an earlier statement made- There has never been stronger support for a terming workforce than at this time. Yes, pay some severance and extend the medical a few months but she’s likely to go at some point in the near future.

    3. Kes*

      I wonder if it’s partly that they need to cut costs and are already looking at layoffs. From that perspective, it’s one less person to cut, who would probably be getting cut anyway, and with less costs sooner. If they do manage to avoid layoffs, this is a situation which could and likely will go on for months – continuing to pay a non-performer when the business is struggling is not great for the business. HR does probably want to ensure the process is followed, but it sounds like OP has already been doing this.

  27. Delphine*

    LW#3, my company, and a few other companies I know of have asked employees to take off time during the quarantine and to avoid canceling any PTO already scheduled. Their reasoning is that it’s not feasible for everyone to take vacation time in the second half of the year, or whenever things go back to normal.

  28. JediSquirrel*

    Did we ever get an update to the person who had to fire someone and was afraid their family would become violent? I know she updated throughout the post, but did she ever give a final update?

  29. Art3mis*

    There’s someone in my department that should be fired. He’s just flat out incompetent and makes errors all the time. Really he should have been gone over a year ago. Having said that, firing him right now would not be great. I know he’s single and doesn’t really have any other family to lean on. He’s older and has health problems, he’s smack dab in the middle of “high risk” so I’d hate for him to lose his income and health insurance right now.

  30. RedinSC*

    For the assistant stuck at home…It was slow going getting our remote workers up and fulling running, but here are some ideas of things you can float to your boss that I have found helpful with my remote staff.

    1. Ask her if there are meetings (call in) that she or another team member have to attend that are primarily information that you could call into and take notes. You’re representing your office, BUT mostly there to take the notes. This has helped me and my CEO tremendously, offloading some of these calls to a staff who can be our ears there.
    2. As you’re still on the payroll, are there none profits that your office works with? They probably need help handing writing thank you letters. I would not call them and just ask if they need general help, but ask “do you need help hand writing thank you letters to your donors” OR “do you need help making thank you calls do your donors” Either of these you can do from your home office and really help out the strapped for staff non profit.
    3. Look at the projects that all need to be done at your office, are there processes that need to be documented? Things like that? Suggest you take on that. What was your crisis response, has that be documented so it doesn’t have to be reinvented in the chance that this all happens again?

    Good luck, be patient, it’s difficult right now being pulled in so many directions.

  31. Employment Lawyer*

    Yes, you can fire someone in the middle of a pandemic. However you cannot fire them BECAUSE they took leave (or for another protected reason) and that may look bad if they have done so, so consult a lawyer first.

    It may not be wise due to optics but that is a PR question. Certainly, I don’t think it’s per se unethical. They will be eligible for unemployment and social services. They may well be in a better situation than other, less-deserving, folks: You should not judge either way. They are also the primary driver of the consequences, since you’re not randomly firing them for an immutable trait. And if you fire someone bad then you have more money for the people who are performing well, and you may preserve your company (to who you may also owe some duty.)

    Ethics require fair and reasonable treatment here; they do not require you to give special treatment to someone who is a bad performer.

      1. sabrina*

        unemployment max $400?
        Challenging at this stressful situation to find a new job? Not fair in my opinion.

  32. OolonColuphid*

    Don’t fire someone during a pandemic. No, there is never a good time to be fired, but this is probably one of the absolute worst times in history for it.

  33. 1qtkat*

    For the letter writer asking about following up after a interview, definitely follow Allison’s advice! I was in a similar position as you. I wrote close to verbatim what Allison recommended to the hiring manager yesterday afternoon, and I got the job offer call this morning! So yes employers are still interested in hiring, just have a little patience.

    To give background, I had my interview back in mid-Feb. I emailed a follow up 2 weeks later to the hiring manager, and instead got a generic rejection letter about a week later from the agency system. I thought that was it, and started planning my life based on not having the job, but a few weeks later I get an email response from the hiring manager apologizing for the delay (it was due to the pandemic of course), and that I was a top candidate and they wanted to move onto reference checks. My email yesterday was about 2 weeks after the last email. Understand that things may be moving a little slowly but I think if you email asking about every 2-3 weeks for an update I think is reasonable.

    I wish you a lot of luck!

  34. BlondeSpiders*

    Has The Cut always been behind a paywall? Apparently I’ve already read all my articles for the month (on the 7th) and I am unable to view this. :(

    1. There is a workaround*

      Psst… Clear your cookies or open the link in a new incognito window / Private window and you can still read it.

  35. MissDisplaced*

    For #1 Can’t you just lay this person off?
    If the company was planning cuts anyway, this person’s lackluster performance should put them at the forefront if the cuts. Seems like the kindest thing right now.

    1. J.B.*

      Yeah, if they’re talking about layoffs why not just do that. I mean, don’t lay off someone better and keep this person if layoffs are going to happen.

