what to say when people ask why an employee was fired

A reader writes:

I just fired someone. It was necessary, and I’ve got no regrets. But while this person was terrible in many ways, they did have a great relationship with some staff members they worked with. And those staff are asking us (no doubt influenced by personal contact from the fired employee) why we did it so “suddenly” (it wasn’t sudden), and how we could deprive them of someone so wonderful. Of course, our official stance is to say, “this is an HR matter.”

But wow, does that response not fly and people are pushing to know more. When, if ever, is it acceptable to give more information internally?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Sweat stains and business clothing
  • Resigning employee wants to buy a plane ticket from us
  • Telling a job applicant that I don’t want a LinkedIn resume
  • Giving a reference for someone who won’t talk to me

{ 218 comments… read them below }

  1. Hazel*

    The last one is just sad. A close friend died of alcoholism in February (after a very long struggle with drinking and being pretty sick from it), so this hits home for me.

  2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m suspicious of anyone who is shocked by someone being fired, everyone knows a lot more than they’re letting on and they’re stirring the pot after you finally make the decision to let someone go.

    Use Alison’s scripts and if they keep digging, you have to start disciplinary action towards them as well. They have to learn to take “it’s none of your business” as an answer in the end. Don’t fall for their charade, they can easily be another part of the problem that you didn’t know.

    Thankfully nobody in my career has been let go that’s hid their true colors so well, everyone knows immediately why Johnny was fired without being told, let alone them thinking it’s appropriate to ask the management “why” it happened.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      I have seen this play out at my company. Because of how large our department is, and how many different work streams there are, it’s possible to have nothing but positive interactions with someone whose direct supervisors/reports/closest teammates would describe as a nightmare. We have had some firings go pretty badly as a result. We also have a company culture that value transparency, with all the inevitable contradictions that poses when someone has a rightfully confidential issue. People think they know what’s going on, but they do not.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s so weird…if you’re thick as thieves enough to be bullheaded enough to push management as to why someone was fired because you only know the Good Jane, you really are taking such a huge weird inappropriate step for a virtual stranger.

        But this does make sense, so I appreciate some more insight into the possible setup!

        1. Kyrielle*

          At a previous job, I worked with a wonderful fellow who was kind and cheerful and great to talk to and just all-around seemed a very positive guy, and he could talk up what he was working on really well and it sounded like a promising contribution. He had a wife and cute baby we all met once or twice and occasionally saw pictures of.

          He also got almost none of his actual work done to a usable state, just talked about, but apparently something like half of the people in the office – a small office but having parts of several different teams, who worked more with folks in other offices than the other teams in the office – were not aware of that and they were stunned when he was let go.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I also worked with someone who was well-liked and easy to work with, too, but he never seemed to produce anything. My boss had several talks with him – I was never privy to details – and this fellow would do better for a while but lapsed into talking a good game without results. Half our team were also stunned when he was let go, because he was just so nice and easygoing. The other half weren’t happy about it, but not surprised.

            My boss never told anyone details, using the same template Alison suggested. It was tense for a while.

            1. leapingLemur*

              I worked with someone who was nice to people, but he also did very little work. I ended up picking up the slack. I was not sad when he was gone, but I think people who didn’t work with him were.

          2. Anonymous at a University*

            Yeah, I once worked with someone who was extremely popular, sympathetic to everyone, did things like bring people soup when they were sick- but he was mistreating students by making their grades depend on how much begging they did by e-mail to please get a good grade. I found this out, along with other people, when he somehow accidentally forwarded a student e-mail doing that to the all-faculty e-mail list.

            When he got put on paid leave, then fired, there were still people who were saying, “But Joe was so niiiiiiice, how could they fire him?” despite direct evidence. Some co-workers put way too much emphasis on how “nice” someone is as opposed to whether they’re actually doing their job.

            1. Ashley*

              This reminds of college when two professors didn’t get tenure and some many students complained because they were ‘so nice’. I kept reminded them don’t you remember how terrible their class was and how much we all struggled to understand the assignment? Nice does not equate able to do the job.

              1. Anonymous at a University*

                Ugh, yes. That was me with a professor in graduate school whom all the other students praised and were stunned when his lecturer contract wasn’t renewed. And also, at one point, the opposite, with student gossip about how “mean” a professor was even though her classes were great, well-attended, and she was kind and polite to everyone; it turned out the “mean” description came from her kicking a student out of the program after he tried to physically assault someone else. That’s not mean, that’s warranted.

            2. LizzE*

              Yes, people can absolutely be blinded by likability. I had a supervisor get canned last year and to me it was no surprise — she rested on her laurels for years, increasingly getting lazier and lazier as time went on, which ended up biting her in the ass when our organization got new leadership and evolved to be more strategic with our work. But she was so well-liked that people still lament that they miss her, even 18 months after her departure. What is funny about this is that some of these same people complained about her laziness and lack of follow-up for years, but the moment she got let go, suddenly those memories of her remembering birthdays, taking people out for cocktails or being a shoulder to cry during a rough patch overtook people’s memory of lousy work ethic. I think because she still talks to some of these people, they feel the need to be more sympathetic to her.

          3. MsChanandlerBong*

            That sounds like what’s happening at my work right now. If you didn’t have occasion to review any of this person’s work, you would think she’s equivalent to Snow White singing to the birds and charming all the forest animals. She is overly cheerful and performatively “helpful”–lots of Slack messages like “If you need ANYTHING at all, please feel free to call me or send me a message on Skype.” But if you review her work, you’ll notice that the amount of work she gets done doesn’t match what she says she did, and you’ll realize that the offers of help are to make her look good–if you actually need help, she never responds.

          4. SusanIvanova*

            Coworker Coffeecup had burned every bridge on every team he’d ever worked with because he did less work in one day than any of us could’ve done on top of our own jobs just by drinking an extra coffee. Our manager had one-on-ones after he was fired that started with “I want to assure you that this doesn’t mean other people are about to be let go,” but we weren’t thinking that – we all thought we knew why it had happened.

            Turns out we were wrong, though, as I found out years later when the manager and I had both moved on to another company. It was one of those rare cases where he *was* let go immediately – he was already on a PIP when they discovered he was harassing another employee.

          5. thebobmaster*

            I’ve seen that at my workplace (retail). I’ve had two managers that I’ve seen that were great managers, really nice people….and they got fired. One of them broke policy by hiding a popular children’s toy in the backroom, to make sure that there would be one left when he wanted to buy it (this was on Black Friday, mind you).

            The other…turned out to have been stealing from the company enough to qualify for grand theft charges. Both of them came as a surprise to us workers, but the latter had only taken so long because they’d been documenting and CYAing her thefts.

            And those were concrete examples of zero-tolerancy policy violations/criminal activity. I can easily imagine people being surprised when a co-worker gets fired because “they seemed like such a nice guy/lady”.

        2. Rachel in NYC*

          I had a colleague who the people who did his same job or immediately related jobs all seemed to think was great. But my job was the next one down the pipeline- think their the llama breeders and I’m the llama trainer. So their work hugely impacted me.

          We were running into issues were things were just done wrong. (Stuff like telling people llamas X and Y were breed but the right answer is A and X were breed- which would be a big deal to begin but then you’d be on the phone with the llama owner- and yeah.) And this was an office were historically people were never fired- so his firing was still a shock.

          I don’t think he ever really understood the parting though because I heard rumors at one points about him applying for a pretty high position at a competitor in the state he moved to- and all I could think was, what reference does he think he’s going to get from our office? But i think the issue was all those co-workers who were just oblivious.

        3. selena*

          I don’t think it’s about the stranger, but more about fear of randomly and suddenly losing your own job ‘just like they did to Jane’.

          As Allison says: make sure everyone knows you to be a fair employer by actually being a fair employer (and not the kind of employer who fires people on a whim).
          That way most employees will be understanding when you hint that Jane had been getting bad feedback for some time, and had been discretely put on a (failed) improvement path. That the firing might have seemed sudden to them, but not for Jane.

        4. TTDH*

          If they don’t have many details, people may also be pushing to get information to find out whether something untoward happened with the dismissal. One of the [poorly represented demographic I also belong to] in my department quit and another “left the company” a while back, and you can bet that I was curious as hell about what that meant for me as the only one left. I had the sense not to be pushy about it in the ways that are described here, but I had some reasons to want to know, even though I wasn’t very close to these people.

        5. Eukomos*

          My last boss was a disaster, and while this was somewhat known outside out office I was surprised by how limited the awareness was. She was much better at hiding her competency issues in the kind of high-level idea meetings she tended to be in with external people, so the people attempting to actually complete projects with her were the only ones who saw how incapable of handling critical details she was. She was also deteriorating over time, so people who didn’t work that frequently with her tend to remember a former, more functional version of her. She also sucks up hard to the higher-ups and it can be difficult to fully avoid the effects of a skilled flatterer. And of course only HR knew about just how many HR complaints her subordinates had put in. I don’t think anyone was surprised to hear she was being forcibly retired but I know there were people who did their level best to protect her from it.

      2. Amy Sly*

        Yeah, because of this, I might tweak the suggested script to include something about “I understand X might have not have demonstrated issues in his work with you, but there were issues elsewhere that I’m not going to discuss out of respect for his privacy” if someone pushes back about “I never had any problems with him.” Because yeah, it’s possible they are genuinely baffled because Fired Fergus was always on the ball with them. Any push back after that is most likely just stirring the pot though.

      3. MassMatt*

        Same here in prior jobs. A couple people were nice/talkative but got very little done—because they were spending enormous parts of their day chatting. Likable does not equal competent.

        Sometimes The likable one is very selective with who they are friendly with—nice to people they need something from, or don’t work closely with, and a beast to others.

        Also, you know who are REALLY likable? Con men. One charmer at a store I worked at turned out to be a thief. Best part of THAT story—someone in HR tried to insist we couldn’t fire them, they had to be given a verbal and then 2 written warnings first. Uh, no, we are not giving this person free reign to steal from us. A regional manager actually had to be called in to override this idiot. Who it turned out had been roommates with the guy previously and somehow never mentioned it.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Well, yes there are pot-stirrers, and I’ve had the misfortune to manage a few. But there are also genuinely kindly people who really didn’t know about the fired employee’s issues and just thought that “Jane” was a likable co-worker. For these cases, I’d deliver Alison’s script in a kindly tone of voice.

