my employee fired someone whose mother had died the night before

A reader writes:

I have a manager who works for me, Ezra. He has an employee, Fergus, who has been having performance issues and has been verbally reprimanded as well as had his performance issues documented with HR. While Fergus is a very intelligent and respectful person, he simply does not possess the skills needed to be successful in his current role. The PIP process has been completed and his employment is in the process of being terminated. Here’s where we had an issue.

Fergus had a meeting scheduled with Ezra, on Thursday afternoon where Ezra was going to deliver the separation agreement. About an hour or so before the meeting, Fergus reached out to Ezra and said his elderly mother was very ill and that he needed to be with her. Ezra replied and told Fergus to focus on his family emergency and suggested rescheduling the meeting to Monday.

Monday morning, Fergus tells Ezra at the beginning of their meeting that his mother passed away the previous evening (Sunday). Ezra then proceeds to continue with giving Fergus his termination papers. The HR representative, Iris, happened to join the meeting a couple of minutes after it started and was not aware that Fergus’ mother had passed so she proceeded with elaborating on the points that Ezra was making in the separation agreement.

After the meeting, Iris called Ezra to debrief, as she had coached him on the process and had given him a script to use for the meeting. At that point, Ezra mentioned that Fergus’ mother had passed away the previous evening. Iris was LIVID that Ezra continued with the termination when Fergus had just lost his mother. She could not understand how Ezra could continue and questioned his abilities as a manager. She told him he had a lack of “humanity” (her word, not mine) that makes him an unfit manager.

After berating him, she called me (his manager) and suggested, among other things, converting him to an individual contributor role. She feels like there are instinctual attributes of a manager that cannot be taught/trained and that firing an employee in Fergus’ emotional state was cruel and beyond retribution. She was also upset because she didn’t know that this had occurred so she felt like she participated in the termination and cruelty unknowingly (by the way, she said she normally joins these types of meetings 1-2 minutes late so the employee does not see HR “waiting” as soon as the meeting starts).

After talking with her, I spoke with Ezra. He was very upset and said he didn’t want to go through with the termination but felt like he did not have a choice since HR had the termination papers completed, the meeting had been set, etc. I don’t know why he felt this way and I would have definitely supported him delaying this meeting until a later date simply because it was humane.

I’d like to get your thoughts on this. Is this so egregious of an act that he should be relieved of his management duties? I will say that he is a somewhat effective manager, although he has, a couple of times in the past year, come across as a little bit blunt in meetings when he gets exasperated. We are working on this but I tend to think what he did is a different issue. I have reassured him that, as his manager, I want to empower him to make decisions that are the right decisions, not necessarily the most timely or cost-effective.

Oh no, this is awful.

I don’t blame Iris for being upset at unwittingly being involved in firing someone whose mom had just died the night before! I would be upset too, and would be trying to figure out if there was anything we could do to remedy it. (Reaching out to Fergus with an apology? Offering more severance as an acknowledgement that the company messed up? I don’t know.)

You just do not fire someone who lost a parent the day before.

To be clear, there’s no good way to handle things at this point. Fergus wasn’t going to be grieving any less in a couple of weeks and at some point the company does need to move forward. But firing someone less than 24 hours after a loved one died is just astonishingly callous, and it’s the kind of story that will get repeated in horror and make everyone involved look terrible.

That said, Iris was out of line in berating Ezra. Express shock and profound concern, yes. But the next step was for her to talk to you to figure out how to proceed, not to tell him he’s an unfit manager. Still, that’s the lesser offense here by far.

As for what this means about Ezra … it’s hard to say for sure without knowing more. How’s his judgment generally? Have you seen other times when he’s had to adjust to new information on the fly, and how has that gone? Is he so “by the books” that he doesn’t see when a situation requires something different than the standard practice? How is he with nuance in general? Does he normally express compassion and empathy and act on it in appropriate ways, or does he seem to lack an appreciation for/skill in the human parts of managing?

