should we let an employee resign instead of being fired?

A reader writes:

I am the director of a pretty independent division in my company. I founded the area and we have grown to 13 employees in the past few years. I do most of the supervision but last year had my assistant director, Mark, take on more supervision tasks as a growth area. Some of the staff are co-supervised depending on work assignments.

A junior employee in their first year (though with advanced education) has struggled to show up to meetings with other employees and clients. Mark brought the complaints to me, and I sat down with the employee to clearly go over expectations.

Things didn’t improve. We met again in two weeks. Things actually somehow seemed worse. We were clear that not showing up on time to meetings was not okay and was a fireable offense if it continued. The employee threatened to resign, and we left it up to them before they came back and attempted to apologize. We gave them another chance, in part to get documentation and the job description in order, in part from a tiny hope they could turn it around. After a few weeks and one good follow-up, they stopped showing up again.

We scheduled the follow-up meeting to fire them (and first offer a chance for resignation, as the graceful thing). They knew it was coming, and four minutes before our meeting started I got a resignation letter in my inbox. I can’t say I was surprised, but I spent the meeting going over logistics, thanking them for their self awareness about it not working out. Termination paperwork stated it was voluntary and mutual.

For me, this is a win of an outcome — no drama, easy paperwork, and they’re gone. Mark, the co-supervisor (who is also in his first professional job but has been here most of our existence) really wants to fire the person, even after they’ve resigned. He wants the employee to face “consequences” while I’m of the mind that once they have resigned, it’s not my job to mentor or supervise them. We’ve had multiple conversations about expectations and how if they didn’t get it beforehand, another conversation now won’t help.

His response makes me anxious to give him more management authority, as it plays into a bit of a punitive streak he has (he would call it a justice streak). Did I handle this right? How should I move forward?

If the employee resigned and saved you from having to fire them, that’s a good outcome. The employee gets to exercise some control over the situation, perhaps saves some face, and doesn’t need to tell prospective employers they were fired. You get to avoid firing someone (which is never pleasant, no matter how warranted it might be) and dramatically lower the chances of some of the drama and headaches that can accompany firings. It also means you’re not on the hook for paying unemployment, if that’s something you care about.

So what’s up with Mark’s desire to ignore all that and fire them anyway, to teach them some sort of lesson?

His instinct that the person needed to face “consequences” is troubling. First and foremost, that’s not what management is about. You’re not a parent, and you’re not there to teach anyone a lesson. You’re just there to get work done effectively. Sometimes that does mean imposing consequences, but only when it’s the logical outcome the situation requires; it shouldn’t be about punishing anyone. For example, if an employee struggles to meet deadlines on days they work from home, you might require them to work from the office. That wouldn’t be a punishment; it would be a logical consequence of the work issues.

Second, this employee is facing consequences — their job didn’t work out and they’re leaving it, and presumably without a great reference. Mark’s desire for more consequences than that, when the problem the organization faced has already been solved, comes across like he wants to twist the knife just on principle.

And how exactly does he imagine this playing out? Responding to “I’m resigning” with “too late, we’re firing you!” would come across awfully poorly. The person is already parting ways with your organization. Making it more adversarial when it doesn’t need to be would make you and Mark look gratuitously punitive — not only to that employee, but to anyone else who heard about it. You don’t want the rest of your staff to hear that someone tried to leave graciously and Mark wouldn’t let them.

As for Mark’s self-described justice streak … I get wanting to mete out justice or set people straight — I struggle with that desire all the time. But managing a team cannot be an outlet for that impulse. It’ll make him look petty and vindictive, which will lose him the respect of his team, and over time good people won’t want to work for him. Even aside from that, it’s just not what the job is. He’d be prioritizing his own satisfaction (the satisfaction of “I’ll show you“) over what’s best for the organization.

That’s someone who likes power too much — and that’s a real red flag. You need managers who see authority as just another tool in their tool box to get things done. If they take pleasure in authority for authority’s sake, at best they’ll be too heavy-handed and at worst they’ll be jerks.

So I think you’re right to be concerned about giving him more management authority. In fact, I’d take a closer look at the authority he already has. You can’t have a punitive manager on your team. At a minimum, he needs real coaching around this. But that’s just a minimum, because if you’re seeing a punitive streak as his boss, it’s almost certain that the people he supervises are feeling more of it than you know.

{ 251 comments… read them below }

  1. Monty and Millie's Mom*

    If Mark wants “consequences”, for what it’s worth, unemployment is VERY hard to get if you quit a job, but somewhat easier if you are fired. So if the employee quit, then filed for unemployment, he likely won’t get it (assuming, of course, that he accurately reported he quit!). But that’s just really a side note here to Alison’s great advice!

    1. JohannaCabal*

      This. Plus, it’s a pandemic and a lot of people are out of work. And now the junior employee has to compete with hundreds of applicants for a position.

      1. M.*

        Plus, he (probably) won’t get a good reference from his old place of work.

        Consequences often aren’t exactly what we instantly think about. Being unable to provide good references can be damaging to your prospects, because other people can, especially with how many people lost their job last year for reasons that were completely unrelated to their performance.

        I get that you can feel uncomfortable about people getting “away” with so much (man, we all do on a regular basis, just think about the last time reading the news), but oftentimes, they actually get a lot more consequences than you care to think about.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      “Somewhat easier”? Depending on jurisdiction [naturally], many states is basically an automatic win for unemployment if you’re fired. The employer has to prove it was for gross negligence, which usually means there better be charges filed because even “We caught them stealing” isn’t enough, unless there’s a police report involved. So it’s extremely easy to get unemployment when you’re fired in many locations.

      Resigning saves him having to say that he was fired, which is why many people opt for that if they’re financially stable enough to deal with not having unemployment payouts.

      1. comityoferrors*

        I think we’ve seen plenty of instances on this site where employers wrongfully contest unemployment and hold up the process for people who desperately need that income. We’ve also seen, in the era of Covid, so, so many unemployment offices that aren’t staffed appropriately for times of crisis and delay owed unemployment payments for months on end. Even if it’s not contested when it’s finally processed, the unemployment that is meant to support you and your family in an acute period between jobs is not always “extremely easy” to get.

        Unemployment is, unfortunately, one of our remaining social safety nets. A lot of cases within that system don’t make sense, but the alternative is often to let people wind up on the streets which should never be the goal in a modern economy.

        1. Radio Girl*

          Let this guy go. On his own terms. Bottom line is he’s not your company’s problem any more.

        2. Brad Fitt*

          I’m fairly sure most employers wrongfully contest unemployment because they don’t understand what it’s for or how it’s supposed to work. I live in the only state that isn’t at will and everywhere I’ve worked 1) says in the new hire paperwork that they “consider the employee/employment relationship to be at will” (lol not how it works but nice try!) and 2) contests every dismissal as a firing for gross misconduct, no matter what the real reason was.

          It’s especially detrimental for people like me who assume a notice from a government agency saying “you don’t qualify” means that you don’t qualify, but I was somehow supposed to know it actually means you need to appeal with more documentation and you’ll get what you’re owed.

        3. Snuck*

          I’d add to this list that unemployment is rarely a lobster dinners and champagne breakfast budget.

      2. RussianInTexas*

        Here, in Texas, you will not get unemployment if you are fired, except in very specific circumstances.
        “Fired
        If the employer ended your employment but you were not laid off as defined above, then you were fired. If the employer demanded your resignation, you were fired.
        You may be eligible for benefits if you were fired for reasons other than misconduct. Examples of misconduct that could make you ineligible include violation of company policy, violation of law, neglect or mismanagement of your position, or failure to perform your work adequately if you are capable of doing so.”
        I randomly googled few other states, different as NY, Washington, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, and they all have these stipulations.

        1. RC Rascal*

          The reasons listed aren’t the reasons most people are fired.

          Most people are fired because they are bad at their job.

          You can collect unemployment for being bad at your job, no issue.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            I know people who were fired in such way and were absolutely denied unemployment. It really depends if your employer will fight it or not.
            ” or failure to perform your work adequately if you are capable of doing so” IS being bad at your job. Not showing up to the meetings that are mandatory IS a failure to perform your work adequately.

            1. LGC*

              Basically – it also depends on the state and whether it tends to side more with employers or employees. I suspect that Texas tends to be more employer-friendly, while New York is more employee-friendly.

              The way I’ve heard it explained – and I’m in New Jersey, so take that as you will – is that the dividing line is whether the employee is unwilling to do their job or unable to do their job. If they’re unwilling, then they’re not eligible; if they’re unable, then they are. (So same as the last clause in Texas’s unemployment.)

            2. Corey*

              > I know people who were fired in such way and were absolutely denied unemployment.

              Okay. There are a number of reasons why they could have been denied, including failing to contest the initial decision. Your anecdotes are not a reliable indicator of successful claims unless you go around asking people about their unemployment benefits status. The rules you quoted exist in most states and do not apply to “very specific circumstances” but actually pretty broad ones in practice.

    3. RC Rascal*

      As a note, he is going to have difficulty getting another job because reasonable and capable people don’t resign in the middle of a pandemic crisis. The employers he interviews are going to rightly see this as a red flag and did into why he chose to quit his job now of all times.

      A friend of mine chose to quit her job in 2010 because she felt burned out and had a very difficult time finding another. Employers chose to see her as impulsive and having judgement issues and didn’t want to take a chance on her. (BTW, both of this characterizations were accurate and what led her to quit her job in the first place). The market was lean and there were few choices. It turned into a very expensive lesson for her and it took her several years to regain full time employment. Even then, she only got a job because a former colleague did her a favor.

      IMO your opinion would probably find it easier to talk his way out of being fired. Lots of organizations are downsizing and restructuring right now. He could probably spin that. But resignation? This leaves him looking flaky as a best case scenario and as hiding something as a worst case.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Plus, the former employee has to explain this in future interviews and still has to shape up, since showing up to appointments on time is essential to the vast majority of jobs.

        Off topic

        he is going to have difficulty getting another job because reasonable and capable people don’t resign in the middle of a pandemic crisis.

        Haha, oh great, I feel even more doomed now. I’m excellent at my job (according to my boss, my boss’ peers, my grandboss, and my senior colleagues) and I just resigned from my job during a pandemic-induced recession.

        Yay…

        1. Anonapots*

          Don’t listen to someone stating as fact something that’s clearly opinion. You have your reasons for resigning when you did and since people are *still* finding jobs right now, there’s no reason to let RC Rascal’s comment get in you head. It may take longer than ideal, but you’ll get there.

        2. HelloHello*

          Work in many industries is harder to find now but a) that’s really industry specific, some places are booming in response to the pandemic and b) just because it might be more difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I have four separate friends who have gotten excellent new jobs during the course of the pandemic, all of which were a step up from their last job. So keep hope!