      For the occasional trouble-maker, you can always accompany Alison’s script with a significant look and a we-both-know-what-I’m-talking-about smile. The kind that says “give me any trouble and you’re next.”

    3. Turquoisecow*

      My old company rarely fired anyone but they’d do mass layoffs every so often. Most of the time the people who were let go I mostly agreed with, I wasn’t thinking, “oh, John was such a good, hard worker, why wouldn’t they keep him?!” it was more like “Yeah, he was clearly a weak link and struggling, I could see why they chose to let him go.” The reasons were always budgetary, but you know they’re looking closely at which individuals are more valuable to the budget.

      But I had a few coworkers who wouldn’t or couldn’t see the laid off person’s failings, they’d focus on how the person was nice or had a family or whatever. And in one instance a coworker lamented that getting rid of one individual was as a bad idea because she had a lot of institutional knowledge, even though just the week before we’d been commiserating on her lousy work ethic.

      So sometimes even if it’s obvious, people don’t want to look at it objectively the way management obviously needs to.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        My job fired an employee a few years ago. I didn’t know this person well but I know my employers well enough to know there must have been more to it than I realized. Person was not the strongest employee in that department but was definitely not deficient. But my workplace is super discreet about things like this.

        I found out years later that Person had been running late and clocked in on our online timecard service while Person was still on the bus. We were all told when the timecard service was implemented that we were never to clock in from our phones, even if, say, the Internet is out (I won’t do it even if I’m still in the office and everyone else can vouch for me)–just tell the supervisor what’s going on and s/he will fix your timecard later.

        So, yeah, I was right–there was a bigger problem than just shedding a slightly weak link.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          We had a time card person like that, too. I didn’t find out until after she quit without notice (this was the least of her issues) that when the company was using the previous HR software vendor, she figured out that she could clock in on her phone. She had a long commute so she’d clock in when she left her house because she was usually running late. Apparently she was found out, but wasn’t fired. Not sure why, because I would have fired her right away. But this was all before I started there and became her manager, and I didn’t find out until she was gone.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I heard of a sysadmin managing all his clocks remotely, then getting caught because he managed to clock in when the clock machine thing was being repaired, which he didn’t know because he was still at home…

        2. Dan*

          If never truly meant never, I have to wonder why there is the ability to clock in on your phone if you’re not supposed to use it.

          In my line of work, we are required by the government to track out time on a daily basis, so having the “time card” on the phone is actually a good thing all around.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Because while the OOTB software allows it, the company’s policy is that it’s not allowed. And before people say “well then turn off that feature,” you can’t always do that with OOTB software.

            1. Dan*

              As somebody who writes software for a living, that’s bad design somewhere. Giving people the ability to Do Things They’re Not Supposed To Do (and then complain when they do it) is a recipe for disaster.

              The software development answer to everything is “make it configurable”.

              1. old curmudgeon*

                You must have some experience with the software that my employer’s ERP runs on.

                When we were doing the implementation a few years back and kept pointing out all the risks and loopholes in the software, the standard response from the head of the implementation team was “Just make a policy about it.” To this day, that software has so many risks that our outside auditors won’t even describe them in their audit report lest the risks be exploited – and they’ve been doing that for at least three years.

                There’s “bad design,” and then there’s “raging dumpster fire.” We got the latter.

              2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                I agree wholeheartedly that it’s bad design. I’ve spent the last two years configuring an OOTB solution my company purchased and there’s a heck of a lot of this kind of stuff in it, but it’s purchased, no one asked my opinion about it during sourcing, and we have to do the best we can. So we tell people they are responsible for following policy regardless of whether the software will allow them to violate it.

                But also it’s kind of like speeding — your car is capable of doing 80 mph in a school zone, but you don’t because it’s wrong. The answer isn’t to disable your car from doing 80, it’s to just…not do 80.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            It’s through a website. If I have the web address and my login information, I can log in from anywhere. I just shouldn’t.

          3. Wired Wolf*

            We have that ability on our phone apps as well. I did ask about it and was told “well people could clock in from home”. For the most part the app forces use of wi-fi to even work, so in theory our IT department could only allow clock-ins if the device can see any of our internal non-guest networks (which are only detectable within the building and in some cases only within a certain radius of the main office). In the current situation, using one’s phone to clock in for a retail job could be seen as preferable to a shared time clock.

      2. Dan*

        My current job recently had a “reorg” that resulted in some middle management being let go. Most were “nice people”, but once management explained some stuff about the overall reorg, I realized that they kept the “leaders” and terminated the “managers.”

        The top execs were very clear that they want the org to up its game (whatever that means in practice, who knows, but in spirit I agree with them because we get caught up in a lot of bureaucracy). What was unsaid was the people let go weren’t the ones who were likely to take us there.

        1. Wired Wolf*

          My store went through something similar…except the people that were let go -were- helping the store up our game. The replacements were for the most part buttkissers rather than doers…the prevailing theory is that one of the ‘doers’ that was let go started to uncover some inventory/financial shenanigans and needed to be replaced with someone who would ignore it.

    4. Carrie*

      I don’t know about that. I’ve definitely had situations occur where a co-worker was let go for reasons I truly did not understand. I did not foresee that person being let go, and it genuinely was a shock. I assume there had been conversations and warnings I did not know about. And obviously, I did not expect management to discuss those details with me. But it is possible to be genuinely shocked and confused when a co-worker is let go, without it being a “charade” or purposefully “stirring the pot.”

      In fact, we were all mostly concerned that our own jobs might be in jeopardy somehow, precisely because we didn’t know what or how this person had messed up that was bad enough to get fired. We were worried that we might also be messing up without knowing it. Management did exactly what Alison recommends — they stated that decisions like this don’t happen without plenty of conversation ahead of time, and that if any of us were in danger of getting fired, we would definitely already know.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yes, same. I’ve seen two co-workers fired which left me genuinely shocked and confused. In hindsight, I really believe that one of the firings was due to racism. Specifically, that the manager was OK with having a black employee, but expected him to be very subservient and not advocate for technical decisions to be made a certain way.

        The other one, at the time, it seemed really arbitrary. His technical work was fine, he got along with all his co-workers, and he clearly cared about making a good product. But later, as we would upgrade and re-work things, I came across a lot of things that had been oddly done because Fired Fergus had absolutely insisted on it being a certain way, and no one wanted the headache of arguing with him. We all just sort of learned to do things the Fergus Way to avoid having repetitive arguments. (And no, this was not stuff where he was supposed to be the sole decision-maker.) But it didn’t feel like a problem at the time because he was so sociable about asking about everyone’s weekends and kids and stuff. In hindsight, I think management made the right decision to get rid of him.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. This happened at a former employer years ago. A branch manager was let go seemingly for no reason. Before that, a couple other people were also let go for seemed to be no reason. None of us saw these terminations coming and it was shocking. We feared for our jobs, because, to our knowledge, there were no apparent issues with these people. Years later, when I became a manager there, I found out why each of these people had been let go. So I now know there were reasons, just not reasons that would be visible to someone other than their manager and a manager isn’t going to announce why they’re firing someone.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Exactly – a lot of us have been at jobs in the past where people would just randomly disappear without any reasons other than political. Company A buys company B and starts quietly laying off managers from B one or two people at a time, to make room for their own people. A C-level exec has a terrible personality and keeps firing everyone he does not get along with (which is everyone he comes into contact with, because he truly is a terrible person). That’s just two examples off the top of my head from my past workplaces. We are in an at-will state, so technically, no one owes anyone an advance notice or a reason. A few months after I started at my current job, someone on another team disappeared and I found out a few weeks later, when I sent the person an email and it bounced. No one knew when he’d been let go, or why. Naturally everyone was worried that they could be next! We didn’t even like the guy, if truth be told. He was a pain to work with. We just wanted to either know that we were safe, or have enough advance notice to pack up and start looking! A few of us asked the management, and the management responded with the exact script that Alison recommends. It did help a lot.

      4. MissGirl*

        Yes, thank you. I was surprised by the tone of The Man’s comment. It can be especially jarring when you’re in a new company and have never witnessed a firing. I had this happen to me new in my career, and I appreciated management using a similar script to Alison’s. I wasn’t stirring the pot just nervous about my own standing, especially since I was taking on the former employee’s role.

      5. Marillenbaum*

        That is a relief! I was once in a situation where a coworker quit very suddenly, right before the busy season. While it would have been a shock–it was a generally short-term position, and people were rarely fired–our shared boss was very clear that firings and disciplinary warnings were not a surprise to the people who received them (which tracked with my experience; he did regular performance check-ins with all of us). It confirmed to me that the person in question had quit before they could be fired…or brought up on a Title IX violation for dating a student.

      6. CatCat*

        Yes, this. I had been in a role less than a year when a teammate was fired and it looked totally out of the blue to me. It made me worry if my job was in jeopardy. I wasn’t alone in that feeling. Almost everyone on the team was relatively new so it was alarming because we didn’t have any info on there being a thoughtful process in place or what. A coworker raised it in a staff meeting, “Hey Supervisor, I’m not asking why Sansa was fired and understand that is private. But I’d like to know if a job is on the line, would we know there was a problem in advance and have an opportunity to correct it? What’s the general process?”

      7. SusanIvanova*

        I was included in a massive layoff a few weeks after I’d gotten into an argument with my grandmanager – I was “disrespectful” for having a different opinion from him. I’m female, he’s male and from a country where sexism isn’t blinked at. You will never convince the team I was on that it was a coincidence.

    5. Emily*

      I was recently shocked by the firing of someone in my department. I didn’t work that closely with them, but when I did, they were always really pleasant. But I’ve been at my employer for a long time and I know that they have an extensive process for firing. You have to be seriously incompetent, or do something particularly egregious to actually get let go. Even if that wasn’t the case, I trust our leadership so I figure that there was probably some reason that I didn’t know, and I’m not going to put them in an awkward spot by asking about it.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, I think in a healthy workplace, the shock/surprise when a seemingly competent coworker is fired is more “wow I never would have guessed this person had such serious performance issues happening behind the scenes” than “wow management must have some nefarious reason for firing this person.” The second can be pot stirring if it becomes the topic of a lot of gossip, but I don’t think the first is!