  36. sabrina*

    Hi- you sounds like a fair person.
    I got laid off 3 weeks ago suddenly!
    I was top performer of the company and got promotion recently. It was conflicts from other coworker who was so envious about this promotion and was challenging me over any simple task. So unfairly and suddennly amidst this uncertain employment environment, the owner of company who was my direct manager, laid off me!
    I am still at shock and feel like betrayed after that much hard-work. I was so so loyal to his company. I can not believe it!
    I stayed with him during his difficult time when other coworkers left company to competitor… so unfair
    Specially at this time!

  37. SisterSpooky*

    We’re moving forward with terminating someone due to accuracy issues that are resulting in monetary loss. This is a financial institution so while the company ultimately takes the loss, its the customer who initially experiences loss of funds Due to her negligence . So it’s Loss of funds and damage to our reputation at stake. Doesn’t feel like something we can sit on. She’s been though PIP, etc. she knew what she needed to do differently.

  38. Chris*

    The article was fairly US-centric. In Canada, being fired has zero impact on your access to healthcare. And in this pandemic, companies are getting a 75% wage subsidy if their monthly income, on a year over year basis, has dropped 30% (it’s presumed to be Covid related). Those laid off or fired can access number of accelerated provincial employment insurance programs, or the federal pandemic emergency benefit, which allows for $2,000 / month. It’s posts like this that make me truly realize how stark some of the differences between the US and everywhere else are.

    1. A New Level of Anon*

      True, but it does have an impact on your extended health care benefits, which may be of critical importance for people needing daily medication, or dental care.

  39. cncx*

    American who has worked all her grownup jobs in Europe here: I work in a jurisdiction where by law people who are fired have either a three month notice or three months salary. Depending on seniority and other factors, this can be bumped up to six, and some companies, if they know it is a bad time or the person might lawyer up, will pay severance (ive seen up to two years salary in one case where someone could have filed a borderline age discrimination case and they were basically getting paid not to sue). Health insurance is also not tied to employment here. So my feelings on someone getting fired now here versus getting fired in the US right now are very different.

    One thing i will say is i once worked at a company here where someone got fired and they deserved it. BUT this company had a history of giving other people generous severance, longer notice periods- two people stayed on for like a year getting paid and doing zero, and the like…and to see this person basically thrown out with the bare three months affected my opinion of the company. That said, i do know that keeping dead weights on teams can also hurt morale in the same way too. But equity in treatment is a big deal for me, and this person didn’t get treated fairly based on other people in the same position.

    So my advice to OP’s HR would be, ok maybe this person is a low performer, but what message would this send to the people who are still employed? is there a history of letting people drag on and if so, why drop the hammer on this one during a pandemic? Are there other people in the company who are also low performers but are protected for other reasons (nepotism, manager doesn’t care, whatever)? If i were an employee in good standing in this company, and i saw someone get fired and lose their benefits right now just for being a low performer (and not for being a sexual harasser or embezeller etc), i would really really lose any good faith in that company and be job searching as soon as things got back to normal. Especially if there were people who deserved to get sacked and didn’t.

    More broadly, i posted on my fb page the post a few days ago about childcare and wfh. there were strong cultural (and political, sadly) lines in my comments about the ones who think parents need to get cut maximum slack rn and those who should be held to the same performance standards as in the office. It’s amazing to me, even as an American, how stark divisions are between America and the rest of the world.

  40. OP #1*

    Hi everyone! Alison, thanks for answering my question.

    I talked to my manager about it, and she’s fully supportive on holding on setting up the PIP (in my company, the PIP is generally seen as the “last straw,” and usually comes after nothing else works). At my company, it’s the manager’s decision whether to go through with something like this. HR took the stance they did possibly because I was hesitant about if it’s right to do this right now, and I’m wondering if they knew that layoffs might be in our future and they wanted to make some decisions easier in that regard.

    Yes, I should have addressed the problems earlier, but like I said in the letter – this person tends to show improvement after some coaching, but then ultimately slips (and it’s performance related – mistakes, lack of attention to detail. Nothing egregious, but frequent enough to be frustrating to other members of the team). It usually goes in cycles of several months. I’ve tried to be optimistic and hopeful that it’ll stick for good, but I don’t know if that’s possible.

    Good news – this employee has been doing much better the last few weeks since we’ve been working from home. I’m wondering if working from home without the distractions of the office (or maybe the company floating around the word “layoffs…”) helped.

  41. Just Saying*

    Speaking as a coworker to someone who management was waffling on PIP before all this and now that someone has stopped working altogether (Yes, we’ve checked on her health and well being), it’s far more demoralizing to have management sit on their hands and do nothing than it would be for them to take action.

  42. Sapphire*

    Re: letter #1, all of this is pointing to the fact that in the United States, we have an absolutely abhorrent social safety net, largely because we abandoned the idea that governments should take care of their citizens in favor of “the free market” and “you have to work or you’re worthless.” Your ability to get basic needs like healthcare, housing, and food should not be contingent on your ability to work, and I really hope we all remember this when the pandemic is over.

    *Gets off soapbox*

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