        3. Corey*

          That quote makes no sense. Reasonably capable people are the most likely to resign during dire times because they are confident in their value and position. They have the power, freedom, and wherewithal to be able to make drastic decisions and take big risks while everyone else keeps a tight grip.

        4. Anna Karenina*

          In my industry we can’t get enough people. This is not cut and dry because all of our jobs here are so diverse.

      2. Deborah*

        Eh, I changed jobs in August in the middle of the pandemic. Granted I quit after I had a new job lined up, but everyone I talked to was fine with the explanation that I heard some worrying financial details even before the pandemic and I felt it was time to move to a new company with better financial stability. If anyone seemed to want more, I added that it was a small company and I didn’t have any further opportunities for growth in my field so it made sense to move for me personally as well.

      3. Kiko*

        Uh… is leaving your job during a recession really seen as impulsive? Or is it only because this employee is in their first year of employment?

        I know tons of people who made major changes last year. Many of them chose to leave their jobs to take care of family members, pursue different careers, or just take a break from work. I wouldn’t consider any of those people impulsive. Life still happens during a recession. What are we expected to do, not move forward with our lives?

        1. Brad Fitt*

          I think it’s the same as always: potentially a red flag depending on what the rest of your resume looks like but if you’re qualified for the job enough to get an interview/phone screen, they’ll ask about it and listen to your reasoning. Honestly, the pandemic gives a lot of cover for impulsive decisions and a lot of people seem more receptive to the usual reasons for quitting a job because it’s a pandemic and most things aren’t ideal right now.

      4. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I resigned with no job to go to, during a major financial crisis. Spent a long time unemployed too but it was that or literally lose my sanity.

        In my experience of interviews etc afterward I wasn’t looked upon as flaky or unreliable because I’ve only done such a thing twice in my career (both for the exact same reasons). It’s only if it becomes a pattern that it really starts to become a problem.

    4. Momma Bear*

      It wasn’t clear but the company could also take the resignation as “effective immediately” vs giving the person 2 weeks to mess around. This might be a situation where having them leave sooner rather than later would be best.

    5. Wintermute*

      That depends on the state, heavily, in my state there’s a checkbox that says “were you fired or did you resign in lieu of being fired”, from the very start of your paperwork they are treated the same. And in this situation, it may be immaterial, because the next thing they look at is whether you were being fired for willful, malicious, criminal or disqualifying misconduct or for more mundane reasons like just not being very good at your job or your boss exercising their at-will employment right of termination. If you object to UI saying they were refusing/avoiding work, were insubordinate when asked to perform work (which lets be clear, this was, you ask someone to show up to necessary meetings with customers and coworkers and they don’t, that’s insubordinate), and were not performing their essential job duties for no external reason– that’s intentional misconduct.

      Typically attendance is considered willful, because being at your job on time is a core component of being an employee, in some state laws it receives a special category of UI ineligibility all on its own. And you can easily make a good argument that the same principle applies here.

    6. FYI*

      I don’t see Mark as being on a power trip at all. The employee received one too many chances, and Mark is the one who was left to deal with employee’s terrible behavior. I see Mark as responding to the LW’s rather too lenient approach. Read it again.
      The person was warned. No improvement.
      The person was warned again. Behavior gets even worse.
      The person was warned again, because LW has “tiny hope.” The behavior again worsens.
      The person resigns before getting fired, and LW THANKS them for self-awareness.

      If I were Mark — again, the one who has to put energy into supervising this nonsense — I would be none-too-thrilled with LW. Perhaps Mark DOES have an appropriate “justice streak,” given LW’s passivity. And now Mark is getting the side-eye?? Hell, no. These responses actually make me annoyed on Mark’s behalf.

      1. JustaTech*

        I don’t see the LW being passive at all.
        Passive would be just ignoring the problem for months and months, not having weekly meetings and coaching the problem employee.
        Do you think the employee should have been fired after the first meeting? After the second?
        Summarily firing people without giving them a chance to improve is a great way to tank the office morale.

        And Mark has gotten what he needed, this employee gone. Mark never needs to think about “can’t do meetings” employee ever again, except maybe to influence hiring decisions to replace the gone employee.

        Given how many letters we’ve had here about people who refuse to acknowledge that they’re bad at their job and need to leave, who fight their (needed) firing tooth and nail, yeah it is nice when someone just leaves.

        I have had the chance to observe a site leader with a strong punitive (“justice”) streak and honestly, it was really uncomfortable. There is nothing professional about lecturing an entire shift about a coffee spill in the break room (especially in front of people from another site!). It was like being in middle school again, and it did nothing to improve anyone’s attention or work efficiency.

        1. Autistic AF*

          Exactly. Mark no longer “has to deal with employee’s terrible behavior”. He no longer has to “put energy into surviving this nonsense”. Yet he continues to do so. It’s entirely reasonable for him to still be frustrated about it all, but he needs to find a healthier way to process his feelings.

      2. HR Rules*

        To be fair to LW, places that are firing avoidant often have some heavy paperwork requirements for mistakes like this that go along the lines of:

        Mistake 1: Verbal conversation
        Mistake 2: Documented conversation, PIP (with a mandatory time for improvement- 2 weeks to 90 days)
        Mistake 3: 2nd Documented conversation (shorter time improvement window)
        Mistake 4: 3rd Documented conversation, then allowed to fire.

        The chances given may not be up to LW or Mark, and may be a function of their employee handbook/union rules. This just sounds like a normal policy following for routine low level failure to improve.

  2. CatCat*

    Ugh, I have encountered this before where someone gets the outcome they wanted (bad employee is gone, not our problem anymore!), but then get all agitated and try to drag it out in some way because they didn’t get that outcome in the way they wanted. That just wasted a lot of time before that punitive-minded manager was finally shut down. OP, you are right to be concerned about giving Mark any additional management authority.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      I think Mark is just mad at the junior employee, he wants to vent some of that anger, and apparently “You’re fired!” would be a lot more satisfying for him than “Junior has quit.” He seems to be taking Junior’s shortcomings very personally, too.

      So the first thing Mark needs to do is to quit taking these things personally! Junior presumably wasn’t being late and slipshod at him. They were clearly someone to whom lateness and slipshoddity (?) came naturally, at least in this particular job/point in time.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        That bit that you said about how personally Mark is taking this is really, really important for OP to dig into. There’s a charitable explanation for why Mark may feel this way. Someone who’s new to supervision may not understand the extent to which their report succeeding is a joint effort and commitment to good faith, rather than being purely a reflection of their management abilities. A time like this is a good opportunity for OP to reinforce that Mark isn’t going to be held responsible for Junior’s failures. Sometimes we get directs who aren’t ready or capable to deliver, and that’s the end of that.

        That said, Mark needs to know that that shared responsibility bargain only holds up as long as he’s making reasonable choices as a manager. Wanting to punish employees or go on the warpath are things that shift the responsibility all the way onto Mark to fix.

      2. MassMatt*

        I agree overall, but wonder if the LW and comments aren’t coming down harder on Mark than on the no-show employee, who it seems was given many chances.

        OP, is it possible Mark is feeling angry about this because it dragged on too long and mr. no-show was given too many chances? Were there other problems with this employee Mark was having to deal with before it came to you? Was Mark in the awful position of having to supervise this employee without having the power to discipline him himself?

        And how new is Mark to managing? If this is his first time dealing with a bad employee firsthand then maybe it’s natural he’s having trouble letting go of his anger.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          I….don’t think anybody has come down on the no-show employee at all, hard or easy. Because what is there to say? That isn’t at issue. Junior messed up and continued messing up despite being given help and second chances and so on and…that’s all there is to it.

          The OP didn’t ask about the no-show employee, except to ask if there is an issue with letting the person resign. What the OP asked was what to do about Mark, so that’s what commenters have concentrated on.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Yeah, what’s there to say about the employee who quit? It might be hard for the employee to find a new job, and it seems kind of silly to quit a job over not wanting to show up to meetings on time (or at all).

            Mark, on the other hand, is still there and sounds like he might be causing problems with his vindictive streak.

            1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              Right. Regardless of what’s going to become of the employee who quit, one of the take-aways of this situation that’s important for Mark to understand is that there will be some employees who aren’t willing or able to be remediated right now despite your best efforts and there’s not much you can do to change that. Maybe they’ll be in a place to improve their behavior elsewhere, maybe they won’t, but none of that really matters.

        2. Derjungerludendorff*

          OP can’t really do anything about the employee, but they can do something about Mark.

          And I don’t think he’s entirely new to supervising. OP says mark is the assistant director, and took on more supervisory tasks last year. Which implies he had some before and has at least a number of months with the new ones. And it’s long enough to establish that vengeful streak for OP.

        3. Firecat*

          Where does it say employee was a no show? I just saw that he had trouble attending meetings on time.

          1. MassMatt*

            “A junior employee in their first year (though with advanced education) has struggled to show up to meetings with other employees and clients….

            Things didn’t improve. We met again in two weeks. Things actually somehow seemed worse. We were clear that not showing up on time to meetings was not okay and was a fireable offense if it continued. The employee threatened to resign, and we left it up to them before they came back and attempted to apologize. We gave them another chance, in part to get documentation and the job description in order, in part from a tiny hope they could turn it around. After a few weeks and one good follow-up, they stopped showing up again.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      This is especially concerning because, ideally, in a situation like this, what you want is for the person not to be working for you anymore. They’re then not your problem. They can go work somewhere else and be someone else’s problem (and frequently they learn from the job and go somewhere that they are a better fit, so it’s eventually a win all around). Especially in a case like this, where it’s a case of fit and not because of some egregious horrifying action, letting them go is a consequence, not really a punishment. There are plenty of lessons and consequences involved with losing your job, and usually they are more than punishment enough.

      But the goal is not to have them, like, humiliated and ruined and ineligible for employment anywhere else and broke forever and crushed and sobbing in a heap, which apparently is part of what Mark’s ideal outcome will involve. Yikes. Dude. Just let them leave quietly. You got what you needed. You’ve already won … not that this was a competition.

    3. RC Rascal*

      As someone who has survived a punitive manager, be very careful about giving Mark more authority. This is a terrible trait in a manager. I understand it, because it’s one I have myself and have to be very careful to manage.

      Depending on Mark’s tenure in the business world, he may not understand that once the desired outcome was achieved, there was nothing else to do. There is a coaching opportunity around that. In general, people who have an urge to be punitive tend to skip the problem solving stage and the opportunity/duty to manage people, and jump straight to vengeance. It’s also possible Mark lacks the skill to actively manage people and provide feedback, so he wants to jump to punitive action.