      2. Lyudie*

        Yeah same, several years ago someone on my old team was let go suddenly…I never found out what actually happened (and it’s none of my business) but given what I heard later, I suspect she was not doing something fairly major or lied about doing/not doing something and it was found out. Everyone else was shocked, those of us who didn’t work directly with her liked her, she was sweet and friendly and as far as we all knew, she did well at her job.

    6. Jam Today*

      Oh I’ve worked with people who had very little awareness of business norms (or social norms in general, which was a big contributing factor), who pestered a manager about why a certain person was fired for days after he was (finally) let go. It was not malicious, it was a stressful situation for them that they didn’t have a mental model for. They had to be spoken to very directly explaining that managers are not going to speak about personnel issues, and that’s just part of the operational overhead of working in an office environment. What we had to repeatedly stress is that it is rarely if ever a “surprise” to the person being fired, I think most of their persistence came from a fear that they could be out the door without any warning.

    7. Annony*

      I’ve seen it happen. I worked with someone who was let go because she was not doing her job. She would do parts of it and people who didn’t know what she was actually assigned to do thought she was doing well, but she outright refused to do parts of her job or was too busy doing the things that she had decided to do (work that we didn’t need done) to do the things that actually needed to be done. Someone who worked with her peripherally was rather pushy in trying to figure out why she was let go (she always prioritized the things he wanted done) and it was hard to diplomatically tell him to mind his own business.

      1. She worked for me*

        Exactly. From the outside she was delightful. She was on a year and half PIP for exactly these reasons. She was shocked, shocked I tell you, when she was finally let go and shared this with all her co-worker friends about my micro-managing, unreasonable expectations, and inflexible standards.

    8. KayDeeAye*

      It really isn’t always that clear-cut, The Man. Usually when someone gets fired, I’ve had a fairly good idea why. But I’ve seen people get fired when I’ve had only a vague suspicion as to why, and I’ve seen people get fired and have NO IDEA why – hard workers, good at their jobs (at least as far as I could tell – or at least as good as plenty of people who don’t get fired), pleasant to work with, etc. It’s very disorienting, and it makes people feel very anxious. So whatever clarity that can be provided without violating the privacy of the fired person really ought to be provided ASAP, but most companies that I’ve worked for shroud these things in the deepest secrecy. It does not make for a happy workplace.

      1. NerdyLibraryClerk*

        It’s even worse when an (apparently) good employee is fired while abysmal employees are retained. Sure, there could be things about the (apparently) good employee’s work that weren’t obvious to their coworkers, but it’s very unsettling when that happens.

        Granted, the underlying problem in that case was the awful employees. If all the employees are at least competent and someone is fired/let go, it’s much easier to assume that there were unseen problems. When there are employees who don’t do their jobs, are unpleasant to their coworkers, and do things that are at least borderline company sabotage…and someone who *isn’t* them is fired, it’s really hard not to make bad assumptions about just what’s going on behind the scenes.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          Good point. One of my former bosses (“Tom”) supervised me for his final 3-4 years before retirement, and he was USELESS. Calling what he did “coasting” would be overly kind. He wasn’t a horrible person, but he was a horrible boss. I assume he wasn’t useless his entire tenure, but I can promise you that at no time could he have been terribly good – he just didn’t have it in him. In contrast, his successor (“Tim”) was a wonderful person and in most ways a very good boss. So, while I knew Tim wasn’t perfect, it was extremely unsettling when he was fired – the organization had put up with much, much worse for many years from Tom. What I thought – and in fact may have actually said ALOUD – was “It’s very upsetting when a wonderful person like Tim is fired but Tom is allowed to retire with full honors.”

          It just wasn’t right, you know? Tim is doing fine now – and Tom, of course, always does fine – but he had a rough year or two after being fired.

    9. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      It could be suspicious because they’re probing for information. It could also be people who have no boundaries and find it appropriate to probe for more information. If you work for a large company and don’t work in the same department, it’s completely possible that the fired employee never shared any of their job troubles (maybe they were even in denial that they had troubles). But I agree about the fact that they need to accept that it’s none of their business, because it isn’t.

    10. remote healthworker*

      I was recently shocked about someone being fired. He was well liked, had many patient compliments, then poof was gone. There was no announcement or anything. I just found out because his boss handed me his computer and said to be sure and wipe it since it “he was not happy to be shown the door”. (Sidenote: Who is?) That was my only clue he was fired.

      I admit my first thought was that he, an openly gay man in a very catholic and pro-Trump area was fired for discriminatory reasons.

      If it was a performance related a script like Alison’s at an all hands huddle would go a long way.

    11. ShockedPikachu.gif*

      That might be true in a workplace where you collaborate a lot and know what everyone else is working on, but if your positions are really different or you’re just kind of siloed, it can be really hard to see. Someone can appear to be working very hard but send in all their reports late and riddled with errors, and unless you’re their boss or depending on that report yourself, you might never know. When it’s not a problem with their work directly, it’s even harder. Had a manager get fired for stealing money – would’ve had NO idea if they hadn’t told us. He wasn’t exactly confiding his gambling problems to us and was very well-liked.

      Not to mention, if you’re new to this workplace or you know they’ve made questionable decisions before, you can’t necessarily trust that someone is being fired for the right reasons. People get fired for arbitrary or discriminatory reasons all the time. It *is* an employee’s business because a lot of people aren’t going to want to stay at a company that does that.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, unfortunately not every organization is a well-run one, and you can’t always tell right from the start whether your employer is the kind that only fires for good reason.

    12. Bumblebee*

      Ages and ages ago when I was working retail I worked with this woman who was just fabulous. Always pleasant, great work ethic, prompt, no drama, the go-to if you needed to switch shifts, etc. Any cashier’s dream co-worker. Come to work one day, she’s been fired. The whole front end is in panic mode because there was literally no prior indication that there was such a problem with her work that firing was warranted. There was a lot of pushback on the vague management answers. Turns out she and some friends (not employed with the company) were running a shoplifting/fraudulent returns scheme for more than a year and she was their inside person. Anyone who worked directly with her? Shocked, absolutely shocked.

      1. TardyTardis*

        I knew someone who was a good worker, but management found out she was running some sort of con scheme from a work computer (seriously, who does that?).

    13. Anon JIC*

      My boss in my last company suddenly left without notice and no one knew why, or even whether she was actually fired. No one liked her, but we were all in the dark as to what actually caused her to quit on the spot/get the axe, since her leadership was tolerated there for more than 3 years. Like, we can think of possibilities but that’s it.

    14. Ellen N.*

      There are many workplaces where it’s a surprise when employees get fired.

      My husband is a high school teacher. He never knows when or if an employee was fired. Typically, the employee’s absence will be noticed after a week or two at which point employees begin speculating about the reason: fired, quit, sick, deceased?

      I worked at an office where employees being hired, fired, on vacation, etc. was considered a secret. They prided themselves on firing employees with no notice. As they didn’t tell other employees that the employee had been fired we were left to speculate.

    15. Lexi Kate*

      With the exception of being new to the work force, I agree. No one is really telling you everything that goes on with them and management especially when it is going badly. We are all human and make mistakes, some mistakes can’t be overlooked. Right before I became a manager for the first time a really well like co-worker was fired quickly, we all assumed it had to do with him leaving early, coming in late, and extended lunches. We were salary so we tightened up our lunch hours, and stayed later after that (for a few weeks). I found out when I became manager he had a side job selling his own amateur porn (from his work laptop). You don’t know what you don’t know.

    16. Anon for This One*

      The Man, Becky Lynch: I’m suspicious of anyone who is shocked by someone being fired, everyone knows a lot more than they’re letting on and they’re stirring the pot after you finally make the decision to let someone go.

      I had a job years ago I thought I was good at. Always went the extra mile, covered for vacations, the whole nine yards. The employer had a documented process for discipline that included one or more warnings, three “strikes” and a PIP before termination. Then the Great Recession hit and the company changed its budget for quality to zero dollars. All of the sudden I was pulled into an executive’s office. I had made a small mistake, nothing intentional, months before; it got overanalyzed into all of my allotted warnings and my first strike. I was then told about a new policy, that if something went wrong, everyone who worked on it got a strike, and received my second and third strikes from other people’s errors who I had gladly helped. I realized I had unlimited liability under this new policy since I would help anyone who wanted it. When the PIP was placed in front of me to sign, I thanked my supervisor for the opportunity to work there and walked out of the building by way of my desk.

      I went from Employee of the Month to my final strike in the course of about 5 minutes, completely blindsided. That was half a lifetime ago and I still feel like I’m on my last strike. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’m not on my last strike again.

    17. NRG*

      Some years ago, I worked at a place where the company CEO would occasionally fire people kind of randomly. His stated reason was “people need to know I’m the boss.” Anyone not in a suit was at risk.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Is he now in the White House?

        …seriously, it’s not true that management only ever fires people for good reasons. Managers are only human, and some humans are terrible. (And honestly it comes perilously close to saying that discrimination, retaliation, and corporate malfeasance don’t exist.)

    18. iglwif*

      I’ve seen it. Sometimes someone is not good at their job, irresponsible, missing deadlines, whatever, but is friendly with lots of people and “a good co-worker” in the sense of being fun to eat lunch with and remembering people’s birthdays and such, and so all the people who don’t work with them directly will be astonished when they’re fired, since they only saw the “good co-worker” parts and not the “sub-par employee” parts.

      Someone can be the wrong person for a given job without being a bad or unpleasant person.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Tell me about it. I ended having to take over half of that person’s work because she was so busy…trying to supervise me, even though I’d been there several years already. I was just lucky I wasn’t the one who was fired, to be honest. She had a great relationship with my boss, and I didn’t (many people did not), but the grandboss noticed who was posting how much and decided to cut her loose.

  3. Akcipitrokulo*

    I would be very upset if a previous employer gossiped about reasons for leaving – you could point that out!