I can imagine a situation where an inexperienced manager, probably already nervous about firing someone, gets in this situation and doesn’t know how to handle it so just plows forward … mostly because he thinks he has to, and also maybe because he doesn’t know how to change direction at that point. (For the record, a good way to change direction would have been, “Oh no — I’m so sorry to hear that. This meeting can wait. In fact, you don’t even need to be here right now! Would you like to take the week off? The company will give you X bereavement days, and of course you can take more time than that if you need it.”)

But it really depends on what else you know about Ezra. At a minimum, it’s a flag that he needs more guidance and support as a manager (for example, you sitting in on more meetings and coaching him before/afterwards). But you’ve got to take a look at the questions above and figure out whether this was a generally good manager who really messed up once and will learn the right lessons from it, or if it’s the sign of more fundamental problems.

{ 773 comments… read them below }

    1. DefinitelyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

      I know – surely the kindest thing to do would make some kind of reparations in his severance pay? With a written apology.
      If nothing else, it will also help repair the company’s reputation because you can bet Fergus will not have nice things to say about how he was treated (being fired notwithstanding – although he’d gone through a PIP so it shouldn’t have been a complete out of the blue shock). This has repercussions beyond Ezra’s ability as a manager.

      1. Anonym*

        Maybe add to the severance an amount equal to the bereavement leave he would have been given (at least)… This is so sad.

        STRONGLY agree on the written apology. This poor guy.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Well bereavement leave is often a few days, not weeks so I doubt that’s a big enough amount to make much impact.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              MONEY isn’t always the answer. He may end up inheriting from her so we don’t know if money means all that much to him now.

              Kinder treatment might matter more to him. Has this manager been aware the mom was ill, if she was? Did that impact on Fergus’s job performance? A manager who would be this tone-deaf might also be unconcerned or oblivious to F.’s life situation, even if there were signs. He doesn’t sound like he’d spell it out to mgr. but mgr. doesn’t sound like he’d pick up on cues either.

              1. Legal Beagle*

                I’ve noted this sentiment before, and it’s quite possible that I feel differently because the nature of my profession is pretty mercenary – but I have never really found this to be the case. Money is the way organizations talk. Need to say sorry/congratulations/well done? Well what am I going to do with nice note? Send cash please!

                1. Joan Rivers*

                  What about the question I raise of whether Fergus was failing due to stress from an ill mother? If that was the case, then money doesn’t help, kindness does.

                  If you’re looking at firing someone, do you ask them if they have serious stress going on that’s causing lapses? It’s your job to pick up on it if they’re not bringing it up.

                  Money won’t erase a mgr. being oblivious to social cues and causes of work issues.

                2. Joan Rivers*

                  The GIFT of time off for bereavement, and the GIFT of not rushing to fire someone w/o knowing if he’s in a stressful life situation — those don’t involve money, they involve Emotional Intelligence.

                  The GIFT of time and attention can be as valuable as money.
                  The GIFT of kind words and insight can too.

                3. Koalafied*

                  Agree- money is how businesses show they really mean what they say.

                  Sure, but you also need to consider exactly what message you’re sending. If 2 days’ bereavement is an extra $200 after taxes, for instance, I’m sure he’d appreciate the money regardless, but it being such a small amount of money might come across as, “Whoops, sorry for the emotional trauma we inflicted on you, here’s enough money to cover your car payment this month, that makes everything better, yeah?”

                  I would definitely agree LW’s company should add anything to the severance that they can as a gesture, but I think the other point being made above is not to think that adding a couple of days’ pay to his severance means you can cross “make it up to Fergus” off your list. It is a nice gesture, but not necessarily sufficient to repair this harm.

                4. Greg*

                  Handed out a round of bonuses post-2020 (in an industry which had a great year) with a note, “I’ve expressed my thanks multiple times for you work and effort but I know there isn’t much you can do with words.”

              2. Observer*

                Money per se may not (or might) be the answer. But it’s a tangible way to show that they actually DO mean it when they say that they are sorry. Flowers at the funeral is performative- it’s there to show off and does ZERO for Fergus. Money in his pocket, even a small amount, could be useful to him and is less “show off”.