      I learned this from watching my punitive boss. As I became more seasoned, I learned that every time he became vindictive and punitive, it was because he had blatantly skipped over all the reasonable steps after the problem occurred. (Talking to the employee, understanding why the problem happened, providing appropriate feedback).

      1. Not Your Average Jo(lene)*

        Yes! This! And I wonder if this punitive trait of his played into the employee not performing. I think we are quick in our culture to side with management, when in fact, both sides need to be looked at. Just my two cents!

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Agreed, sort of. I mean, there are a lot of red flags regarding Mark’s managerial skills, and I also suspect that he created problems for the employee who left by way of poor conflict resolution skills. That said, it’s unjustifiable for an employee to just not show up to meetings, regardless of what’s going on with their relationship with their manager. Quitting when there’s been an irreparable breakdown in your relationship with your manager makes sense, but contributing to making that relationship worse while you’re still employed is something you want to avoid.

        2. Snuck*

          I do wonder what the rest of Mark’s team thinks of Mark…. this guy was possibly acting out immaturely and unprofessionally (he was young! Inexperienced!) and it’s entirely possible that it was a personality conflict as much as anything.

          Is there anything that shows Mark doesn’t get alone with any other staff? Is there a personality trait, age, gender/sex or other that links the people he does/ does not get along with? In reading this I was imagining one of the (many) young new to work men I managed over the years who just couldn’t get along with someone, was used to having some form of power (young and male? They were generally private school boys for me – not that I employed them!) and when someone came along and said “do this” they might get a bit huffy. HOW you followed up that determined the outcome – does Mark have an issue with the nuances of managing people – it’s not all cookie cutter!

          1. Despairing of humankind*

            I’m curious as to whether they ever found out *why* the employee had been coming late to meetings.
            I myself have been making a point of coming 2 minutes late to every team meeting in 2020/2021. Not because I am a bad employee, but because one of my team members arrives ridiculously early to each meeting (up to 20 minutes), and then starts a political discussion that frequently ended with comparing the COVID lockdown and mask wearing to the Holocaust and having to wear yellow stars on our jackets (I swear that I am not joking). I just do not want to be in a position where there is even a possibility that I may have to be in a one-on-one situation with this person. The weeks they are on leave, I make a point of coming to each meeting a few minutes early.
            Could something like this have been happening?

            1. EmmaPoet*

              NGL, I would never speak to this person again after blowing up like Etna. That comparison makes my head spin Exorcist style.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. I’d want to know what else Mark is doing. Usually this type of thinking does not exist in a vacuum, he’s got other stuff going on also.

      3. Brad Fitt*

        Agree on the coaching opportunity. Are skip-levels a normal thing in real jobs or was that just something I’ve had at jobs with high turnover that hire mostly 20-somethings who didn’t go to college? It’s where the manager’s manager talks to the manager’s employees without the manager present to see how everyone is doing in their work in general and especially in relation to their manager.

        “I wanted to talk to all of you about how you feel in your roles for Company and if there’s anything we can do to make your jobs easier. I’m also interested in getting feedback from you about Mark. Any criticisms you have will be taken into consideration for coaching purposes and your names will not be attached to any of the feedback. If you want to raise anything that you’re uncomfortable sharing with your peers, I’m happy to schedule a one-on-one meeting or you can send an email. Again, any feedback you have won’t be forwarded to Mark with your name attached.” (Obviously this becomes less anonymous for unique positions, e.g., if the duck-counter has issues with the way Mark reacts when the ducks aren’t in a tidy row, and the company only employs one duck-counter, but do what you can.)

  3. Delphine*

    Would the advice be different if the firable offense was more egregious? For example, a company VP who routinely slept with intern-level and entry-level employees who were significantly younger than him, including one occasion when he encouraged an employee to have drinks with him at a networking event and then had sex with her when she was extremely drunk. HR eventually found out about his inappropriate behavior, but instead of being let go, he was allowed to resign because it was simpler for the company. They even had a going-away party for him. It seemed like everything he did was swept under the rug and he faced no consequences for his actions. He has another VP position now.

    1. Frank Doyle*

      In that case, it seems like the parts that were handled inappropriately were the going away party, and the (presumably) good references he was able to get for his next job. The resignation part is neither here nor there.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you can pretty much always let a person resign, as long as they’re doing it swiftly. The point is to get them out of your employ. But that doesn’t mean you throw them a goodbye party (!), give a good reference, or let them be eligible for rehire.

      1. Des*

        We actually had a similar situation on my team. A person I knew was on PIP and wasn’t working out eventually resigned instead of being fired. Because the parting was being treated as them leaving for other opportunities, we threw him a farewell lunch, wished him well, etc, as we would for anyone else leaving the team. It seemed like a good way to part ways peacefully (and many on the team did not know about the PIP despite his poor performance).

        At lunch, this person decided to “quiz” us on various mind teasers and wouldn’t let the subject be switched to something else. I think he wanted to show us how clever he really was, but all I remember is an awkward lunch and that my opinion of his people’s skills went out the window.

        There’s no point to this story other than to say: that was weird.

      2. doreen*

        In this case, I think it would be fine to let the employee resign – but not necessarily in others. There are too many employers who only verify dates of employment when an potential employer contacts them for a reference check – and even employers who will give more information don’t necessarily keep good documentation about “why we were going to fire him but he quit first”. Which doesn’t really matter if it was because he was missing or late to meetings – but might matter very much if it was a correction officer who was was groping inmates.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          In many professions – you might not be able to “resign” yourself out of a dilemma.

          If you’re a teacher, for instance, and engage in moral turpitude, you can’t just resign your way out of the charges and walk away, even if the activity isn’t neccessarily felonious.. It’s essential that school authorities allow due process, but if the teacher is fired it’s critical that they ‘punch a hole’ in that guy/gal’s teaching credentials.

          If the teacher were allowed to quit and just move on to another community, and it happened again there, the school district that didn’t go through with the firing could be held liable for knowing this and allowing it to continue.

          The same thing in the financial world. Caught with your hands in the jam jar? Kiss your credentials goodbye.

          There sometimes can be serious consequences for NOT following through on things.

    3. I'm just here for the cats*

      In this case yes, I think it would be better to have him resign, but no references. And it might be better for the employee who he got drunk. She probably is very embarrassed. When someone is fired its very much “What did he DO to get fired?” and people would be gossiping and trying to dig up dirt on what happened. Where as if he resigned they may still be curious but it’s not that big of a deal. people move on all the time.

    4. Roscoe*

      I mean, the outcome was he was gone, did it matter why? I feel like some people have a “justice boner” where CONSEQUENCES must happen. But again, the VP is gone and the problem isn’t your companies. A win is a win, doesn’t matter how you get there

    5. Don*

      This is different but not for any of the reasons Mark purports to care about. When people who have engaged in behavior that harms the coworker/company get that sort of gentle departure the damage isn’t that they’re not learning. They’re not your problem anymore. The damage there is to morale and what message it sends to others who might be tempted to behave badly. People who see this – particularly anyone who is concerned that the described incident could have been sexual assault – are going to question how it’ll go for them if they’re assaulted, and what other sorts of possible predators the company is shrugging off.

      That’s still not a reason to get into a -you can’t quit I fire you- comedy skit, but it is sure a reason to examine what sort of message you send to the people whose continued contentment and personal development DOES matter to you.

      1. TootsNYC*

        yes.
        Your concern should be the company, and so how you handle it is not about sending a message to THEM, but in sending a message to those who remain with the company, and the clients/customers/stakeholders of the company.

        The “soft resignation” sends a bad message to the other executives/supervisors, to the staff, and to people watching.
        A “stern resignation” would have better served the company’s interests.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yes.

          “John has resigned, effective immediately. Until a replacement is appointed, Jane will be handling his duties.” gives no doubt about his being pushed and appropriate.

          “John is leaving us to pursue new opportunities and his last day will be X. We all wish him well and hope to see you all at his goodbye drinks!” is entirely inappropriate.

          1. Jinni*

            Oh, I really liked this nuanced email. At my ex-husband’s firm, there was all sorts of soft pushing out that took one to two years in some cases.

            They’d lower their salary, eliminate all duties, let them come in whenever or never, so that they had time to find a job. My ex insisted that it gave the message that they were nice and a family-oriented place (with 2000 employees mind you – but it was huge growth from 300 in ten years), and no one would be fired. But the morale of those left suffered mightily. Then they’d have all sorts of meetings about why the pushed out person’s subordinates left. Drove me bonkers.

      2. K in Boston*

        Agreed. Not exactly the same, but I remember listening to a podcast maybe around this time last year about a doctor who was basically allowed to continually “resign” time after time from the hospitals he worked at to avoid the messiness of firing him. Throughout the course of his post-grad/fellowship career (a time period of about 5 years), he maimed at least 4 people and killed at least 2 others, perhaps up to 33 people being seriously injured or killed as a direct result of his work.

        Obviously there were a lot of other processes that failed there in regards to medical licensing, medical investigative committees, legal matters specific to medicine, government responses, a basic accurate reference check, etc., but it did seem like he at least might have been slowed down a bit if anyone along the way had felt comfortable enough to fire him instead of forcing a resignation. Since no one did, a couple of individual doctors he had worked with basically took it upon themselves as a moral necessity to make sure he couldn’t continue practicing, as they didn’t want to be complicit in allowing people to continue being seriously maimed and killed by this man.

        Which is a long-winded way of saying — you’re right that other employees are watching, and while it may not be “the company’s” burden anymore, unfortunately in some cases it doesn’t mean it’s stopped being a horrible burden for your employees. In the case outlined in the parent comment, I can’t imagine being the woman who was sexually assaulted, knowing the company knew what he did, and having to watch the company very clearly decide it’s just easier to let him resign than fire him (let alone throw him a goodbye party, good God).

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Ah, yes, the Dr. Death podcast. I had some issues with that one as a lawyer but you’re right about it being an example of when it might be better *not* to just let someone resign. But by far, most cases where an employer wants an employee to leave, it’s not because the employee assaulted or killed someone, and that’s not what was happening in this letter. Here, wanting to fire him *is* just for punitive purposes. When someone is being fired because they aren’t good at their job, why not let them resign? It gets them to leave, and you can be honest about their performance if a potential future employer calls to ask about them. And if they don’t put your company down on their resume or application and a future employer doesn’t otherwise learn that they worked for you, it doesn’t matter whether you fired them or not because you won’t be asked about them.

        2. LGC*

          I see I’ve landed on the Dr. Death side of AAM.