    1. Dr. Bom, M.Sc.*

      We had a weird moment at my office where someone was let go for what seemed to be primarily political reasons. They then called in the entire department and went into an uncomfortable amount of detail as to why she was let go. It kinda killed my confidence in those people.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        This happened at a tech startup my son was w0rking for! First they’d promoted his boss so that he became his grandboss. Then they fired the now-grandboss, and called an all-hands meeting to explain why. Apparently among other reasons, they stated that Grandboss was too hands-on, but that he also was not hands-on enough. When I heard that story, it certainly conveyed the idea to me that something was not right with that place.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      Very true. At my current workplace, a colleague has been having longstanding performance issues exacerbated by some existing mental health struggles, and I know entirely too much about those things because our boss discussed them with me! I brought up the idea of altering some existing scheduling to account for the fact that one of our llama groomers handles about 25% of their expected caseload, and Boss says, “Well, I think Sam will be doing a lot better now they’re on Particular Antidepressant.” It made it clear I cannot be detailed with the boss about any accommodations I might need in future, because they will absolutely become gossip fodder. (Conveniently, of course, Sam’s performance issues have gone fundamentally unaddressed, because that would be mean).

  4. cmcinnyc*

    A person who lists a reference they are not currently speaking to is definitely still in the grip of addiction. Even if that person is technically sober, that is not sober behavior. I think Alison’s “sorry, can’t comment, it’s been so long” approach is both kind and true.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      It probably depends on the level of job that person is applying for, but I’ve checked references for low-level jobs and it is shockingly common to just not be able to get a hold of the references the person has listed in a timely fashion, and I’ve had to ask the person to provide an extra reference for the hire to go forward. So the few times I’ve had a dud employee list me as a reference, I just don’t respond.

    2. andy*

      It is isolated person behavior. References are not supposed to be active friends you play soccer with. They are people you worked with.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        Andy – That is true, but I feel references absolutely should be people you can contact and have a short discussion with – with the possible exception of “most recent boss” who will almost always be contacted unless you request otherwise. Furthermore, they should be people who were contacted by you and who consented to being contacted as a reference fairly recently (within the last few months). Ideally, you should inform your references either before or immediately after you submit them to Teapots Inc for contact. My last interview contacted one of my references while I was on the way home from the interview, and I was glad I’d spoken to them ahead of time.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    #4–Sometimes when you apply through LinkedIn, a popup appears that gives you a place to upload a resume. It also sends your profile to the job poster. What I generally do is look up the company and apply on their website through their careers page, and mention in the cover letter that I found the post on LinkedIn.

    Also, there is only room for one document, so if I am applying through LinkedIn, I put the cover letter and resume in a single file. I’ve done it enough times that I can just copy an old one to keep the layout and then write the new letter/tweak the resume.

    1. Colin*

      Obviously it depends on OPs preferences, and there is certainly nothing wrong with asking for a proper resume, but if it is just a case of getting a paper version of their page (which they seem fine with presenting as their resume), you can click [More…] at the top of someone’s profile and there is a Save to PDF option. You can even do this if you are not connected with them.

    2. Saberise*

      I don’t think they applied through LinkedIn. OP said they emailed her and just supplied the link. If they truly did just that I would consider that lazy and figure they really weren’t all that interested in the job. Like they weren’t willing to take the 20 seconds to attach it to the email.

    3. No Longer Looking*

      If the job you are applying to is allowing you to apply through LinkedIn Easy Apply, then they have expressed approval of that method, which makes it acceptable.

  6. SpiderLadyCEO*

    One of the ways I have found to deal with sweat and professional clothing is wearing layers. I like having high-backed tank tops under my nicer (sleeveless) work shirt, because then I sweat through my undershirt but not the outer shirt. For me, the issue is gross gross back sweat though, from where my back touches the car seat. And then the blazer, if I wear one, goes over that once I arrive!

    Seconding Alison’s recommendation of dress shields, though!

    1. Ex-Teacher's Wife*

      I think my sister did botox shots in her arm pits which cut down on the sweating to a more normal level.

  7. Academic Librarian too*

    I had this experience. The pushback was such that my supervisor made an announcement at a staff meeting that anyone who had any questions about the individual who was let go should make an appointment with her to discuss further. No one made an appointment. Six years later none of the angry people are still upset and see me as the kind, competent manager that I am.

    1. Cynical B*****

      One of my employers called a team meeting after they fired someone and covered the following:

      1) X is no longer working for the company
      2) This is who you report to now, if applicable
      3) This is how your workload will change (i.e. Hannah is now taking Alex’s clients)

      We didn’t get an explanation, but how it would affect us was addressed so nobody asked. (though in one case we knew it was because someone’s manager just didn’t like them)

      1. remote healthworker*

        I was coming here to suggest this. In my experience, when someone is fired and there is no announcement and folks are left to find out as they email them for work… then yeah that spreads a lot of fear, anger, and mistrust at management. That’s when the drama and rumours start. And while it can be easy to blame the fired employee, I’ve seen it be the other way around many times too. Where internal employees are contacting the fired employee repeatedly for information and agitating others.

        A simple all hands meeting stating that X doesn’t work here anymore and using some of Alison’s script is great and cuts this off before it even begins.

  8. Mike*

    For the last one – even though she’s been freezing out OP, I would email/text her one more time anyway and explain that if she isn’t open to at least one phone call to discuss where she is in life and her current job search, I would either not be able to serve as a reference at all, or would be obligated to provide a reference based on last-known info about her which might paint her in a negative light. That could be enough to jump start a conversation, if she believes OP is truly a valuable reference to use.

    1. Altair*

      Well, she might not be talking to people because she’s embarassed/ashamed/mortified. That might prevent a conversation as well.

      1. I'm A Little Teapot*

        Yeah, but having someone reach out to say essentially, “I’d like to help, but unless you actually talk to me just once, I can’t help” may be enough to push them past the emotion. It would be kind to give them the option to improve the reference. If they choose not to take them up on it, then that’s their choice and they’ll have to deal with consequences.

  9. ZeldaFitz*

    Why is OP conviced the questions are coming because of personal contact with the fire-ee? If one of my coworkers was fired, especially if I thought they were helpful and good to work with, I’d be asking a lot of follow up questions as well, even if I never spoke to that person again. “This is an HR matter” would only make me more nervous and more likely to want to know details, especially if it seemed out of the blue.

    Not that I’d need to hear all the details, just be reassured that the company was going about everything in a thoughtful way. I’m just concerned this manager doesn’t seem to be assuming good intentions about their remaining employees.

    1. Georgina Fredricka*

      It might be implied in the convo and OP didn’t fully convey that

      I definitely have experienced that though – at my last job a manager was fired and was not only riling up her manager friends at the job via texting, but was also texting the employee who had worked under her (100% not realizing she was a contributing reason for the firing, because of how she’d been treated. Can attest, having witnessed, it was not good).

      It was the sort of situation where everyone closer to entry level was highly aware of this manager’s faults, since they often bore the brunt of it, but her work friends were kinda blind to it/bought into her own self-hype.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Why would you feel it’s appropriate to ask questions about a co-worker and the reasons that led to the firing though? It’s really nobody’s business. (Most) Companies don’t just randomly fire people because they’re feeling ragey that day, and they don’t do it after one incident (unless it’s egregious). If you’re doing your job & getting good feedback, why would someone getting fired without a detailed explanation make you worry about your own job? Just because it seems out of the blue doesn’t mean it is out of blue because you’re not going to be told when there are issues with a co-worker while they’re happening, because again, it’s nobody else’s business.

      1. ZeldaFitz*

        I don’t think a detailed explanation is necessary, but I’d want to see that the managers seriously tried to work with that employee and generally treated them fairly. If, as OP said, those employees thought the person who got fired was a generally helpful coworker, I’d be wondering if they WEREN’T just fired out of the blue, and if that could happen to me regardless of

        I’d also be looking to see if anyone told me it wasn’t my business! And seeing how my coworkers are treated by management most certainly is my business, as it affects me, my work and my relationship with management. I wouldn’t be stoked, for example, about having a postitive relationship with management if they fired someone because they were mad about having to cover for them on maternity leave, if it was race related or if the manager was bad at giving feedback and blindsided their worker.

        Again I didn’t say I needed a detailed play-by-play, but asking the question and being sure that your recent coworker was treated fairly is something other employees are 100% entitled to do in a respectful way. I’m really alarmed a lot of people on here don’t seem to think so!

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I can’t share even the basic details of other people’s personnel actions with other employees. I’d be happy to share our policies and processes, but not the specifics of Sue’s last performance review and how many times and ways we tried to get her TPS reports up to snuff or the specifics of her situation. If I’ve fired someone, it’s been through a rigorous HR process and reviewed by an employment lawyer who is very, very strict on policy and process.

          I am also generally wary of people who are overly invested in or feel the right to know other people’s business because many more of them have been office busybodies rather than genuinely interested in a fairness audit. Certainly not all, but most, and I’d be mindful that people you’re asking questions of may have been burned by someone with less altruistic motives.

          I would also be surprised if an employer confessed to an employee that they fired their coworker for suspect reasons just because they asked questions about a firing. All but the dumbest companies know that’s illegal and not to say it out loud.

        2. MassMatt*

          Well, are you really thinking that, when asked, the bad employer is going to say “we fired him because he’s black”? This is not how discrimination, or crime in general, is uncovered.

          “Seeing how my coworkers are treated by management most certainly is my business”—well, that doesn’t make you privy to every detail of people’s HR or performance issues, or legal problems. Except in very rare cases you really don’t need to know this, it should make no difference in your ability to do your job. If an employer is bad and firing people without cause then a) it will no doubt be obvious from a pattern of behavior you can observe without asking why someone was fired, and b) there are legal remedies. If you are seriously wondering whether people were fired frivolously, maybe you have a bad employer.

          I totally get the curiosity, but really don’t think it’s adding anything to workplace fairness. We are not all union reps or company ombudsmen.

          After the fact, you can usually get the dirt if you know the people involved, especially in a less formal environment, say drinks after work. The worse the offense, an$ the higher up the food chain it goes, the longer it has to lie fallow, in my experience.

      2. andy*

        It is relevant information about workplace you work in. First, there is insecurity “would this happen to me?”. Then there is mistrust “is this fair workplace, what if I disagree with manager, will I be fired?”. People want to know reasons either to avoid them, be able to guess when it is about to happen to them or to know that they should leave.

        “This is HR matter” answer makes everything worst. HR is not exactly trusted department, so people will think either harassment or some stupid rule.

        I worked in a place where new people were fired a lot and it did affected the whole workplace. I was tripper careful whenever I talked with management, because it seemed random.