              3. Alice*

                But OP can’t go back in time and fix the unkind or tone-deaf treatment. And if I were the son, I don’t think I’d want a do-over with these people anyway. Money and an agreement about saying neutral or positive things in the reference are things that OP can do now.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  What? people do that? I requested bereavement leave for my father and my aunt, at two different jobs, and neither one asked me for proof.

                2. BlackBelt Jones*

                  @IWroteThis,

                  Unfortunately, they do. Thirty years ago (almost to the day), my brother died unexpectedly. I had to show his obituary when I returned to work. My employer was a world-wide/well-known manufacturer.

                3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  @BlackBelt Jones, wow, makes me appreciate my past employers. Sorry for your loss.

                4. Sawbonz, MD*

                  My college roommate had to miss a test after her father died and her professor insisted on an obituary. I had had my sights set on a career as a college physics professor but after I saw how that request affected her, I decided then and there that I didn’t have the stomach for it.

                5. Koalafied*

                  Asking for proof of his mother’s death, or accusing him of lying if you aren’t able to find proof on your own, would 100% just be making this already mishandled situation 10x worse.

              4. Annony*

                I agree that kinder treatment is more important, but the OP cannot go back in time and prevent this from having happened. The suggestion to give him more severance pay is about what they can do now that it has already happened. It doesn’t sound like rehiring him would be a kind option so money is one of the few things they can give him at this point.

                1. The Crown*

                  Right. The kindness thing is first, but they weren’t kind. At this point, an apology won’t mean much but a way to make it right…the only thing to do is money.

              5. Lacey*

                Money means quite a bit to almost everyone. It would be really surprising if this person was so well off that he thought, “Money!? What would I do with that?”

              6. Venus*

                I’m going to point out something which seems to be skipped over in your comment and responses:
                Moving forward, the company can aim both for money and kindness. They are not mutually exclusive! Fergus’s mother may have had medical debt, for all we know. Be kind *and* add to his severance pay (at minimum pay out the days he would have had for bereavement, but hopefully more – if the meeting about his departure would have been delayed two weeks, then pay him another two weeks of severance).

              7. DiscoCat*

                I had a big department head (prof. in academia…) who got nervous about any big life event of her employees: Be it happy or tragic, planned or sudden, wedding, baby, bereavement, sick child, whatever. It meant you were going to be “unavailable” to her on some really weird, selfish, deeply emotional level; in her mind it made you less “invested” and even unreliable, she’d go as far as insinuating your unfitness for the job. Her already nasty personality, zero leadership skills and zero emotional intelligence turned into a truly sadistic, micro-managing frenzy full of fault-finding and meltdowns. Terrible looking back…

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            A few days is a lot of money when you no longer have an income and do have new funeral bills.

      2. Let's Just Say*

        Yes. Written apology and throw a good amount of his way. The company can consider it an investment in their reputation and future recruiting prospects.

      3. Joan Rivers*

        The point not mentioned here is:
        Was she ill for some time? Fergus’s job performance may have been affected by that stress.
        Maybe he “doesn’t have the skills” but a dying mom could be part of this. He sounds very malleable and cooperative.
        Just more reason to have “stopped the train” in its tracks, at least temporarily.
        If he was already off for a bereavement break it might have been easier to meet w/him after and treat the firing as a kind move, under the circumstances, w/severance pay.
        But be sure firing is warranted.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          With a manager now shown to be as hidebound & oblivious Ezra, I would definitely be looking at this. Were the performance issues related to taking care of his elderly mother? Did Ezra fail to mention the availability of intermittent FMLA to care for her? What happens if it turns out that yes, this was all because he was the primary caregiver? Can a firing be reversed? Should it?

          1. Kay*

            Intermittent FMLA? Didn’t know that was an option. I was sole care provider for elderly frail relative prone with a spinal fracture. I also have a chronic illness which like most is exacerbated by stress. At work I managed a team plus carried 160% project management workload.. Manager position was supposed to be 40% project. This went on for 18mos.. I had been with the company for over 15 years with outstanding reviews.
            I kept up the work but had to be out of the office several days at times.. Worked from home to keep up but had to take pto.. My newish manager put me on a pip and basically made my life miserable.. The only concrete issues were that I’d missed some meetings and been late to others..