          Anyway, I’m in agreement, in the given situation above (and in Dr. Duntsch’s). A lot of companies have prohibitions against sleeping with subordinates (or…you know, getting high on cocaine and serially botching surgeries), and it strikes me as a lawsuit waiting to happen.

      3. staceyizme*

        This makes sense to me! It seems like it’s all about the timing and I can’t help but wonder if other employees perceived that this first-year hire’s departure should have been accomplished somewhat sooner? It would be worth digging into, a bit. Maybe there’s been some pushback that OP is unaware of or impact that hasn’t been explicitly addressed along these lines.

      4. Mr. Shark*

        I would think that if it was be fired or resign, the resignation would be immediate, therefore no chance at a going away party or anything. It would be basically a firing except not “on record” as such.

        If I were going to fire someone and they decided to resign first, I would not give them two weeks to do whatever they want. They would be gone immediately.

    6. Former Employee*

      This sounds borderline criminal. A drunk person cannot give consent. The punishment would have been if the young woman had reported this to the authorities and the perp had been prosecuted.

      The going away party was completely inappropriate. It’s like an “atta boy, wink, wink”.

      1. FunTimes*

        The punishment *from the company* would have been a firing instead of a resignation. That was an available option, and they chose not to use it.

    7. Girasol*

      We had an employee fired for taking a knife to his manager. Maybe I’m wrong but it feels like that’s a case for a swift firing without any other options, in order to reinforce a stance of zero tolerance to threats to employee safety. But where an employee just isn’t working out, the most graceful exit possible would encourage him and his one-time coworkers to think and speak positively about the company’s values.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        And in the case of workplace violence, always file a police report. Always. No matter what. If you are terminating someone for violence, there has to be a log of it in the legal system. Or you can indeed get into trouble when Johnny with the Knife denies that happened or says it was in self defense and files the police report themselves, so it’s in their favor.

        Yes. I know this from experience. As someone who has had someone fired for instigating a workplace fist fight. Yuck, I had forgotten about that one and that whole show, I left before it was settled so I don’t even know what the ruling was. -.-

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is pretty common [except the weird part where they gave him a farewell event, wtf at that!].

      It’s because what do you have to gain from firing them? The end result you want is just “Get this guy out of here”. Where he lands after that is someone else’s mess. Unless there are criminal charges filed or someone was caught redhanded by someone who will testify to it. This is a lot of “hearsay” which sucks but protects these pervs far more than it protects the employer. So it’s better that they just quit and go away quietly instead of having to be terminated. Which then can result in a big “to do” about the cause, where’s your proof? Will these interns admit to what happened, is this just something people are talking about? This sick ass society we live in doesn’t make it easy for someone to testify to that kind of stuff. It will do more harm to them than this dude bro who can’t keep it in his pants :(

      Yes it’s gross to have to go down that rabbit hole but that’s really why they indeed prefer that someone just gets the heck out without having to make it non-voluntary issue. Even if it’s a criminal case, if they don’t bring in lawyers and all that protection, they’re opening themselves up for more a more costly situation long term.

  4. JohannaCabal*

    When I was a manager, I was happy when the employee I was in the process of firing resigned.

    Why? I knew they weren’t happy in the role (he’d graduated into the ’08 recession with an advanced degree and was in a role very beneath his capabilities). I wanted him to be in a role where he could succeed, and last I checked he found a role more in line with his education and experience.

    1. Luke G*

      Yes! With COVID layoffs looming I knew who I’d have to lay off from my department, and that employee beat me to the punch by turning in their notice. In this case it wasn’t because they saw the writing on the wall, they just had the luck to land a dream job in the midst of chaos, but being able to see them off in a positive way rather than a layoff way was so nice.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Oh, my goodness, yes! It is so, so much easier to deal with a resignation. No separation agreement, no severance, no unemployment claim paperwork to complete (though we rarely contest claims), no documentation/inquisition meeting with employment counsel, no uncomfortable termination meeting – where is the downside to a resignation of an underperforming employee?

      One HR I worked under had a separate termination class for these sort of situations – I think they called it “involuntary resignation” or something like, though I doubt, knowing the HR guy, that he provided that information to reference checkers.

    3. Glitsy Gus*

      Exactly this! 99% of the time when you have to let someone go it isn’t because they are a bad or vindictive person, it’s just that it isn’t the right job fit. There is no reason to make that any more painful than it needs to be.

      Mark really needs to learn that, unless there is something major that happened which wasn’t included in this letter, this employee was not being late or messing up client meetings AT Mark. This is not personal! He just wasn’t cut out for the role. Fortunately, employee figured that out as well and left; this outcome is the best possible situation. If there was a “lesson” to be learned here it really was to know when to leave a job that isn’t working out, and employee clearly learned it

  5. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    Perhaps Mark wanted to show the remaining employees that there are consequences to egregious misbehavior. That might be a legitimate reason to be “punitive.” Not saying I think firing someone after he resigns is the way to go, but I think the impulse is understandable.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But that too would be reason to have pause about Mark’s management instincts, since the way to show people there are consequences to misbehavior is to have clear, transparent systems of addressing problems and enforcing accountability (and a track record of managing well).

      1. Anin*

        I know someone asked a similar question above, but quietly resigning won’t seem like a consequence to remaining staff depending on the action don’t you think?

        1. Roscoe*

          But the thing is, the result is what you wanted. Why do you care so much how you get there.

          Employee was unreliable. Employee is no longer there. Why do I, as a remaining staff member, care whether they quit or were fired. I’m just happy to not have to work with them anymore

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            As a remaining staff member, I might let stuff slide because I see that unreliable employees are not fired.
            Or I might feel grateful that the manager has dealt with the unreliable employee and hired someone I can count on to turn up in time when I’m leading a meeting.
            It does matter to remaining employees.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If your culture is one where people see that you deal with problems forthrightly, enforce accountability, and are fair and direct, they’re going to know/assume you dealt with this similarly (and many of them will assume that’s directly connected to why the person left). But even if somehow they’re not sure if that happened in this one situation, if that’s your culture in general, there’s no real need to make an example of this person; it’s already clear to everyone how the org operates.

        3. GS*

          If I saw someone late to meetings or missing meetings several times in a row, I’d assume they were related even if no one connected the dots for me.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Where I work, we have so many meetings that this is part for the course. It’s an organizational problem, not an individual employee problem. But you are expected to let people know if you’re running late, double-booked, etc. (Our higher-ups know this is a problem. I think it won’t be resolved until all the Boomers retire.)

        4. Lexie*

          I worked somewhere that rarely terminated people but did have several people resign effective immediately at the close of the business day. We all knew what those “resignations” really were.

        5. Caterpillar Sam*

          I agree totally. Not for little things like an underperforming staff member, but for serious things allowing someone to quietly resign is showing that you won’t take action and will protect the guilty. Sometimes being seen to fire someone for serious breaches, or making clear that you were in the act of firing when they resigned ahead of you, is the only way for others to trust you take things seriously. (Although not the case for a simple situation of a staff member underperforming – in this situation it’s weird to want to fire him, there’s no object lesson other than that you’re petty.)

          In a roundabout way I was involved with a department who employed a senior person “Bob” when allegations came out about serious misconduct at a previous employer. That employer washed their hands and said “ex-employee not our problem, he resigned that’s the end of it for us”. New department absolutely got asked what action they were taking about the allegations and were forced to act. Ex-employer was pressured to act (and eventually did). The allegations against Bob were found to be true, and Bob lost new job and was forced out of the profession.

          People needed to see that both ex and current employer did not support Bob or his actions. Nobody believed they took the matter seriously while they continued to look away because well Bob resigned… Or all this is from before Bob worked here… Or but we can’t investigate because it wasn’t on our watch…

          I think sometimes the objective of a firing is publicly talking a stand against specific behaviour every bit as much as it is removing the problem.

    2. Ray Gillette*

      I wouldn’t call what was described in the letter egregious misbehavior. The departing employee was unreliable and a poor performer. That’s fireable, but not egregious. Showing up to work drunk and harassing your coworkers is egregious, and even then it’s a good outcome if the trash takes itself out.

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      It’s one thing if OP hadn’t been going to fire the person anyway, but all parties were clear that this was a “quit or you’re fired” situation. So emotionally for Mark, you would think it would feel the same either way. The employee definitely knows they messed up (and won’t get unemployment), so it’s not like they got away with anything or were in denial or something.

    4. BRR*

      But like Alison’s answer says, the employee DID face consequences. Management in this scenario isn’t about making sure the employee understands what they did was wrong after they no longer work there. Management in this scenario is about addressing a problem an employee is creating. If you are a remaining employee, they probably have hunches this wasn’t 100% voluntary and they know their management deals with performance issues. Or since we know the LW actually deals with performance issues (snaps to LW since not every manager deals with them!), if another employee needs something to be addressed the LW is probably doing that.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      To do that, Mark would have to announce to the other employees that the person had been fired. Announcing the specifics of any sort of personnel action where I work is Not Done, but most people can connect the dots that Bob’s failure to show up for meetings + some sort of Bob-no-longer-works-here message = Bob no longer works here because he couldn’t show up for meetings.

      Functional managers do not walk around the office announcing that they fired someone or disputing a departing employee’s announcement that they quit.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Agreed. Dysfunctional managers are the ones who want everyone to know the have the power to fire someone.

        If you think you have to make an example of someone in order intimidate, and thus control, employees, you are an extremely bad and completely ineffective manager.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah. I definitely wouldn’t want to work for a manager like Mark. Vindictive people like him shouldn’t be managing people in any capacity.

        LW, I hope that y0u’ll make it abundantly clear to Mark that his vindictive attitude is completely unacceptable and unless he can learn to let go of it, he won’t be getting any more managerial authority.

    6. Danish*

      We don’t have any evidence the other team members need to be “shown” this. I mean it’s fairly obvious to most people – if you’re scheduled for a meeting, you have to show up to it. Or, more broadly, you have to do your job.

      I’m doubtful this is something that most people actually need illustrated.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Yup. FWIW, something I’ve noticed in my career is that some of the people who struggle with this aspect of management come to us from either K-12 teaching or some other career that involves an in loco parentis role. Obviously they know that managing working adults is different from classroom management, but sometimes their management style doesn’t reflect the idea that adults tend to understand consequences to the point of them being self-reinforcing.

    7. CRM*

      Honestly, most people will probably be able to read between the lines on this one. At my workplace, EVERYONE knows that when someone is having obvious performance problems (like missing meetings) and then resigns without having another position lined up, 99% of the time it’s because they were given the option to leave or get booted.