    3. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      It could be that current employees talked to fired employee and fired employee gave them a story that it was sudden and they had no idea or other potentially skewed or incorrect understandings of what happened.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This happens all the time, both with current employees being told tales and some pretty impressive fiction on GlassDoor, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

      2. No Longer Looking*

        Also keep in mind that many people who are so self-invested that they cannot correct their actions to avoid an obvious (to everyone else involved) firing, often don’t understand that they’ve actually done anything wrong, or feel like they’ve made improvements even if they are so minor as to not move the needle from “needs improvement” up to “meets expectations.”

        Perception is Reality, and is unreliable.

        1. MassMatt*

          We’ve had many letters and posts here where employees are very explicitly told they must do x, or stop doing y or they will be fired, with many memos, meetings, etc, only for the employee to say they were shocked and had no idea it was coming.

          Versions from those fired for cause are rarely going to say “I stole from petty cash” or “I was only producing 1/2 what everyone else was” or “my work was shoddy”. They are more likely to say something that makes them look less terrible, and vents anger at the employer. Who if asked why they were fired is going to say it was because they felt up the intern?

    4. hbc*

      A conversation with a person concerned that the company goes about casually firing people happens in a much different way than one that’s driven by information from the ex-employee. It’s night and day. For example, there’s “Why would you fire Fergus? That makes no sense!” when someone is trying to process it, and there’s “He was never told that he needed to change!” Unless you think 100% of performance conversations happen in front of the whole staff, you only say the latter because Fergus is telling you that this was a bolt from the blue.

    5. SusanIvanova*

      My manager had one-on-ones with everyone and led off with “this is not a sign that we’re going to be firing other people, you do not have to worry about your job.” Although by that point everyone on my team had refused to work with the fired person, so nobody was shocked.

  10. Phony Genius*

    In the answer to #1, Alison indicates that the boss should say that firings are never by surprise, nor are they sudden. I would slightly disagree in that there are rare cases where they are, particularly in response to an extremely egregious act. This happened where I work, and yes, it was a surprise that this person had done what he did, which we only found out after the firing.

    1. Kes*

      Yeah, I was thinking the same. More like “it’s never sudden or a surprise, except in egregious cases”. And if it was egregious and sudden (which it admittedly wasn’t here), you might want to word things a bit differently to put less stress on the feedback process leading up to the firing

      1. Wintermute*

        I feel like if it’s THAT egregious and it had to be sudden the best way to get ahead of the rumor mill is a factual, dry accounting of the event, unless it’s truly salacious. In cases like that though the rumormill will no doubt be turning triple-time and the telephone game has probably turned it into a monster that needs to be slain– rampant whispering and errors in transmission always make things more extreme, more salacious and more dramatic, either in terms of how “little” the offense was (manager Bob was fired for harassment, the version eventually spreading was he was fired for some lightly flirtatious banter not a crude quid pro quo proposition) or to amplify it radically (Bill loud shouting at his boss in his office turns into a physical altercation, and by the end of the telephone game the version everyone hears involves a chair-smashing, table-flipping donnybrook where the boss was nearly thrown through a window).

        In a case like that, you kind of have to disclose facts in a neutral manner. And doing so is a kindness to everyone involved because it actually protects their reputation, and poor Bill doesn’t end up with the rumor he broke a keyboard over his boss’ head, glassed him with a coffee mug and tried to defenestrate him following him around in his attempts to be rehired.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah, this. If someone was fired for bad behavior in the office which affected their coworkers, at least a few people are going to know about it anyway to begin with. Better to put out a simple factual statement than to let the rumor mill turn it into a massive drama.

          Also – if it’s egregious behavior by an executive or an employee who’s well-known outside the company (a speaker at industry conferences, someone in a creative field whose work is widely recognized, etc.) you should put out some kind of public statement. You want it to be clear to the world that your organization does not tolerate harassment, discrimination, embezzlement, or whatever else they did. Sometimes prominent fired people will lie about the reason they were fired, and if it was for something awful you should do your best to prevent those lies from gaining traction.

      2. remote healthworker*

        I think saying it that way implies this person was fired suddenly due to racism/assault/stealing etc. and you shouldn’t bring it up unless it’s relevant. Like yesterday’s letter, some things are implied and don’t need to be spelled out if they are not relevant.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Right. If you’re going to introduce “only sudden if it’s egregious” then you have to say “and this wasn’t that”. Best not to say it.

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

      But it still wouldn’t be a surprise to the person being fired, presumably, if they’d done something egregious enough to be insta-fired I’d think that surely the person being fired is aware that they stole from the company or whatever…although it may come as a surprise to other employees!

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I had a coworker get fired for stealing and she was for sure surprised — she didn’t think anyone knew. And I only know why she got fired because when she was accompanied back to her desk to collect her things she loudly denied stealing from the company, and this is BS, etc, etc. So yeah, our manager then calling us into a conference room and calming stating that Jane had been fired because she stole from the company was necessary for us to not think Jane had been set up (because when you think everyone is reasonable and then someone acts super unreasonable, it throws off what you think you know about e v e r y o n e).

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        This has not been my experience. Someone whose moral compass is such that they think stealing or other fire-on-the-spot offenses are okay are genuinely surprised when it results in termination. I’ve only had to fire one person in this circumstance, and it’s because they had falsified client time records and expenses, which thankfully, they did badly and it was caught before it hit the bill. Billing integrity is part of orientation and ethics training, so they had been told (because you have to tell some people lying and overbilling is not okay). But SHOCKED when the stated consequence actually happened to them.

        Same for the person who was lying on their timesheet – their stance was no one had told them they couldn’t put down an hour for lunch when they took two or that they needed to put in their actual arrival/departure times and not pad them a half-hour a day. Now, first, you’d think that you didn’t have to tell people that and, second, we actually DID cover that in timesheet training. Still, shocked when they were actually fired when we discovered they’d been paid for at least 50 hours they didn’t work in one six-month period and tried to argue that they should be let off with a warning.

        People do not always react logically to these things.

        1. MassMatt*

          Very true, when most people are caught, they are too shocked in the moment to think clearly.

          I think people that steal or pad their #s or hours probably start off small and are very worried about getting away with it, but eventually they rationalize it and eventually think of it almost as a perk they are entitled to. Consequences are a cold hard slap.

          Good reason to do things the right way; if you do there’s no need to look over your shoulder or worry about someone double checking your timesheet.

    3. Exhausted Trope*

      I remember on my first day at a new company, someone I had yet to meet but who sat nearby in another department was suddenly fired. Talk about surprised.
      My supervisor finally took pity on me and told me that the person was terminated for viewing porn on the company computer during the work day. And yes, she’d been warned.

      1. Phony Genius*

        Your last sentence surprised me, too. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a woman being fired for this. Or even caught and warned.

    4. Bilateralrope*

      I’ve had a supervisor fired suddenly. We weren’t told why, or even that she had been fired. We just had a new supervisor one day, then the next day the new supervisor did the health and safety induction that *everyone* does before site specific training.

      Rumor was that the fired supervisor lacked the license required for our line of work, despite doing it for years. Which doesn’t look good for our employer when there is a public registry of those licenses, but is the only thing that makes sense without the ex-employee also getting arrested.

        1. Bilateralrope*

          Good question.

          The employer faces a massive fine if caught employing someone without the license. So they should be keeping track of them.

      1. Eva Luna*

        My manager at my first job after college was fired the day I was out having a wisdom tooth removed. To this day I have no idea why. And you can imagine my shock when I walked into the reception area and ran into a former classmate from my study abroad program the year before, who was there to interview with the fired manager for a job. He had been left sitting there for quite some time while everyone else in the office, none of whom had an idea why their program manager had been fired, either, were trying to figure out what to do with the would-be interviewee. (He did end up getting the job, btw.)

      2. MassMatt*

        This is in line with places that don’t do reference or background checks until after someone’s been hired. Dumb, but it seems to happen often.

  11. Robyn*

    I’m sort of confused by the law enforcement friend referee situation in general – is it common to actually list a friend as a job reference just because they have an impressive position? I’ve always only ever used supervisors/co-workers as references.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It depends on the company. Some ask for personal references along with professional references.

      I’ve been listed as one or other.

      It’s also common for those without a lot of professional references to fill in the gap with someone who’s in a position like the letterwritter to be added as a reference, in hopes the reference from someone with a high position within the community can get them in the door.

      Or if it’s for something with security clearance issues, they ask for them as well. That’s a different ball of wax itself. I’ve been contacted because I know someone socially who is looking into a government job.

    2. Amy Sly*

      I’ve had jobs and certification applications specifically request personal/character references, not employment references. In that case, yeah, I’m going to pick the friends who have jobs that suggest they are good judges of character, e.g. pastor, pharmacist, lawyer, law enforcement officer.

    3. Me*

      Some places do still want personal references. Not sure why in most cases. Although my friend who worked in a security sensitive position had to list them but those were really for background investigation purposes not speaking to their character.

    4. RecoveringSWO*

      Yeah, I’ve had a number of people use me as a reference because I was a military officer. Mostly for background investigations and professional certifications, but some job references as well.

    5. Nanani*

      I’ve needed personal references in the past for things like passport applications and visas. They wanted someone in a certain set of professions to vouch that I was a real person and not making a fraudulent application.

      Also for rental applications when I didn’t have a history of past rentals in the relevant country, though that didn’t require authority figures specifically.

    6. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      When I worked with kids, we required personal references conducted over the phone. The goal of that reference was to pick up any hesitation in the reference’s voice when we asked a series of questions about whether or not this person was safe to be around children. The idea being, is that even someone’s mom (who feels compelled to give their adult child a good reference) will have some verbal “tells” if they know Fergus isn’t allowed to be alone with his younger cousins because he is creepy.

    7. Applesauced*

      Yep, I was a character witness for a friend who was transferring her law licence between states – I got an email survey from NewState asking if she was honest, law abiding, etc.

      1. Quickbeam*

        My former next door neighbor applied for a series of law enforcement jobs. Each time, an investigator came to our house to ask what it was like living next door to him.