            HR rep said she knew how hard it was because her dad was in a care home but she managed to make it work.. So basically I was a slacker…

            I ended up resigning because it just wasn’t worth it.. But never realized that FMLA could be taken intermittently..

            Better off out of there but realized that per the HR rep.. The company didn’t give a damn about anything outside of the office..

            1. The Crown*

              Yup, it can. I had someone with a chronic illness who had to take a lot of sick days. The FMLA protected his job and allowed him to take more than we have in place.
              Of course, you aren’t on disability so he didn’t get paid for the days beyond what he took, but he could feel comfortable call in.

            2. TootsNYC*

              yep, intermittent FMLA is a thing.
              Of course, the law doesn’t require FMLA to be paid…

              But you can get the time off. Some people take the time to accompany parents to regular doctor visits (an uncle-type relative did this; his wife couldn’t get that leave, but he could, because it was his mom); others take a day a week for their own medical treatment; you can take a week here or there…

              1. Katrinka*

                If the employee has any unused PTO, many employers require the employee to use that up prior to using unpaid days. The reasoning is that it’s unfair to co-workers if the employee is off for a period of time and then can come back and take another week or two off for, say, paid vacation time.

                1. Julia*

                  Because sick people don’t deserve to have time off for vacations, ever! Being stuck in bed and in pain is vacation enough for us.

                2. allathian*

                  Yeah, I’m glad I’m in Finland. Here, if you get sick just before a scheduled vacation and it’s serious enough for a doctor’s note, you can postpone the start of your vacation by the amount of sick leave on the note, at least if you work in the public sector like I do. Employee sick leave entitles employers to some compensation from our social services, although obviously the money doesn’t compensate for the work that the sick employee would have done if they weren’t sick.

                  That said, because our vacations are long, typically between 4 and 7 weeks per year paid, the whole system is set up accordingly and cross-training is not only the norm, but absolutely essential, or else the system would fail.

                  The idea is that an employee shouldn’t be punished by denying them vacation time because they happen to need more sick leave than the average.

          2. Old school*

            If Ezra or anyone else in a supervisory position knew that Fergus was caring for his mother in any way and they did not start the FMLA process, they as individuals and the company can be held liable for the failure. Fergus would have cause to bring a suit in Federal Court. He could seek damages or possible reinstatement because he was not offered FMLA.

            Legal counsel would probably have advised not to go forward with the termination until it was certain that Fergus’s performance issues were not related to any need for him to care for his mother.

            1. JSPA*

              This sounds way off base to me? FMLA is something people have to request; it’s not the boss’s place to start any process regarding anybody’s health or outside family duties (except their own).

              Per the US department of labor website,

              “If you know in advance that you will need FMLA leave (for example, if you are planning to have surgery or you are pregnant), you must give your employer at least 30 days advance notice […] While you do not have to specifically ask for FMLA leave for your first leave request, you do need to provide enough information so your employer is aware it may be covered by the FMLA. Once
              a condition has been approved for FMLA leave and you need additional leave for that condition […] your request must mention that condition or your need for FMLA leave.”

              People [disproportionately female] have some level of “caregiver” responsibilities for large chunks of their working life. Just because Fergus is a guy doesn’t mean that it’s the boss’s job to decide that Fergus is doing enough caretaking to need to request FMLA. The law is quite clear: AFTER the employee notifies the employer, the employer’s job is to notify the employee, within 5 days, whether the employee is indeed eligible for FMLA. And then, provide you with your rights under FMLA, responsibilities, and certification requirements. Will put link in the follow up.