  6. Angry Birds*

    Mark is trying to stir up so much drama just to make a point. I’d be very wary about how he comes across as a manager to his subordinate too. If OP reaches out to them, they may have something interesting to say.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Mark got it in his head that this person’s performance was bad enough to be fired and is mad that the employee has pre-empted the culmination of the work he had to do to get the firing up and running (OR, more likely, that the employee circumvented the firing process). So, Mark feels “cheated” of the resolution that he had set up in his mind.

      Mark needs to re-frame his thinking to “problem employee is no longer our problem, we didn’t have to do any paperwork or have an awkward final conversation/march him out,” and perhaps more importantly, “this organization doesn’t try to kick people on their way out the door.”

      1. Salymander*

        Exactly. Kicking someone on their way out the door doesn’t say, “We value employees who do a good job and work well with others, and we deal with problems in a sensible way.” It says, “Management here is vindictive and tyrannical. Find another job ASAP.”

        Seems like a good way to lose your best employees to other jobs with better management. If you fire him even if he is leaving, that is dramatic enough that people will talk, and they will focus on the vindictive nature of Mark, not the problems with the employee. If problem employee just leaves quietly, people will still talk, but they will say that employee was let go due to poor performance. Much better outcome.

        Also, Mark isn’t supposed to reign from on high and punish evildoers. Seems like that but of authority he has is going to his head. Is he usually that vindictive? Is this a new thing? I am kinda curious.

  7. Moi*

    We had a similar situation at my first job. Essentially, the junior employee had been brought on full time after completing an internship. It became clear that the junior employee was looking for a full time salary with intern level responsibilities and that obviously didn’t fly. They displayed a lot of similar behavior to the junior employee in the letter.

    Management handled it very similarly to the Letter Writer including multiple second chances, one-on-one coaching, etc. In the end, the junior employee resigned, albeit with encouragement. Like Alison mentioned, the junior employee faced their own consequences without management inflicting any punishment of their own as the employee had a very hard time finding an equal position at another company within the market and essentially ended up starting over.

  8. OrigCassandra*

    I’ve had a couple of Mark-type bosses. One of them came to the front door of my home unannounced, some time after I’d left the company. (I did not open the door, he went away after a bit, and the situation did not recur as far as I know. What did he want? Don’t know, don’t want to know.)

    Another was the kind of Mark who routinely badmouths former colleagues and reports at any opportunity. I knew he’d do it to me when I left — he’d done it to others during my tenure — and I also knew that it would reflect more poorly on him than me, especially as my sputtering career took a steep and rapid upward turn once I got out of there, and his… didn’t and hasn’t.

    I don’t know what your Mark is capable of, OP — but I think you need to keep a pretty sharp eye on him to find out, before he gets any more managerial responsibilities. Neither of my ex-Marks did themselves or their employer a whole lot of good with their vengeful shenanigans.

    1. Anin*

      What you’ve described here goes a looooot further than what Mark wanted IMO. I think it’s a common enough misconception that firing should be ~if they did wrong~ which can be fixed with coaching but showing up to your door is call the police.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Oh, definitely! I’m only saying that there’s a continuum of behavior for vengeful people, one end of it is pretty scary, and OP probably needs to get a read on where Mark is on it, since this one situation doesn’t constitute enough information.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Cassandra –

      Sometimes, in my field, people get fired, or resign for cause, and some months later, the company realizes they made a mistake.

      Such reconciliations wind up beginning with face-to-face, hat in hand meetings. I’d almost never turn someone away like that, I’d give him or her five minutes. It’s likely that , if he came to the front door to meet with you, he’s not coming with a hostile intent. Obviously, if you left due to harassment or some criminal action that the company committed against you – no… but if you peaceably resigned over conflicts and he’s at your door a month later, I’d hear him out. And if there’s litigation involved with your departure, any back-channel communication would be inappropriate.

  9. Clorinda*

    How would that even work? If the person has resigned, there’s nothing to fire them from.
    It would be a kindness to advise the ex-employee not to use Mark as a reference, though.

    1. TootsNYC*

      you could speed up their final date, by telling them they have to leave right now, I suppose. But it’s still not really “firing,” from a logical point of view.
      “You can’t fire me, I quit!” is just a Hello Dolly line. It’s not how things actually work

      1. Clorinda*

        Mark is trying to say “You can’t quit, I fire you,” which is equally wrong. Whatever happened first, happened.

    2. BRR*

      That’s my question. If they quit right then and there, can you even fire them? Assuming at-will employment, it’s whoever gets there (there being ending employment) first right?

    3. Lexie*

      I guess they could change the resignation to a termination in his personnel file so that if someone calls to confirm employment they’ll be told the guy was fired. But that makes them look vindictive and maybe open them up to lawsuit depending if there was any type of agreement signed at the time of resignation.

    4. TurtleIScream*

      I wonder if in Mark’s limited experience, he’s even aware of “Not Eligible for Rehire”. To me, that would satisfy the need for “justice” and “consequences” with being punitive or petty. That is certainly an action the company can take post-resignation.

  10. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP —
    The answer to your first question is simple: yes, you handled it correctly. Now you can concentrate on hiring someone who will be a better fit for the role.

    As for Mark and his “justice streak” — I’d be wary of giving him more supervisory responsibilities at this point. Right now it might be worth it to sit him down and make some of the points that Alison gave in her reply to your post. See how he reacts. If he says something like, “Yeah, I get what you’re saying, it just feels wrong,” you may be able to develop him. If he doubles down and insists on enforcing consequences, then you should definitely track him away from any role that includes supervision of others.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, I agree that the idea of “enforcing consequences” when the problem has already resolved itself feels troubling and I would be very concerned about Mark’s behavior.

  11. Archaeopteryx*

    Comedian Mike Birbiglia talks about how his brother ‘Joe Bags’ is “One of those people who’s really into Justice.” I, too, am a Joe Bags, but a lot of my professional growth has been learning when it’s better to suppress that desire (i.e. most of the time).

  12. Roscoe*

    This story reminds me of a girl I dated. Things were clearly a bit rocky. I texted her asking if we could talk, so it wasn’t exactly a shock that I planned on breaking up with her. She decided that I wasn’t going to break up with her, but that she was going to break up with me first. I guess that made her feel like she saved face or something? I don’t know. The relationship was over, which was what I wanted. I didn’t really care how it happened, though I prefer less drama to more.

    That is basically what he is doing. Wanting to control the narrative that HE ended things, instead of just caring that things are over.

    1. Former Employee*

      Clearly, it was important to your ex that she be the one to break up.

      Your last interaction with that girl was to do her a kindness.

      That’s always the best way to end things, if at all possible.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      This. I think Mark is too focused on controlling the narrative, rather than the outcome.

      The employee made as graceful an exit as they could under the circumstances. Mark needs to learn to put things behind him.

  13. Lifelong student*

    Twice in my 50+ years of employment, I was told that I could resign or be fired. In both cases, I chose to be fired because I did not believe that the grounds presented were justification for termination. In both cases I was influenced by the fact that I knew I would preserve my ability to collect unemployment and by the fact that the details of the cases would not reflect badly on me should I have to discuss them in future job searches. The manager who wants to list this as a firing is not doing anything to the benefit of the company. I would assume the no-longer employee would not receive a glowing reference so the only consequence would be to make the company potentially liable for unemployment with no upside for the company that I can see.

    1. Des*

      Can you still collect unemployment after being fired? I thought that’s only if you were laid off. (I may be in a different country and thus playing under different rules)

      1. zinzarin*

        In most places in the US, yes. The only ways you typically don’t collect unemployment is if you quit/resign or for gross misconduct (i.e. theft, violence, fraud, etc.). Termination for failing to meet the expectations of your role (i.e. a bad fit) does not deny you unemployment.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In my experience (DC/MD/VA), it doesn’t have to be gross misconduct, but it does need to be misconduct. They’ll deny it for things like absenteeism, insubordination, etc. but not for things like work quality.

          1. allathian*

            Would not showing up to a meeting with clients count as absenteeism? If someone’s been hired to meet with clients, they’re losing business and potentially risk losing clients and damaging the company’s reputation if they keep missing such meetings. I would expect that meetings would occasionally have to be rescheduled if their car broke down or there’s a family emergency without giving an immediate cause for firing. But in this case it sounds like either negligence, like the employee didn’t schedule the meeting on their calendar and forgot it, or just otherwise failed to attend the meeting without a good reason.

            That said, if the employee resigned, that should be that.

  14. mcfizzle*

    As usual, Alison is spot-on. She said this, but would like to add my digital two cents.
    Please, please do not give the resigned employee any kind of good reference. I am in an industry where it is so sadly common to force a resignation but “to be nice” and offer to be a good reference. What’s the point of checking references if it’s not accurate? It’s been a real frustration as we try to vet candidates.

    1. Essess*

      Agreed. And even if you work for a company that orders you not to give any details about an employee’s performance in a job reference, a common question in references is “would you hire this person back?” Be honest and say no!

        1. JohannaCabal*

          Yes, most places I’ve worked where this happened included agreements for neutral references.

          As far as eligibility for rehire, I went to a leadership session and the presenter said he always answered “our policy is not to rehire” (he was highly fearful of lawsuits from what I remember).

    2. Khatul Madame*

      And let this be the “consequence” Mark is seeking so passionately: instructing HR to only confirm the offending employee’s dates of employment and not give any additional information; and maybe even mark this person not eligible to rehire.
      If the meeting non-attendance embarrassed Mark’s team and even cost them a client, I can imagine why Mark would feel this way. It may be worth a conversation with him, where OP can also say, “Look, X has no job, no unemployment, and no reference – plenty of consequences”. If Mark continues with his “Off with their head” stance even after that, OP’s concerns are justified.

  15. TootsNYC*

    the thing I’m struck by is this:

    It is not logically POSSIBLE to fire someone after they have resigned.
    i get that they’re perhaps serving out a notice period, and you could insist that they leave right now.
    But you can’t fire someone.

    there’s that “Hello Dolly” line: You can’t fire me, I quit.
    But it’s just a great rejoinder; it’s not a logical progression of fact. You cannot quit from a position that you have just been fired from.

    Whoever says it first determines whether it’s a firing or a resignation.

    1. Luke G*

      “You can’t fire me, I quit.” That’s just what I thought of, too. Except for you, the line is from “Hello Dolly.” For me, the line is from the Rankin & Bass’ “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I see you are a much more cultured individual than I am :D

    2. Willis*

      Yeah, this. You could have them leave immediately vs working out a notice period, you could say they’re not eligible for re-hire, and you could decline to give a reference (or give an honest/poor one if someone did ask). But to say you fired them would be a lie, because they already ended the work relationship by quitting. So, Mark just wants to lie about this situation to get vengeance on a bad employee? That’s pretty crappy, and I’m guessing if the situation were reversed where a fired employee is telling people they quit, Mark would think that wrong.