    8. Sandangel*

      I have a reference like that. My mom made friends with a neighbor who works with NASA, PhD in physics, regularly travels (pre-pandemic anyway) for conferences and events promoting women in STEM, etc. While she was away, I’d catsit for her, and listed her as a reference. She even gave me interview tips for my current job.

      Does it feel weird listing someone with a Wikipedia article as a reference for a retail job? Yes, but I’m gonna use it.

  12. Anonymous at a University*

    “I don’t know why people think this is a good idea to do.”

    It’s just about convenience to them, most likely. I’ve had it happen more with students than job applicants, but I’ve had students who wanted to send me papers through Google Docs (with me not being able to open it because it was locked to people with a Google account), as Notepad documents that had removed all formatting, as shared links that were password-protected- they then got upset about being asked to share the password- and in one case text it to me in little chunks (!). It was apparently worth back-and-forth in e-mail, getting their grade delayed, and a whole bunch of other nonsense just to have a tiny bit of convenience to them. No, you can send it as a Word or PDF document through our university’s online submission system like anyone else. I do allow attachments by e-mail when the online submission system really isn’t working, but that’s still, “Word or PDF, stop sending me these different formats I can’t access.”

    1. Mill Miker*

      I feel like LinkedIn and some other job sites also really try to play up “Maintain your resume here!” as a feature of the site, and work to convince people that a link to their profile is an acceptable alternative to a resume. And it is tempting to believe them, because who wants to maintain 12 different copies of the same data?

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        Yeah, most likely. And then that increases the resistance to the idea that anyone else would want them to use a different platform.

    2. Pipe Organ Guy*

      Apple Pages. Not good when people send me stuff in Pages. I’m a Windows guy. There is nothing in the Windows universe that will open Pages documents. If you use Pages, do everyone a favor and save the file as a Word document. Nearly everyone can open that.

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        Yep, I’ve had that! And once I got a Mac desktop at home I thought the problem was solved and I’d just download the file there, then open it and save it as a Word document. Joke was on me, even with my brand-new Pages software I couldn’t open the student’s file. I’ve started stating in my syllabus, along with instructions about how to save, submit, and attach files in the right format, that I won’t grade anything unless it’s submitted as [these formats] [this way]. I’ve had it with fighting about password-protected documents, Google Docs, [random file format I never heard of before], and students wanting to send me blurry pictures of handwritten pages.

          1. Anonymous at a University*

            Actual quote from the most recent student e-mail like that: “I think better about [subject] when I’m writing it longhand, my phone was right here, and I did what was necessary.”

            Never mind that I actually do have a policy that all graded work has to be typed because I have a visual impairment and struggling with tiny faint cursive handwriting that half the time is written around other parts of the paragraph and partially crossed-out is impossible for me. That was the clearest case of, “Well, it’s convenient for ME.”

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              You know, when I was in college (back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and there was no such thing as a personal computer), it was not uncommon to write out one’s assignments in longhand. I used to do that myself. But after you did that, you were expected to use a clever device called a typewriter to transcribe it into a form that people could actually read.

              This student’s laziness is unbelievable. If you believe you think better writing in longhand, fine, whatever. Do your first draft that way, but then type it up like a grownup before turning it it. Sheesh.

              1. Anonymous At a University*

                Yeah, I don’t mind if they do drafts that way or brainstorming notes or whatever; I don’t grade those. But what gets turned in for a formal grade has to be typed. And with the pandemic, everything has to be electronically submitted, so I’m not going to pick up a handwritten page and squint at it trying to make out which sentence goes where and what the tiny word squeezed at the bottom of the last line is anyway.

            2. Gazebo Slayer*

              If I were that student’s instructor, I wouldn’t feel the least bit bad about telling her to either type up that paper in a normal readable format or get a zero.

              1. Anonymous At a University*

                Oh, I did tell them they had to resubmit it as an attachment. And I got a good attachment less than an hour later. Given that they’d apparently typed it up already, I have no idea why they thought sending blurry phone pictures of a handwritten page was “easy” or “necessary.”

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          If it makes you feel any better, I have to do the same thing with people bidding for work with my company. “You must submit pricing on this form, in this format, and anything else won’t be reviewed.” And I STILL get PDFs of 300 lines of pricing.

          1. Anonymous at a University*

            In a way, it does! I mean, not really. But at least it confirms that it’s not just students not giving their schoolwork the right amount of seriousness, it’s a universal, “The way I want to do it is more important than your clear instructions. ME.”

            1. nymitz*

              Oh, it’s not just students. I was recently involved in a project where we had to have about 75 people providing surge support as, basically, peer reviewers (all experienced professionals with graduate degrees, and most with 10+ years in their field). I wrote a 30-page instruction manual (25 pages were screenshots and pictures): click here to download the document. Save it here with this naming convention. Read it. Answer these ten questions. Question 1: you will find the answer in this box of the submitted form. Question 2: you will get one of three answers. If it is (a), answer this. If it is (b), answer this. If it is (c), answer this. Etc.

              …roughly half of the reviews had to be corrected, and probably 95% of those corrections were things that we gave instructions on that just. weren’t. followed. The other 5% were truly oddball things that would have required supervisory intervention anyway.

        1. Anonymous At a University*

          It should be, but the .txt attachments I’ve received from students have been full of weird symbols and no spaces, like: “T@this&pape^ri~sw*&the,” and so on. I’ve tried downloading them on different devices and had the same problem whether it was Windows or Mac and whether I was using Notepad to open them or something else. They have the option to type the assignment into the online submission system if they want rather than uploading an attachment, and some do. But if they send it to me through e-mail- a less preferred option since it means I tend need to submit it to the online system for them- I do say it has to be Word or PDF.

    3. Alldogsarepuppies*

      when i was in school these were some tactics by my less honest peers to get an extension. By the time you email them that the X type file didn’t work they’d “save” it to word and send it back with revisions that made it stronger – but not get penalized for lateness becasue it was turned in on time.

    1. Liz*

      You can use the shields too, theya re also called underarm shields. I had a friend in the day that used panty liners on their t-shirts that they wore under dress shirts. However, underarm shields are designed for armpits and have a greater width.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Seconding the recommendation for underarm shields! I typically work in hot, humid environments, and while the office is climate-controlled, you still have to get there in the swampy heat. They do a lot to stretch out the time between dry-cleanings, because you end up with less sweat on the garment.

    2. Batgirl*

      My boyfriend used to sweat right through his shirts. He always had dark suit jackets on hand, but then discovered a medicated deodorant called Persperex which worked for him.

  13. Adereterial*

    Just to note that in the first case, if this was in Europe then you can’t say anything at all. Data protection laws are explicitly clear – disclosing personal information without a valid lawful basis is not legal and will incur a financial penalty if reported to the Regulator. How much depends on which country you’re in and how firm your national regulator is.

    Employees have a right to privacy in all but very narrow exceptions (eg criminal matters and even then, disclosure is to law enforcement, not former colleagues). The only answer should be that you cannot discuss it without the former employees express permission. End of discussion.

    1. Carbondale*

      that sounds unnecessarily restrictive. In some cases, people actually do need to know the circumstances of a colleague’s departure because it affects their own job.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        How does knowing WHY someone was fired help you in the way of it affecting your own job? You need to know they’re gone and what (if any) new responsibilities you have. That’s it.

        1. Carbondale*

          Well, if a person is fired for not following a required procedure or breaking a policy, it might be necessary to make sure others are reminded of the procedure/policy or it might be necessary to make changes to the policy/procedure. Even if the people in charge don’t explicitly state the reason, it’s likely that they would be indirectly revealing the reason they were fired.

          If a person was fired for poor performance, it’s might be necessary for someone else to re-do their work, in which case it might be blatantly obvious why the other person was fired.

          There also may be situations where other managers would benefit from knowing the circumstances of someone’s firing so they can be aware of possible patterns among other employees.

        2. andy*

          Well, no. I do want to know what happened, so that I can avoid same thing happening to me. Or so that I know to avoid working with certain managers who I have seen to fire people as revenge with made up reasons. Whether it is for political reasons or real reasons. I want to know so that I can guess who will be fired next and why.

          On the other hand, I know whether it makes sense to complain about x when I see bad enough x or not. I want to know, because answer affects which manager I talk with openly and which manager I will never talk with openly.

          Otherwise said, people want to know, because they want to know whether they can trust the workplace and management. Then also I want to know, because if management says nothing and is not much trusted, there are typically three competing gossips. Good to know which one is true.

          They also want to know, because they have relationships to other workers. Really. It gets lost in these management debates, but humans feel loss when friend or acquaintance leaves.

          1. The Supreme Troll*

            I appreciate your honesty (I’m being serious; it’s very refreshing and in my heart – those would be the situations that I would be looking out for)…but realistically…it won’t happen.

    2. Bluesboy*

      I called up an old employer once (in Europe) because someone who had worked for me when I was there had asked for a reference.

      So I spoke to the HR guy, whom I had known for years and asked him “can you please confirm for me the dates that Cersei worked there so I can put it in my reference? I know the rough dates, but I’d like to be precise”. He wouldn’t even give me that information, quoting data protection laws.

      At least where I am (Italy) references don’t really even exist, and I think it’s largely because of this. I was a line manager for 9 years, and I think I was asked for references for ex-employees twice, in both cases for American employees who had moved back to the US (so the request for a reference came from a US based company).

      In the case of firing, though, I’m not sure it actually works the way it should. By refusing to give any information about the firing, it just means the rumour mill works overtime. I’m pretty sure I’ve been told (and believed) absolute nonsense about firings where I later got hold of more reliable information that contradicted it.

  14. Summer is sweater weather*

    I don’t know if the perspiring applicant has looked into this, but I have heard that Botox can be really helpful in cases of hyperhydrosis that doesn’t respond to clinical strength antiperspirants.

    1. SassyAccountant*

      I agree, talk to your dermatologist about Botox. I had the same problem and it helped tremendously and since it’s not for cosmetic reasons most insurance will cover it.

  15. Harvey JobGetter*

    For the record: it is INCREDIBLY easy to download a document off of Google docs and print it. (If your network is slow, it’s often easier than saving an email from Outlook.) But as a job applicant you have to be prepared for potential employers and hiring managers to have unreasonably limited understanding of how to use technology and accommodate them. Just like you wouldn’t have emailed your resume in say 2003, even though it would have been ridiculous for people with office jobs to be unable to handle that at the time.