              1. Old school*

                The information you cite is written to inform employees about FMLA and the job protection afforded by it. However CFR §825 (the regulations for FMLA) is very specific on employer requirements and says at section 300 (b): “Eligibility notice. (1) When an employee requests FMLA leave, or when the employer acquires knowledge that an employee’s leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason, the employer must notify the employee of the employee’s eligibility to take FMLA leave within five business days, absent extenuating circumstances. ” In practical terms, if the employer (through any one in a supervisory position) learns that an employee MAY have a “qualifying reason” for leave, then the employer needs to jump into action and send the required notice to the employee within five business days. Case law is full of employers who ignore this to their chagrin.
                Once the notice is given to the employee, it up the them to provide the necessary “certification” of the need for FMLA. In the time that I managed FMLA functions for five different employers, if an employee did not want FMLA, they just did not return the form.

            2. Claire*

              Not everyone always wants to take FMLA…I had a somewhat similar situation with an old colleague who refused to take FMLA. Instead he thought is was just fine to not show up for days or weeks at a time and not tell anyone. At some point if the person isn’t willing to take any steps to manage their situation and take the leave being offered or at least communicate when they neex to be out, they can’t really blame their employer for not being willing to put up with that indefinitely.

        2. Ethyl*

          Joan, you’ve brought this up a couple of times so I wanted to point out that your questions are actually addressed clearly in the question:

          “Fergus had a meeting scheduled with Ezra, on Thursday afternoon where Ezra was going to deliver the separation agreement. About an hour or so before the meeting, Fergus reached out to Ezra and said his elderly mother was very ill and that he needed to be with her. Ezra replied and told Fergus to focus on his family emergency and suggested rescheduling the meeting to Monday.

          Monday morning, Fergus tells Ezra at the beginning of their meeting that his mother passed away the previous evening (Sunday)”

          He was already on a PIP when his mother fell ill and passed away. His performance was already a problem, sick parent notwithstanding.

          1. Polly Hedron*

            Fergus was already on a PIP when Fergus told Ezra his mother was ill. His mother might have fallen ill some time before that.

            1. Nic*

              Yeah, my impression reading through the first time was that it was an unexpected and sudden onset illness, but reading through again I realised that there’s no indication either way – it could just as easily be a chronic illness that’s reached crisis point, and Fergus just hadn’t mentioned it before.

        3. Nic*

          Yes, I feel that the point where Ezra really failed wasn’t so much at the final meeting (though that was painfully inflexible of him) but on the Thursday afternoon, where he responded to Fergus’s “I can’t meet you now, my mother’s been taken seriously ill” with “OK, we’ll meet on Monday instead” and then didn’t check in with either LW or HR.

          That’s the missed opportunity at which he really should have registered that it was possible Fergus’s mother might die before the meeting, and checked in with everyone else aware of/participating in Fergus’s PIP process to discuss the changed situation. Ideally, he’d have said something along the lines of “I’ll check in with you on Monday, and we can discuss rescheduling our meeting then – don’t worry about it now” instead of simply rescheduling for Monday and setting the firing-train back on its track.

          And yes, you’re right, that’s also the point at which someone might consider if it’s possible that Fergus’s failure to improve might have another cause, and make a note to enquire next time they see him as to whether his mother’s illness was sudden or had been worrying him for a while.

          1. TootsNYC*

            or at the very least, he should have asked him about the mom before the meeting.

            But I have some sympathy–it’s all set, HR has filled out the forms, and a new manager may not realize they have the POWER to push back against this.

            1. Nic*

              Yeah, that’s sort of what I mean though – by Monday part-way through the meeting, it’s a done deal that can’t be changed (or so Ezra thinks). But on the Thursday, Ezra presumably had to call HR and say “hey guys, the meeting’s off until Monday, please don’t process the paperwork just yet!”.

              If he’d just thought to say why the delay was happening, then HR could have counselled him on how to navigate the changed situation (and also Iris wouldn’t have been blindsided with “WTF do you mean his mum died and you still fired him?!”). Similarly, if he’d thought to check in with his boss (LW), and say “hey, I couldn’t meet with Fergus today because…” then hopefully LW would have told him that he had the power to reassess the situation on the fly and not fire Fergus during Monday’s meeting if necessary, and LW would back him up.