    3. Annony*

      Well, it depends. A lot of employers would be perfectly happy to accept “You can’t fire me, I quit” because it is less paperwork and they won’t have to pay unemployment.

  16. Bostonian*

    Ooooh those “justice” types are the same ones who complain about Willow leaving 5 minutes early every day, who say that it “must be nice” when people with medical accommodations have a flexible schedule, and who think that just being in a role for a certain amount of time entitles them to a promotion. I’ve seen those types in a position of authority, and it’s not pretty. That’s how you get dunce hat boss and tape-over-mouth boss.

    Mark, at minimum, needs management coaching. You should maybe also monitor him to the extent possible and ask for feedback from the people he manages. If you discover other problems and there isn’t improvement after coaching/workshops/tough conversations, time to take away this growth opportunity.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      It wouldn’t surprise me if some of these attitudes all relate to either a strong focus on obedience or discomfort with holding others accountable. If accountability is something you don’t quite understand, it can be difficult to understand how others can function without yes/no rule-following. Or, you may not understand how to communicate and enforce expectations without anger or some other strong, negative emotion.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Maybe, or it could be an aversion to the idea that somebody got away with something. I’ve known a couple of those in my time, and it’s VERY hard to coach them out of it.

  17. Bostonian*

    Also, +100 to this:

    You’re not a parent, and you’re not there to teach anyone a lesson. You’re just there to get work done effectively.

    Put that on a throw pillow!

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Plus, not feeling responsible for (or like you have any control over) other people’s maturation is delightfully liberating.

    2. TootsNYC*

      SO VERY MANY people do not have any “authority” paradigm to work off of except the parental one, and often the school one.

      And then they had a particular type of parents.

      I actually DO often use my mom for a model when I’m a manager. But she was a very unusual parent (and I don’t use everything she did; just the parts that I noticed as being more appropriate). And it is also clear to me when a “mom” framing is not appropriate.

  18. Cat Tree*

    This reminds me of a time when I interviewed and got a job offer, which I eventually turned down. It paid the same as my then-current role, which was fair to offer but not enough incentive for me to leave my job for them. After a drawn-out negotiation attempt, which was essentially me saying I wouldn’t accept that amount and them repeating that they didn’t want to pay more, I officially declined the offer as politely as possible.

    But here’s the fun part. A few hours later, the hiring manager called and left a voice mail saying he re-read my resume and decided I wasn’t qualified for the position so he was rescinding the offer. OK. He rescinded an offer I had already declined, and made a point to tell me about it. It came off as extremely petty and just affirmed that I made the right choice to not work for him.

    1. whistle*

      Wow! What kind of ego do you have to have to make a call like this? I just can’t imagine going through life with that kind of mentality.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Also, it doesn’t reflect well on him, because if I’m truly unqualified just from my resume then he’s a bad manager to not just interview me but make an offer.

    2. Engineer Woman*

      Wow. Just wow. As you said, totally dodged a bullet and reinforced what a good decision you made!

    3. KayDeeAye*

      Wow. I’d say pettiness is his super power. But it’s hilarious. Thanks so much for sharing, Cat Tree!

    4. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah I had someone to something similar to me when I pulled out of a job pool after deciding the manager seemed “off”. I was told, “Well, you weren’t going to be a finalist anyway.” And I thought to myself, “Good.” :)

      1. KayDeeAye*

        LOL x 2! Absolutely. “I’ll show her,” he fumed. “She’ll never turn down a job here again!”

    5. Cat Tree*

      I just want to expand on this. This guy never came off as petty or whiny, during the interview, negotiation, or even the voice mail he left. His demeanor and tone of voice were professional and matter-of-fact, never whiny or even really argumentative. I was fairly young at the the time, so my first thought was that I managed to somehow fake my way through an interview until he finally uncovered the truth, and I was literally already experiencing imposter syndrome at the time. After thinking about it, I figured that the paperwork was easier on his end to reject a candidate rather then be rejected. It wasn’t until a while later that I realized he’s just petty but good at hiding it.

      When I was in college I had plenty of guys hit on me at bars only to call me gross, fat, and ugly when I rejected them, but they were always super whiny about it. So it took me a while to realize the job offer thing was essentially the same scenario.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        Yes, sounding and acting reasonable were the ways he convinced himself that he was actually being reasonable. And yet here he is, being an example to us all, though not the example he likes to think he is.

        1. Sara without an H*

          And yet here he is, being an example to us all, though not the example he likes to think he is.

          I want to embroider this in needlepoint and hang it on the wall.

    6. cncx*

      this happened to me. i had quit a job and this petty lawyer came up to tell me i wouldn’t have stayed anyway had it been his decision…ok dude it wasn’t your descision?

  19. Ryn*

    The hegemony of the punitive justice system is baked so deep in our interpersonal interactions. The impulse for a single person to enact “justice” through punishment is the same mentality behind the prison industrial complex and violent policing. Obviously a punitive boss and the prison industrial complex aren’t comparable cruelties, but the mentality is connected. As we untangle structural power structures around justice and punishment, we should be mindful of how those ideologies affect how we treat the people around us.

    1. Analyst Editor*

      It’s a bunch of sentences that sound nice in an essay but is unrealistic, a complete stretch, and unsubstantiated nonsense. Mike is off-base in this scenario. But violence, punishment, retribution have a role in society, always have, always will, and to think otherwise is naive utopianism.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Ryn didn’t say they didn’t.
        Ryn said we should be aware of that dynamic, and how it shapes our approaches to the people around us.

      2. Ryn*

        If you would like to read more about these ideas, I promise you they are not unsubstantiated. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish might be a good place for you to start. Looking at police abolition movements might help. Listening to indigenous people talking about n0n-punitive forms of justice in pre-colonial societies might help. Talking to restorative justice and transformative justice practitioners might help.

        Just because you can’t imagine a world where justice is not derived through punishment doesn’t mean it can’t exist.

        1. Analyst Editor*

          If you’re trying to redo all of society in service of some ideal that most societies did not manage to practice, the burden of proof is on you, not everyone else, to show that your method works.
          If your only example of successful societies based in restorative justice are pre-colonial indigenous ones – i.e. small and agrarian or hunter-gatherer – then you have a lot of work to do to prove that restorative justice can scale in a large, impersonal, industrialized society. I’m not even convinced you can get restorative justice to work on the level of a single high school, much less a city or a country.

          Your statement implies that people’s desire to see a bad guy suffer, and a criminal punished, is socially conditioned, nefarious, oppressive, and unnecessary. To me, the fact that most people in most societies think that way, is pretty convincing evidence that it’s a universal feeling most people have, and trying to eradicated it is a fool’s errand and counter to human nature. The movements you mention are all fringe movements. With the police specifically, I think most people would be happy if the system gave them a fair shake, police didn’t shoot people through doors, weren’t unnecessarily violent, didn’t take their stuff as “asset forfeiture”, etc. – but are perfectly happy and thankful for them to exist otherwise and do the job they’re supposed to. All of this is achievable, given the political will, within the current justice construct.

          1. EchoGirl*

            I don’t entirely disagree, but I think there’s also the question of degree. Most societies do have some kind of punishment structure in place, but in many countries, it’s set up with the guiding principle being rehabilitation where possible. The US system, however, does in fact take a much more punitive approach to criminal justice — less about actually fixing problems and more about making them suffer. I tend to agree that I think some form of criminal justice system will be part of society, but I also believe that there can be improvements made as to the approach that the system takes. I also think that there is a connection between this and a larger vindictive mentality in society, although it may be the other way around from what the top comment suggests (vindictive mentality causes punitive system, rather than the system causing the mentality).

            Getting back on the main track, I can’t say whether this is what’s going on with Mike, but like TootsNYC says below, it is something I’ve noticed of late in society that the vindictive mentality (with regards to any offense) seems increasingly prevalent, so it is possible.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I have heard and read so many more people advocating for the most punitive of approaches in recent years, and it has been escalating. I’m genuinely worried about our country.

      I think Alison’s comment section is one of the few online places where that’s not the predominant mood–and yet it surfaces here. Therein lies authoritarianism.

      1. Analyst Editor*

        And it’s happening at all ends of the political aisle. I also worry for our country. Perhaps a neglect of real issues, and a moratorium on discussing them, is causing anger and extremism in a lot of directions.

  20. Luke G*

    It would be troubling enough if Mark wanted to fire the the employee rather than giving them the option to resign. The fact that the horse has left the barn already and he wants to go back and retroactively fire someone who has *ALREADY QUIT* looks like more than a Justice Streak to me- that looks like a downright Mean Streak. With employment already ended, what Mark wants is neither consequences nor punishment. It’s just revenge. I’d be watching carefully to see how Mark handles anyone else who he perceives as having gotten the best of him somehow, to see if there’s a pattern.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, I think this is a troubling issue.

      OP, you are completely right to worry about giving him more power and authority.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      I once worked in a department where one of my managerial peers was looking to fire a long time employee. I knew about this because Other Manager really had no grounds for firing the employee, and he asked for advice during a department managers meeting on how to fire him anyway. (!) I had an opening on my team and had dealt with the employee on prior projects, so I said “I’ll take him and then you can hire for your open spot.” Our department head loved the idea and it was easier to find someone for the other team since they could get along with someone with entry level skills. The employee who came over to my team worked out great, and the other team got a good new hire. Win-win, right? Everyone should be happy. Nope.

      Other Manager became obsessed with how I was managing the transferred employee, even going so far as contacting HR to say I wasn’t handling the employee “forcefully enough.” He tracked the employee’s comings and goings, he wrote down problematic things he supposedly heard the employee saying – it was crazy. Our managers meetings turned into sessions where the guy would read off a list of all of the reasons the guy who didn’t report to him anymore needed to be fired. I made sure to give the transferred employee projects with lots of measurable goals so I could show anyone who asked that he was performing well. (…and he was performing VERY well, even better than I had thought he would.)

      My manager ignored Other Manager’s complaints about my “lax management of a problem employee” but Other Manager never shut up about it. Eventually, he went up to a VP with his complaints and was told to cut it out. I wish I could say that stopped it entirely, but at least I didn’t have to hear the weekly whining and we effectively shielded the employee from a truly nutty manager.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Wow. Just…wow. I’m glad it worked out for you, and it sounds as though you handled it well. (Kudos for assigning your transferred employee projects with quantifiable results.) But your managers really should have shut this down faster. It would have been fairer to you and, frankly, kinder to your Obsessed Colleague, who probably blew up his own reputation.