    1. Anonymous at a University*

      I don’t see why wanting someone to submit through a system that’s already set up via the company website or another portal is an “unreasonably limited understanding of how to use technology.” Why should the job-seeker be able to submit in whatever way they want and no one should ever be able to tell them not to? That seems like ignoring directions, not accommodating tech-phobic employers.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But I don’t want a print-out of a resume. I want it to be electronic because that’s what I need to get it into our system, and I’m not going to go through a bunch of extra steps for one person who insists on doing something differently than requested.

    3. EPLawyer*

      Because its part of following directions. If someone can’t even follow the simple directions of how to submit their resume how are they going to be about following directions to do their job? Oh I know better than that technical dinosaur my boss never goes over well.

      If I am hiring and get 99 applications submitted the way I requested and one person says “you have to looking for my resume” I am not bothering. I got enough applicants to go through already.

      1. starsaphire*

        + 100

        My job is all about exactitude in creating and following directions. The “I don’t want to do it your way, I want to do it this way because reasons” person will not be a good fit. Better that they self-select.

    4. remote healthworker*

      My dude. I work in tech support, and even I don’t know much about google docs. It’s not because I’m a Luddite I just don’t need it. Part of being tech savvy is working within the systems employer’s have.

    5. RG2*

      This isn’t about one person reading your one resume. This is about one person needing to sort/store/read/process hundreds of resumes for any given job opening.

      Companies are required by law to keep records of applicants for a certain period of time. If you’re dealing with ANY significant volume of applications, the only sane way to do this is through an applicant tracking system (maybe a single email account but I’ve been there and it was a nightmare). With this (and assuming Google Drive is approved for use on company systems, which I would not assume for any place that has sensitive data protection/retention issues) that system won’t automatically scrape the email properly or the applicant could revoke the Google doc share and then you don’t have the record.

      Also, at least in the jobs we hire for and the safety issues involved, ability to follow directions and not just assuming rules don’t apply to you is pretty important and we use stuff like this as an indicator…

    6. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      ” …[Y]ou have to be prepared for potential employers and hiring managers to have unreasonably limited understanding of how to use technology and accommodate them.”

      That is a very bold statement. You’ve assumed a potential boss made a choice due to either incompetence or ignorance. Maybe the HR hiring portal does not interact with Google Docs. Maybe there is no space to put a link in the resume box of the online application. Maybe the hiring manager just finds it easier to have all of the resumes in the same file format so they can look at them on their preferred device. Not because they cannot use Google Docs. They just want it to be easier for them because, well, they are the boss.

      I use Google Docs all of the time and my company lives on Google drive. But if an applicant even obliquely did what you are doing and imply my preference for a .doc or .pdf is due to the manager’s deficiencies, they would be permanently on the “do not hire because of arrogance” list.

    7. LQ*

      It doesn’t matter how easy it is to download it and print it if what was asked of you was something else. What you are saying there is “It’s easy for you to do the task that you asked me to do”. It’s easy for you to download the document off google docs as a word or pdf.

    8. PennyLane*

      I’m 100% with AAM on this in her original response and the one to this thread, but let me offer an additional reason why I won’t do this. I’m not going to click on links from people I don’t know because it has potential for so many security issues that can impact me and my company/company’s network. When I send an email, I can easily change the text of the link to make it appear to be legitimate; so as an employer, I have no idea what I’m about to click on. And sending me a google doc is basically a link because it’s online, so I’m sure some savvy scammer could find a way to manipulate it with malicious intent. So if you want me to open the resume, do not send it to me as a link.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep. And we have corporate restrictions on downloads from unsupported (meaning we dint have a corporate account with them) cloud services because the last major security breach attempt came though a user unknowingly downloading a malicious file from a Dropbox link from a spoofed address.

        It takes more effort to complain about an employer not taking your resume link than to save it from Docs as a pdf and hit send.

  16. Kramerica Industries*

    I think it also depends on the reason of firing. I had one coworker that was fired and the immediate answer was “it was a necessary HR issue”. The next 1:1 meeting I had with my boss, he explained that there were several complaints of the firee’s behaviour that made people uncomfortable. Then followed up by saying that if I had any negative interactions with the coworker, management wanted to make sure that I felt safe and that if I needed to talk to someone, they could provide resources.

    There have been other instances where I suspected people were fired because of their bad attitude, but acknowledging the firee’s issue head-on and framing it where they wanted to follow up that I felt safe in my workplace was really meaningful to me. It made me feel like they really cared about my well-being instead of caring that the fired person was a liability.

    1. Pippa K*

      I like that your boss followed up the “necessary HR issue” basis for firing by adding the recognition that you might have been affected by the fired person’s misconduct, and that they actually cared about that. The concern for protecting privacy in HR matters can sometimes play out in ridiculous ways: at my (academic) workplace, a faculty member was not fired, but pushed to retire early after years of fairly serious misconduct toward colleagues. The colleagues who’d been the target of his misconduct were told they were not allowed to disclose any information what had happened, because it was an “internal HR matter.” But the effect was to tell victims of abuse that they were not allowed to talk about their own experiences. Which is obviously BS, but arose from an overbroad notion of the university’s responsibility to protect employment-related information. (If they’d been as interested in protecting actual employees, he and several others would have been gone years earlier, but that’s a different issue.)

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, this is BS. If one of my coworkers got fired for assaulting, harassing, or bullying me, you bet I’m going to talk about it, HR pearl-clutching about privacy be damned. HR doesn’t have a right to tell victims of abuse to shut up about their own abuse.

        Telling people they have to keep that stuff under wraps is how people fired for abuse at one company go on to get hired in positions of authority at other companies. It enables serial predatory behavior.

  17. Treebeardette*

    For the last LW, that’s such a tough position not to mention hard on the relationship when she was working with you.
    I probably would have responded by “It’s been a long time since I worked with her so I can’t give an accurate reference. Her work was great at the time she worked with me.”

    Maybe she is still battling her addictions. Maybe she overcame it.

  18. gawaine42*

    #1 – I’ve noticed that many of the people who let things get to the point where they get fired aren’t really that rational. They are somehow able to rationalize their way into thinking that they should be OK. It’s sudden, for them, when a totally reasonable person would understand that the emails, memorandums, and meetings with HR that led to that point, including words like “this may result in termination”, might result in termination. Otherwise, they would have fixed their behavior long before that point, or found another job.

    #3 – There are tax implications. If I buy a plane ticket for an employee as a business expense, I can expense it. If I buy them a ticket for personal vacation, it’s income, and is taxed at a higher level because it’s a lump sum. I don’t think I can take something I’ve already treated as a business expense and just give it to someone – otherwise, I’d do that as a backwards way to give untaxed income and bonuses. It’s much worse if it was charged to a customer or paid for with grant money, or otherwise a third party is involved. I’d have to pay from one account to another on my side, then treat it as income, and have social security and other withholding come from somewhere. The fact that it’s not refundable doesn’t change any of that; this happens with things like annual software subscriptions, too.

    1. Altair*

      I dunno, I think this assumes the world in general and firings in specific are always just. As Gazebo Slayer said upthread, “seriously, it’s not true that management only ever fires people for good reasons. Managers are only human, and some humans are terrible. “

  19. Green Goose*

    OP #1:

    We had a very similar situation at my org a few years ago. A guy, Wakeen, who was beloved by all and very, very professional had decided to move out of state for an education opportunity. He seemed like someone that the higher ups really liked and valued so we were all very surprised when he gave a very generous notice (multiple months) and then was pulled into a meeting on that Friday after most people had left and was told he would be working remotely for two weeks and then he’d be gone.

    We were not only shocked, but it genuinely worried me about my org. I remember thinking, wow if they could do that to Wakeen what would they do to me? People similarly started asking questions and demanding answers and I remember a meeting was even held about it and the head of his department (who had made the call) hid in her office the entire time and made a new hire answer questions. It left a really bad taste in everyones mouth and I’m sure it resulted in people giving lesser notices because of what happened.

    Well about two years later I was at a work happy hour and some people from Wakeen’s department were there and everyone was a bit loose lipped and there was a comment made about how badly Wakeen had been treated. Then one of the people in the department disclosed that there had actually been problems behind the scenes for a while and that Wakeen had left out some important details from his firing story. I remember being really surprised and then thinking that their actions made a lot more sense.

    I agree that specific details should not be shared, but Alison’s wording was really good. And if it’s not addressed at all people will just make up stories in their head.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Thank you for this story.

      I think that I’ve cleaned up after embezzlement too long and forget how most people don’t have the same information streams, so it’s easy to jump to conclusion of the company is being the bad-guy when they fire the generally known good-guy.

  20. Solar Moose*

    When I go to a LinkedIn profile, I can click “More” and then “Safe to PDF”, which creates better-formatted resume printout. I wouldn’t use that in applications, but it’s worth noting for folks in general.

  21. staceyizme*

    The LW who is getting peppered with questions about firing a popular-but-perhaps-underperforming employee- in addition to the advise from Alison, this might be an opportunity to reflect on organizational culture. Is popularity that is based on humor or an affable nature a “thing” in your department? Or was the fired employee seen as someone who was willing to “speak truth to power”? It’s just a good opportunity to see if there are blind spots in how your reports are operating (and to check for similar gaps in your own perceptions and decision making). Doing so might give you some insight and even some actionable steps on a number of fronts.

  22. Third or Nothing!*

    #5 actually reminded me to reach out to some people I would use as references but haven’t talked to in a long time.

  23. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1 – from some of comments, the firing may have made people feel unsafe. It may be worth addressing that directly:

    “I know sometimes someone’s leaving when you haven’t been aware of what’s been happening can make people feel uneasy or insecure. I’d like to reassure you that, outside gross misconduct, we will always talk to you about any issues long before it reaches that point, and work with you to resolve them.”

  24. Akcipitrokulo*

    Also for the firing – it’s not something I’ve ever been concerned about because everywhere I’ve worked has had a (legally required) disciplinary procedure laid out in detail in writing (usually in handbook).

    It states the levels from unofficial verbal warning right up to final written warning, what you can expect at each level, how you can appeal, etc.

    Knowing that that process is in place and will have been followed makes it a lot easier for HR or management to say “I can’t discuss details”.