            2. Claire*

              It’s also strange that Fergus didn’t cancel the meeting. I wouldn’t have shown up if my mom had just died, I would have emailed that I would be out due to a death in the family.

    2. JL*

      This happened to me last week. My mom was diagnosed with cancer and she was already very sick from MS. I was struggling. I asked my boss if I could put time on her calendar to talk about somethings the next day. Instead she fired me.

        1. JL*

          Thanks so much, I appreciate it. We found out it is not genetic – just age related so that is a small sigh of relief for myself.

      1. allathian*

        I’m so sorry. I hope you can find the strength to both support your mother while she’s sick and to look for a new job. You have my sympathy.

        1. JL*

          Thanks I appreciate it – I actually already have another job offer and I started therapy too. I never got a chance to tell my old boss what was going on…

      2. Galloping Gargoyles*

        So sorry that you’re dealing with both of these at the same time, JL. Sending warm thoughts your way.

  1. Blue Eagle*

    I feel really bad for Ezra. As a rule-follower, I would have continued with the firing but would have felt really bad about what I was doing.
    To me, the problem here is HR. Why couldn’t they be at the meeting at the start? Also, if HR already knew that Fergus’s mom was ill, why didn’t the HR person ask about Fergus’s mom at the start of the call? Or, why didn’t HR talk with Ezra on Friday (at the time the initial meeting was postponed) about how to proceed on Monday depending on how Fergus’s mom was?
    In my opinion, it is difficult to know how to proceed on something like this if you have never encountered it before.

    1. Even In an Emergency*

      Same same and same. I would have felt like I was supposed to go forward and felt TERRIBLE but not now what else I could possibly do, especially with HR joining the call any moment.

      1. LJay*

        Yeah this. I would have probably scrambled to see if I could pause the meeting and get ahold of HR separately, but if his termination is in the midst of being processed and I couldn’t get ahold of anyone else I would feel like I had to go forward with it.

        In companies with a lot of bureaucracy it’s hard to know what you’re empowered to do or not in a moment like that, especially in a situation that hasn’t come up before – I’m sure nobody covered what to do when you walk into the termination meeting and somebody gives you terrible news like that. Nobody has ever covered that with me and I’ve been a manager for years. Like has the termination already been processed through payroll? All his IT permissions being terminated as we speak? Are there legal considerations if we pause the termination in this case (what if we don’t pause the termination if someone’s parent is just sick, could that be considered disparate treatment? If we allow him to continue working are we signaling that we’re okay with him not passing the PIP and then have to start over with a new PIP once he’s feeling better?)

        Though like I said I’d see if I could pause the meeting and try and get ahold of anyone – my manager, HR, whoever above me I could if possible – and if not when HR joined I would emphasize that I had just heard that he lost his mother and hope they took the lead from there. Maybe we could pivot the meeting to talking about the EAP so it’s not like “oh why am I in a meeting with HR and my boss and now nothing is happening?”

        1. Joan Rivers*

          Isn’t part of being a good manager knowing when to break the rules? To temporarily call a pause?

          If mgr. is in a car accident on the way to work, it’s obvious there may be a delay / rescheduling of work.

          If employee dies, you don’t go ahead w/the “termination meeting” and talk to an empty chair.

          1. Even In an Emergency*

            I get that! No one is saying this was a good way of going forward. But I would have been so caught off guard I could easily see myself going through with it just because I thought it was inevitable.

            However, I’m not a manager and have no desire to ever be one, as I clearly don’t have have the skills!

          2. SheLooksFamiliar*

            You’re right, Joan Rivers. Sometimes you have to apply judgment instead of rigidly following the rules, and have what’s called a ‘courageous conversation.’ Terminating someone’s employment falls under that category – even warranted terminations are difficult – and so does telling HR there is a valid reason for delaying termination for a week.

            I understand it’s hard for a rule-follower to use their judgment instead, so I hope Ezra gets coaching on this.

          3. LKW*

            This. All you have to do is say “oh, so sorry, there are some unexpected conflicts and I have to reschedule.” Better to double check with everyone that the next step is still on than assume the train can’t be stopped.