      2. allathian*

        Wow! That’s weird.
        I bet the employee performed well at least partly because he was no longer under stress caused by an unreasonable manager who was looking for an excuse to fire him, and because he was happy to be working for a reasonable manager. How did that nutty manager treat other employees?

  21. Essess*

    I wouldn’t try enforcing that he was “fired”. If you do that, then he can try to collect unemployment. Even if he was fired for cause, your company would have to go through the headache of challenging the unemployment and prove that he is ineligible. So it just wastes MORE time and resources in order to have the same outcome that he’s gone.

  22. learnedthehardway*

    On top of the reasons Allison mentioned for not allowing Mark to be punitive, consider that the employee may well be suffering from a health or mental health issue, or some other factor that has prevented them from doing their job to their best ability. Yes, if this the case, they handled the situation badly – they should have requested a leave of absence or something so they could deal with their situation. Regardless of how they handled the issue, however, the reality is that it REALLY does NOT look good to pile on someone while they’re down.

    The former employee is out of a job in a bad economy, they may have problems getting unemployment benefits, and they’ll have a problem getting a glowing reference from you – that’s enough of a consequence.

    As for other employees and how they perceive the situation – being punitive is going to be perceived by other workers as being vindictive. The only way I would retroactively dismiss this employee is if you speak to them, and offer to let them go so that they can collect unemployment insurance support more easily.

  23. LKW*

    I suppose it’s worth a discussion with Mark, as Alison suggests to potentially walk him through what he hopes to achieve. Contrition? Make the employee feel worse because they were fired? How would he know that the (former) employee felt worse for being fired than essentially being forced to resign? What happens if he gets no reaction? Will he unfire and refire them?

    Many many years ago I got fired. I figured out I was getting fired earlier in the day when I pulled faxes (told you it was long ago) with resumes and cover letters suspiciously like my job. I sat in my boss’ office, in a very relaxed pose as he said that we would be parting ways. And I just smiled and said that I thought it was for the best. He tried to come at me from a few angles but I wasn’t going to react – that’s what he wanted. He wanted me to be upset, lost, angry. I knew he wanted it and I had no intention of allowing him that moment of satisfaction. So I just smiled and said I had other irons in the fire and that I’d clear my desk and return my key. I already had a new job lined up so I really didn’t care.

    He later tried to withhold my last check until I came to the office to discuss something and I explained to the receptionist that he could not do that, he fired me and was no longer entitled to my time and then I called the Board of Labor on them. Now that was very satisfying.

    1. allathian*

      Yes! Good for you. Just out of curiosity, when would you have resigned if you hadn’t been fired, since you had another job lined up?

      1. LKW*

        Yes – my new job couldn’t start me for about 6 weeks (5 when I got fired) as it set new joiners in multiweek learning programs and there were no earlier open slots.

        I was agonizing over having 6 weeks more in that hell scape and then… bloop – fired.

  24. Don*

    If you want a (somewhat) more benign explanation than a justice streak, Mark may also just be frustrated about a long stretch of feeling powerless. This person at the bare minimum inconvenienced others, possibly creating more work for them, and repeated interventions didn’t improve things. Mark was in the early stages of some new responsibility and had to turn around and involve you. Now at the very end, the employee who has thwarted him gets to make the final decision. It’s understandable that would be frustrating!

    Maybe Mark just needs a little time with you to do a little post-game and talk about it, including you letting him know that he handled it properly by getting you involved (so he doesn’t feel like this represents a failure) and that you’re pleased with the end result. Give it a little commiseration about how frustrating it was for icing on the cake and remind him that you accomplished the important thing in righting the ship for the people that matter – those of you still there.

    1. Luke G*

      That’s a fair and charitable way to interpret Mark’s actions. It’s also a teaching opportunity- it’s never a great idea in the professional world to respond to feeling powerless by finding opportunities to flex your power just for the sake of it. For a manager it’s even less excusable and should be nipped in the bud.

    2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I appreciate how charitable this is, because it’s pretty common for new/inexperienced managers to feel powerless. Sure, their positions may have some built-in power, but they may not be comfortable using said power or recognize how much they can exercise their authority while maintaining good work relationships. Performance issues aren’t the easiest to deal with, especially when you’re a new manager.

      Someone like Mark might, as you suggested, feel empowered by a debrief, but it may also be a great opportunity for coaching or management training. Being able to approach difficult situations with the confidence that comes from better-developed managerial skills may tone down Mark’s feelings of powerlessness and, in turn, his justice impulse.

    3. BRR*

      I can see this as a possible scenario. Not the most likely but still possible. Even if he’s frustrated at the inconveniences caused by the employee and lack of autonomy, he still needs to receive feedback on how wanting to fire an employee who resigned is not ok. Poor performing employees are frustrating. But as a manager you can’t make it personal like this.

    4. Observer*

      You could be right. I still find it a bit concerning – enough that I’d be keeping a fairly close eye on him and consider some coaching, at least. Because while the issue is legitimate, the reaction is not.

    5. SimplyTheBest*

      Or possibly someone new to management thinks justice actually is what they should be striving for. Absolutely look out for other red flags, but most people who are new to management have no idea how to manage. Wouldn’t it be much happier for all if a little coaching in the right direction got him on the right path.

    6. Sparkles McFadden*

      I would love to know how Mark would respond during such a conversation. I hope this letter gets an update

      My view of management is that it’s the manager’s job to get things organized so the work gets done accurately and efficiently. Management needs to make sure staff members have the tools to succeed. Many people seem to think that the staff exists so the managers have people to order around. Those folks are all wrapped up in demanding respect “or else.”

    7. Sara without an H*

      This is a good insight. I wonder, too, if Mark thought the process OP described went on too long? It sounds as though the problem employee was given considerable coaching and multiple chances to correct the issues. Maybe Mark thought too many second chances were being offered? That would be especially frustrating if he had to put in extra work to cover for the problem employee’s issues and might account for some of his attitude now.

      There seems to be a consensus forming that OP really needs to do a debrief with Mark to find out what’s driving his behavior. But I think OP also needs to share with Mark why she took the approach she did.

  25. Mr Jingles*

    Oh why just why? How is that ‘justice’? It’s not like the hire at babies at work.
    They already have their consequences: the are unemployed! I wonder how much of that tardiness is because of stress though. Who knows how bossy Mark is to his employees. I once had a job where I dreaded every meeting. I was afraid of my teamlead who was perfect at brown nosing and always found ways to let her employees run into walls in meetings to cover up her own incompetence by making others look bad. It was so bad I felt better after wuitting while working for a callcenter! The harsh, money-driven salesforce I was part of there was better and less stressfull than working for this woman! At least the team leads valued high output and good numbers instead of punishing them!

  26. Lucia Pacciola*

    My impression is that it’s always better for an employer if their employee is happy when they leave, regardless of the underlying reasons for their departure. It’s hard to make an employee happy about being fired, for obvious reasons. When you have to fire them, you have to. But if they offer you another way out, a way that gets rid of them with less hard feelings — take it!

  27. BRR*

    Mark is of a big concern to me. If you know he has a “justice streak,” it’s probably a lot worse when you’re not around.

  28. employment lawyah*

    Generally good for all involved, in most cases. But sometimes not, so but check w/ counsel before you allow it.

    Sometimes this carries legal liability, and sometimes you almost NEED to fire someone to preserve a legal option or standing in other cases (theft, harassment). And it can get complex w/r/t unemployment and vacations and such. Also, you want to be sure that this isn’t only something which is available to folks in one class, not another.

    Still: When your firing is for non-horrible reasons; when there is no lawsuit involved or likely to be involved; and when you’re both basically acting in good faith but it just isn’t a good fit…. well, a voluntary resignation is usually great. Sounds like this was probably one of those settings.

    1. Observer*

      You don’t need to fire someone in order to later be able to go after them for theft, harassment or any other misdeed.

      1. employment lawyah*

        Nope. But there are other reasons to do so, sometimes, including the effect on future cases.

  29. Pyjamas*

    OP wrote, “Mark brought the complaints to me, and I sat down with the employee to clearly go over expectations.”

    I wish we could hear the employees side of it. Maybe there’s more going on here. Mark needs to be monitored imho

  30. Former Employee*

    Mark sounds like he might have been a prison guard in a former life.

    The kind none of the other guards liked in “The Green Mile”.

  31. Lana Kane*

    Mark could be on a power trip, or he might be someone who just. can’t. let. things. go.

    I’d say that if the OP is mentoring him, it’s worth exploring where that insistence on firing Junior is coming from (I’d say that coaching Mark on this depends on what his motivations are). I think the latter explanation is more workable, than the former. Managers who are attracted to power will seldom change, whereas having a hard time letting things go is not unusual in some new managers.

    In any case, someone should keep an eye on Mark.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Managers who are attracted to power will seldom change, whereas having a hard time letting things go is not unusual in some new managers.

      I’ve worked with a few people who just couldn’t let go of stuff, and I found it very, very hard to coach them out of it. Until the situation lines up with their internal picture of How The Universe Should Work, they will just keep pounding like a hammer after a nail.

      1. Lana Kane*

        I should have said, I have found it more workable, but surely there are people who just can’t figure out how to let go.

        I also should include myself in that because in the past I’ve had issues with it, and I’ve managed to get a lot better.

  32. Double A*

    Tryin’ to reverse the old, “You can’t fire me, I quit!” canard, huh? “You can’t quit, I’m firing you!”

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      Me too. But I thought I’d keep my “not on the topic of the actual question at hand” to just 1.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Letter Writer here.
        Jr couldn’t really give us an answer on that, except that it was a habit that had gotten them into trouble before (which was news to us).
        One of the reasons I gave a lot of chances was because I had a feeling it may be covid depression/mental health-related. That’s way out of my appropriate realm of questioning to an employee though. Early on we had offered a personal leave (to anyone during the pandemic, and to jr in particular), but jr wasn’t interested.

        1. Anonymous Hippo*

          Ah, thanks, but I didn’t expect an answer from you, more a question to Jr, lol. I just can’t imagine someone getting fired/having to resign because they just can’t get to meetings. As a meticulously early person it boggles my mind.

  33. Anonymous Hippo*

    I understand the question is about something else, but I don’t understand how it just moved on from the employee threatening to quit over being asked to show up to meetings. I mean wow.

  34. Sparkles McFadden*

    Some managers really think it is their job to “teach someone a lesson,” and, sadly, lots of people love the idea of people getting punished.

    The fact that Mark is not happy to have someone leave gracefully is a great, big red flag. He needs some management training, or, at the very least, he needs to be monitored. Some people just should not manage other people. They like the idea of having power over other humans too much.