    Now, I know you’re probably not somewhere where you have the legal obligation to have it written down in that way…. but no reason your company can’t do it on a voluntary basis!

    As well as the security it gives other employees if a termination does happen, it can also make it less likely because it’s more difficult to do “la la la all is fine” when you can see you are at *this* point on process and may be fired if X happens. Conversations may be misconstrued – a note explaining outcome of written warning and pissible consequences sticks better.

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

      I’m assuming this is in the UK or similar, as I am in the UK and it sounds very much like our process.

      I can think of a few cases in previous places I’ve worked where people were suddenly (from my perspective) “no longer employed by the company as of today’s date” via email and that was the first I’ve heard about it. I did later hear from people who were more ‘in the know’ (I generally avoid gossip and stuff like that) that there had indeed been problems over a long time with the person’s performance or conduct or whatever the issue was… they had been given various stages of written warning etc leading up to the firing, but couldn’t or wouldn’t fix the problem in the required way.

      I wonder if it’s a breach of privacy to communicate something like “so-and-so is no longer employed as of today, we would like to reassure you that all usual processes were followed” or similar.

      Often the “truth” (in large quote marks) comes out in the gossip mill, and ends up being far from the actual truth, which is usually far more mundane! Sometimes a pipe really is just a pipe.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yeah, uk :)

        I don’t think it would be gdpr issue worthy to say a general “we can assure you we have followed our policies at all points”

    2. Bilateralrope*

      Yeah. That’s why my supervisor suddenly getting fired didn’t worry me that much. I know what steps she could have taken if it was an illegal firing, so the silence isnt too worrying.

      Until the rumor of why started circulating. See my other post for details.

  25. Grace*

    I was one of only a very tiny group of people in my close-knit office who knew why a beloved employee was fired (sexual assault of another employee). “Good” people who are nice to almost everyone can do really awful things. It wasn’t fun to have everyone around me talking about how unfair it was, that he was such a good guy, so sweet and kind! Ugh. You really don’t know.

    1. Nanani*


      Maybe Fired Frollo was super nice -to you- but actually horrible to people who didn’t share your demographics. Maybe they singled one other employee for harassment. Maybe a lot of things.

      “Nice to me” does not mean good to everyone (or good at their job).

  26. Batgirl*

    OP1’s situation happened in my workplace, setting off all kinds of conspiracy theories. It usually wouldn’t be an issue, because by law in the UK, you have to give multiple warnings both written and verbal and everyone knows and accepts that this must have happened.
    In this situation it was the rare scenario of a temp (legally unprotected) who was really respected for being great at her job. She was also very sociable and put lots of effort into being popular and well liked. Usually temps who are great at what they do would be taken on permanently, but this never happened to her. After six months or so, she also made a formal complaint about the work of an established permanent employee (and she was right to do so). Shortly afterwards, she was unceremoniously sacked while the more established person was kept on. To all her friends this looked suspicious as hell. What they didn’t know was that the Temp was downright bullying to more isolated people if she thought they had low capital. She could also be very, very inappropriate (sex toy gift for her boss. Yep).
    True, she was great at her work, and had discovered the egregious error of another employee, but whereas the permanent employee had responded to the feedback that she was given and changed course -the temp never did.

  27. just me*

    Fellow heavy sweater here: I wear a t-shirt to commute to interviews and change into my blouse/jacket in a nearby restroom minutes before the interview.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      I was going to suggest this – probably a nearby coffee shop rather than coming 15 minutes early instead of 10 and changing on the interview premises…

  28. Nanani*

    I suspect the LinkedIn resumes are getting bad advice – maybe from career centers or parents, maybe from LinkedIn itself – that makes them think this is a good idea.
    “Thanks but please send it in the request format” is a perfect response. If they don’t follow up (or follow up with special pleading instead of a PDF) then that’s on them.

  29. rageismycaffeine*

    anecdotal story about being too hush-hush about firing an employee:

    Several years ago, a coworker (Sansa) went out on medical leave for months. Lots of rumors floated back to the office – whatever the issue was, it caused her to lose a ton of weight, she looked like a skeleton, she were on death’s door, etc. Corroborated, to some degree, by people who had seen Sansa in person. We knew she was very sick but nothing else.

    Well, Sansa never came back. And management was so tight-lipped that for a long time, we genuinely thought that perhaps her condition had worsened and she was dying or already dead. Then someone reached out to Sansa to find out that she’d been fired as soon as she’d returned from medical leave, she was terminated for performance issues that had been ongoing before her illness. Even after being confronted by people who had gotten the story from Sans0, it took weeks for management to finally admit that she didn’t work with us anymore.

    That experience taught me how terrible it is to be secretive about a departed employee. I really like Alison’s script – it gives no more information than is absolutely necessary, but it at least acknowledges that something has changed!

  30. Curmudgeon in California*

    The last one is cringeworthy.

    I lost a roommate to alcoholism last October. He had lost his job again, and so finished drinking himself to death. He literally turned yellow when his kidneys shut down.

    I won’t give references for active alcoholics. IMO, they need to demonstrate to me that they’ve pulled out of their tailspins first.

  31. Blue Eagle*

    Reference one.
    Did you consider the possibility that the company who is reaching out to you for a reference may have gotten your name some other way than from the person they are asking about. So your first step might be to ask the company how they got your name and contact info. It seems unlikely that the person they are asking about gave them your name and contact info and then would refuse any contact from you.
    Other than that, I like Alison’s suggestion of what to say.

    1. It's Hump Day!*

      That is a very good point! I know that people who I didn’t put on a reference list were contacted. It is not uncommon to ask a person on the list, “can you think of anyone else who has worked with Candidate?”

    2. Alldogsarepuppies*

      Doesn’t seem likely given that this is a personal, not professional, recomendation. I doubt are calling random people from an applicants facebook.

  32. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    For the person that sweats a lot: if you can afford it, look into horseback riding show attire, specifically hunt seat and dressage. We still wear formal coats similar to blazers. But now there are available ones made with high tech fabrics that are lightweight, breathable, and stretchy. Made for heavy exertion in blistering summer heat. They are a far cry from the old 100% wool we used to practically pass out in. But they are pricey for the high tech cool ones—stay away from the cheaper polyester/wool ones.

  33. Former call centre worker*

    I’m concerned that OP has got employees who are asking that question, tbh. Does the company not have any data protection policies (if it’s not covered under legislation, that is), or do employees just not understand them? Where are they getting the idea that they might be told this stuff?

    1. TiffIf*

      Ditto! I mean I have seen someone fired out of what appeared to be the blue to me, and yes I was curious what happened, but I knew it was not my business and never asked. Some gossip eventually reached me about poor productivity, but there is no reason for me to have been informed of anything beyond “Jane is the new project manager on X, Y and Z.”

  34. Pigeon*

    I did have a colleague who was fired with no warning. As in, he was summoned to HR and walked out at the end of the meeting, and as he was a primary resource on my project, I got a call the following morning from his manager. It was very unsettling to not know what had happened to provoke this. And the details were being kept private. (Though I did eventually learn what had happened, more than a year later… and the company’s actions were soundly justified.)

    From the perspective of the dismissed employee’s coworkers, this was just as abrupt. They thought their coworker was doing well and enjoyed her company. And I think it’s not as much about what happened with her specifically, as the shock and uncertainty firings always create within a team. Suddenly the ground doesn’t feel so solid and everyone is a little bit afraid and a lot upset. Those issues can be addressed without breaking confidentiality.

  35. Elise*

    I have two questions.
    1. Did my last boss write this letter number 1?
    2. Is anyone else reading this asking themselves question number 1?
    I was fired by a person who only saw the negative in everyone who worked for her. Going above and beyond with everything you did was considered “doing what we paid you to do.” Any mistakes made whatsoever were a reason to be fired. And innovation that other staff members agreed with and applauded meant that the innovative employee was a threat because she was challenging the way that meetings used to be run. Getting interviews for new jobs has, frankly, not been hard for me because of all the amazing things I did while at my last job. But I’m wondering how many bosses out there are like this: praise is non-existent. Above and beyond is normal. Mistakes are fireable. New ideas are a threat.

    1. Mindy St Clair*

      Me, I’m asking thsese things.

      My last boss was super negative about everything, too, down to the point where she yelled at me (as in, called me and actually raised her voice) because she asked me a question in Email Chain B about something in Email Chain A.

      For me, the hardest pill to swallow was that I never received any formal warning. No write-ups, no “you need to improve on X by Y date,” no formal conversations… unless you count boss constantly yelling at me. The kicker was that I only reported to her for 3 months, and all the feedback I got from previous boss neutral or I was doing great. (First boss wasn’t a winner either it turned out. There were red flags from the start, but the last time I saw her in person she praised me for going above and beyond, and that was only a month and a half or so before I was fired.)

      Good luck with your interviews!

      1. Elise*

        Thanks so much. Good luck to you, too. My boss said two or three times, “If you can’t figure out that part on your own, then..” and then she would mumble something under her breath like “I don’t know. Can we keep you here? What will we do?” In the most passive aggressive way possible, the kind where I honestly thought that if I just put in the work (which I did), she’d stop giving me vague threats. Lesson learned: real threats aren’t the issue. Passive aggressive ones spoken in a just barely audible voice are.

  36. Judy*

    Five years ago I was fired without warning. The manager was horrible. There were no “multiple conversations with the person about what the issues are and chances to show improvement”. The only thing in my personnel file were glowing yearly reviews. The reasons they gave were absurd and not true. I never found out what the real reason(s) were but know that several colleagues were so jarred that they soon resigned. I think the feeling was “If it could happen to her (whom they knew had great standing in the department), then how safe are we?” Six months later another person was fired without warning. The funny thing was that the company handbook had a chapter on progressive discipline with verbal and written warnings before someone was terminated (the exceptions were for things like theft or assault). I never understood why they didn’t even follow their own policies. I think I heard when people asked my manager what had happened to me she claimed to have had no idea/nothing to do with it. Yeahright.

  37. Amy*

    A couple of years ago I was fired. I was genuinely surprised, but that is another story in itself. Shortly after the firing I started dating one of the people from my now ex-team. What was baffling was, that he told me, that management never addressed my being fired with anyone. I was just out the door, and they acted like I had never existed. That must have been pretty weird for some of my colleges…

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