          4. Not So NewReader*

            So agree. Just because the paper work was all prepared, is such a poor reason for not stopping the process. I’d seriously question Ezra for prioritizing paper work over an employee’s major life event. Making matters worse he did not even call anyone and ask for advice. And the poor person from HR, omg. I don’t think he is cut out to manage people.

            1. SophieJ*

              The fact that Ezra felt terrible about it shows, I think, that he’s capable of coaching (presuming he is delivering in other areas as a manager.)

              I would be far more concerned if his attitude about all this was simply “What’s the big deal? He was getting fired either way, I just saved the company money.”

              I feel like this is an exact definition of a teaching moment: a point in time where you understand you absolutely could have done something better, and will in the future. But I’m not ready to write Ezra off as an irredeemable manager because he’s an inexperienced manager caught totally off guard.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I actually thought about this because I can see this to some degree.

                But my next thought was how many people will I allow Ezra to hurt before I decide this might not be a good choice. So far, Ezra has managed to hurt two people in one situation. Since there were only two people involved that means he hurt/upset everyone in the situation.

                Another thing that concerned me is that if I can’t trust a subordinate to come to me when something unusual comes up, then I may have a person who is not coachable/lead-able.

        2. GS*

          I would have maybe been in this boat: I work for a very large, very bureaucratic org where every type of leave is strictly controlled by the union to the minute, and where firings have heavy union/legal ramifications.

      2. Ellenaria*

        This is how I would’ve felt too, especially since the employee obviously had known it was coming for weeks, after essentially failing a PIP.

        If I had a few hours’ warning as a manager, I probably would’ve connected with HR to suggest we still tell Fergus sometime that day, but offer two weeks of paid bereavement leave before the termination kicks in.

    2. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      OP mentions that HR arrives to the meeting late so the employee doesn’t walk to the meeting and see the two people sitting there — which gives an ominous feeling, for sure, and primes everyone who ever goes to a meeting with an HR person sitting in to feel nervous.

      1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Also, without knowing more, it might be that HR is only there to advise on technical/policy details and that the manager is expected to handle the more nuanced decision-making around timing, delivery and the human aspects (as well as thinking critically about how this firing will impact their team).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes — it’s not weird to have the manager manage the firing, with HR coming in to explain technical details like health insurance continuation or so forth.

          1. ThatGirl*

            Yeah, that’s how both my firing and my two layoffs have gone – manager delivers the news, HR follows up with technical details.

          2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

            I was fired from my last job because my attitude tanked after they didn’t fill several vacant positions, and I was stretched to my limit. I was called to a meeting room late one day and my division head and our sole HR dude were sitting there. I usually got on great with the div head, so once he said a few words (he may not have gotten past “I’m sorry”) I swivelled to face the HR, who I detested (it was mutual). If I’d kept looking at div head, I think we’d both have started crying. With HR, I used my extreme RBF and kept my questions and answers terse. Then they called security to escort me out, which was what they did with EVERYONE they fired, no matter their job or the reason. I also got a quite large amount of compensation since most of those firings were iffy and tended to be all in the upper age range. They’d been sued – and lost – so many times they just automatically gave generous parting gifts, like a bizarre game show. But in that place, HR did most of the dirty work of firing, and enjoyed it, including seeing the look on the employees’ faces when they walked in and saw HR there. Never let anyone tell you that not-for-profits are kinder, gentler places.

        2. Storie*

          Ezra could have easily said to the HR person upon her arrival to the meeting—sadly, I’ve just learned his mother passed away last night. We were discussing this before you arrived. Perhaps Iris could have salvaged things by saying in that case, let’s do this meeting later—our condolences for your loss.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        I’m not a fan of this reasoning on their part. The nervousness is going to happen anyway, very shortly, so why not get it over with?

        1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Yeah, I tend to agree, it feels like overkill. That said, I think it would depend on how HR operated in the company? I wonder how commenters from HR feel about this policy; it’s not one I’m familiar with, but maybe there are good reasons for it I’m not considering.