  35. HR Exec Popping In*

    I have a general rule that if you can allow someone to save face and leave with dignity when it is time to part ways, that is what should be done. Treat them with kindness, allow them to control the narrative if at all possible, and do not squabble over details like fighting over if they have 3 or 4 days of vacation days owed. There is no “winning” or “justice” to be had. The goal is for as little disruption as possible.

  36. Des*

    [His instinct that the person needed to face “consequences” is troubling. First and foremost, that’s not what management is about. You’re not a parent, and you’re not there to teach anyone a lesson. You’re just there to get work done effectively. Sometimes that does mean imposing consequences, but only when it’s the logical outcome the situation requires; it shouldn’t be about punishing anyone. ]

    Thank you Alison; this is a great response. It’s something I have not seen verbalized so simply and nicely, but it rings very true and something I will keep in mind for the future situations.

  37. Annony*

    He was unreliable. That’s not great and not working for you any more is a logical outcome, but I don’t understand where the desire to have him “face consequences” is coming from. He is facing consequences. He doesn’t work for you and won’t get a good reference. That seems in line with the severity of what he did. He didn’t open up the company to liability, commit a crime or prey on anyone. It really seems like Mark should be able to shrug this off and move on. The fact that he can’t is concerning. What else is he going to try to punish employees for beyond what is reasonable?

    1. In my shell*

      this! I was just thinking this! Mark is channeling Michael Scott’s leadership style, but without the humor or heart!

  38. zinzarin*

    Give Mark a homework assignment; he’s to watch The Office Season 3, Episode 8, “The Merger” and report back if he still thinks firing is the right choice.

  39. Phony Genius*

    I can see this being an issue in the aftermath of a public incident, such as one where racism was involved. If the public hears that the employee resigned, some people will make comments like “they let him leave on his own terms instead of firing him!” But that’s not the case with this letter, so it shouldn’t matter.

  40. staceyizme*

    You had several meetings with a first year hire who was routinely failing to do the bare minimum and who was still unable to turn it around. I kind of sympathize with your co-manager! But- you could literally say it that way and let him know that you get it, BUT that you expect him to prioritize the big picture over a single instance of a preferred outcome. It’s a red flag that he’s pushing on it, but it’s also moot, because the person quit. There’s nothing more to be done. Mark’s feelings about it are irrelevant in this case and at some point, he needs to own that. Probably before you offer him any more supervision opportunities…

  41. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

    for now, you need to investigate:
    How does he handle when his staff meets deadlines? Does he have a postmortem to figure out where things went wrong or to assign blame and punish his staff?
    and maybe have a conversation about:
    Is Mark going to be like this when someone resigns and it “isn’t a good time for him?”
    Does he make decisions about whose vacation request is “worthy” of time off?
    How does he handle medical appointments.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      All this is great, especially the last three items. If Mark’s shtick is obedience-seeking, it might play out in more ways than just wanting to stick it to someone who resigns. Managerial behaviours that might merely seem inflexible, that he justifies as being operationally necessary can be a red flag that there’s something really problematic here.

      (I see we have both worked for someone a bit like Mark…)

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        I thought that was you! How’ve you been? :)
        But yeah, Mark is far to emotionally invested in being “right.”
        Like, He got and A, but wants the plus.

  42. 867-5309*

    Michael Scott did this in an episode of The Office. After the branches merged, Tony said he was resigning and Michael yelled, “You can’t resigned because you’re fired.” If someone is behaving like Michael Scott, it is not a good thing. (Except when he was really nice and bought Pam’s painting.)

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      OH HAH!
      The workplace equivalent to when Dear Prudence writes “if you are acting like a villain in a Reese Witherspoon movie…”
      “If you are acting like Michael Scott…”

    2. Roci*

      Was going to comment the very same thing. If you’re pulling a Michael Scott on The Office, maybe reconsider…

  43. Student*

    I think you should ask Mark more about his viewpoint, as a way to work through this. Right now it sounds like you are making guesses about where Mark is coming from. If you’re right, then you need to coach him more on manager responsibilities, like AAM has covered.

    However, I see at least two alternative possibilities.

    (1) He may genuinely not realize what the factual difference is between someone resigning and getting fired. Perhaps he doesn’t understand that this is mostly a non-difference for the employee, with some minor exceptions, but a big difference for the company: the lower risk of legal issues, the time saved by you not having to file more extensive paperwork, the unemployment issue, etc. Being fired isn’t actually some scarlet letter that will haunt the former employee for the rest of his days. Maybe he just over-estimates what exactly happens when someone gets fired vs resigns. Things that are obvious to you may not be obvious to him. I know I have friends (usually inexperienced) who have some magical thinking/faulty assumptions around hiring, resigning, and firing.

    (2) He may have a point you haven’t considered. Are there any benefits, financial or otherwise, that your former employee will retain now that they might not retain if they were fired?

    Is there a level of professional or social prestige to your work or your specific organization, such that the former employee is keeping his “social credit” from being associated with you? Is he the type of former employee who might use his former association with your organization to his unmerited benefit and/or your detriment? For example, a guy who quits a Fortune 500 business to start his own business (and brags about it) is viewed very differently than a guy who got fired from the Fortune 500 business and then starts his own business. One of those two is going to get more positive attention from clients and investors (possibly siphoning those resources off from his original employer) in a way the other won’t. On the flip side, a guy who quits vs gets fired from The Local Pub is not really much better or worse off based on how he exited his employment.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      These are good points. When it comes to (2), though, I suspect that this is only going to be an issue insofar as Mark also having faulty assumptions about how references work. People will list former jobs on their resume regardless of whether they were fired or resigned, and at the end of the day much of the “social credit” from a former job comes with being able to get good references or at least having former colleagues casually say positive things about your time there. Mark isn’t obligated to provide a positive reference for this person, or anyone else he’s worked with.

      In any case, though, if either of these possibilities are an issue for Mark, he needs to learn that really, neither of them concern him. Even legal issue that could arise are what Mark’s employer likely has legal counsel for. Outside of his basic managerial duties and following his employer’s code of conduct, anything else that Mark might do to manage risk related to a former employee might be a severe over-reach. Mark’s job is to manage his own professional reputation, not write the definitive word on someone else’s.

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        Your second paragraph is what I wanted to say. Mark may well keep business relationships with people based on their assumption he left, rather than was nudged out.
        Dear Mark,
        You can’t control this. He doesn’t work for you anymore. And we are not in school anymore. There is no permanent record.
        Ex employee will not wear a scarlet F on his chest.
        Lots of mutual business contacts will think s/he’s an ok person or not depending on their interactions.

  44. Happy It Isn't Monday*

    Be aware that Mark may give the ex-employee a bad reference. While it’s unlikely the ex-employee will directly list him as a reference, often word gets around.

    Make sure you talk to Mark about this to protect your company. He needs to not give a reference at all despite his desire for “justice”.

    1. BRR*

      Why couldn’t mark gives bad reference as long as it’s an honest reference? I don’t think it hurts to make sure the lw checks in what mark would say, but there’s nothing stopping him from giving an honest reference.

      1. Can Can Cannot*

        The most cutting reference you can give is “no, I would not hire this person again.” There’s really nothing you can do to challenge this kind of reference check.

  45. anonforthis*

    I always think it’s good when a problem employee resigns as opposed to being terminated. What is the arrangement you’ve made with Mark re: supervising? You mentioned that he was a co-manager with you for this person, and he collected all of the complaints from clients and other staff about the employee not going to meetings, but it sounds like you handled the disciplinary process. Mark may not have realized that employees needed to be given several chances, and could threaten to resign (then decline to do so) before a final decision about an employee’s future with the company was made. Did Mark want to terminate this employee prior to you? Absent any other context, Mark needs to get rid of the punitive streak or not pursue management positions. You may also want to look at the efficacy of co-managing an employee with one of your direct reports. Speaking from experience, it can be a very dis-empowering approach for the more junior, co-supervisor.

    1. Letter Writer*

      These are good questions!

      Some people Mark supervises on his own, including the support staff.

      He can step in as a supervisor for anyone else that I supervise and run daily operations if I am out of office or pulled into a special project. (These times are clearly communicated.)

      There are a few (including jr) whom I primarily supervise, but were working with Mark on a new project.

      Jr wasn’t a consistent performer for me, was sometimes outstanding and other times mediocre, but honestly has some great instincts in our field. I had noticed some of the timeliness issues creeping into their work.

      Mark did want to terminate before I did by about a week, but that part of our employee manual is very clear on the process. It’s something I’ve been through before, so he was involved though I definitely led.

  46. Radio Girl*

    Let this guy go. On his own terms. Bottom line is he’s not your company’s problem any more.

  47. Caro*

    I’ve been in Mark’s shoes as a manager and it was a deeply unsatisfying and anti-climactic experience. My boss dragging me out of the office for coffee and commiserations the day it happened helped a lot. At least one other person knew the truth! If you’ve ever has a critical projected your fully committed to and you’ve devoted untold hours of your professional life to canceled at 5 minutes to midnight you’ll know how it feels.

    Objectively I knew a resignation was a good thing for everyone and two weeks later I stood up on his last day and did the standard ‘it won’t be the same without you’ speech.

    However, I will admit to picking out the ugliest farewell card in the shop.

  48. Heffalump*

    Some years ago I worked for a real “The Devil Wears Prada” sole proprietor. Getting fired came as a relief. I stayed in touch for a while with my director supervisor, who was OK. When she gave notice, she was told, “You can’t quit, you’re fired!”

  49. MCMonkeybean*

    I think the only time you should fire someone instead of letting them resign is if they did something truly terrible. Here’s an awful but true example: When I was in high school a teacher was caught filming students changing. They let him resign to avoid a scandal, and when I looked him up out of curiosity a few years later I saw that he was still teaching, now at an all-girls school.

    THAT is a case that demanded more “justice” in my opinion, and that man should never have been allowed to teach again. Being late or making minor mistakes that are a problem in your current job but not like objectively morally horrible–that’s a time to let someone save face if that is what they would prefer.

  50. DiscoCat*

    That last paragraph in Alison’s response is 100% spot on. What if Mark’s management style was partly to blame for the employee’s shortcomings, or in the least exacerbated them? Maybe the employee struggled and wasn’t being supported by MArk? Maybe the employee also has some health issues that would have been helped by a more humane approach?

  51. Jessica*

    Like, maybe–MAYBE!–I could understand Mark’s position if the employee had done something truly awful, like harassing someone or some sort of similar awful interpersonal thing for which it’s difficult, if not impossible, to press charges. Something that demonstrated actual malice on the part of the employee. I’d still say whatever, let it go, but I could understand the *desire* to be like, no, we’re terminating you with prejudice.

    But all the employee was doing was showing up late to meetings? Like, dude, that’s not a personal injury to you.

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