          1. Leap Year Conspiracy*

            HR person here – I get the idea of the waiting to join the meeting but the same thing can be done with HR following up later. A lot of people aren’t in a headspace during a termination meeting to absorb the info about benefits, unemployment, etc. I see it as HR’s responsibility to reach out to offer that support and create a connection where they know we are still a resource even if employment has ended.
            And I totally feel for Ezra if it was the first time firing someone – a LOT of managers need coaching through that (in fact I think the OP should have been in the meeting if it was the first firing for Ezra). I coach managers ahead of a termination on a couple of points: it’s okay to slow the process down a bit – this takes some of the escalated anxiety off the table to do it NOW (not as in weeks but days), if new information comes forward that changes the outcome it’s okay to pause (final checks can be voided – nothing is in stone) and redirect and to have them think through what could make the process easier for the employee (such as it is).

        2. KHB*

          I think I agree. Fergus knew he’d been on a PIP, and he (presumably) knew he’d failed to turn his performance around. So the purpose of the meeting should not have been a surprise, and seeing HR sitting there shouldn’t convey anything to him that he didn’t already know.

          And I can see Iris’s lateness strategy just adding to Ezra’s panic. Were I in Ezra’s shoes, I could see myself thinking “Oh god, Iris is going to show up at any minute with the termination paperwork, and I’m going to need to either end this meeting before she gets here or explain to her on the fly that we need to postpone the meeting without letting on to Fergus what the purpose of the meeting was.” Not everybody has such quick-thinking people skills.

          1. Evan Þ.*

            Now that I think about it, having this happening online might make it easier to avert that. If Fergus had thought of this quickly enough, he could’ve maybe dropped a chat or email to Iris saying something like “Firing NOT HAPPENING – don’t join – talk later.”

            But I wouldn’t blame him for not thinking of that at such a stressful moment.

            1. LJay*

              Yeah I’d be pausing the meeting and claim it was an emergency issue elsewhere I needed to take a moment to take care of and be calling everyone I could in that moment or at least pinging the rep about to join. But a lot of my job is thinking on my feet so I can understand why someone else might not think of that.

              And as a younger manager I may have felt too awkward or intimidated to do that. Which isn’t great as a manager for sure but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

          2. Myrin*

            Yes to your second paragraph.
            I would hope I’d have the wherewithal to actually put the brakes on this meeting but I’m almost certain that I’d at least have the same panicked thoughts as you describe here.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            A chunk of management does require quick thinking. And while people can be lacking in some people skills here and there, the solution there is to ask someone. Here Ezra’s cue was the uniqueness of this situation, what are the odds that the employee’s parent had just died? No How-To book can forecast every scenario. If a person doesn’t know what to do then they must ask.

        3. LJay*

          Yeah I think it would have the opposite effect honestly.

          Now instead of being nervous on meetings that begin with HR and my boss (and really what good meeting ever begins with that lol) I am going to begin every meeting with my boss concerned that I’m going to be ambushed my HR a couple minutes in?

            1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

              Ikr? Im amazed at folks that think it’s preferred, if not typical, for HR to not be present or “come in late” to a firing.

              I would feel the exact same way, and would feel the company really couldnt be trusted by handling it this way.

          1. cacwgrl*

            Ohh good point. I feel a little more understanding about our head of HR’s signature statement being bad news does not get better with time and coaches us continually to act as quickly as we can on a situation and be as prepared as possible. There will be no ambushing’s like that here, which I feel lucky for. We also operate under a no firing should be a surprise mentality, meaning if you’re doing wrong, you know you’re doing wrong and have chosen to not fix it… or you know you made a mistake you can’t come back from and it’s time to go. Again, a little more grateful for this coaching after reading this.

        4. Cat Tree*

          Also, it sounds like this company is good about giving feedback, so it’s not like it would come as a surprise. Fergus was on a PIP and then had a meeting with a probably cryptic title/agenda. HR being present on time isn’t the factor that would make Fergus realize.

          Years ago I was working at a company that was doing layoffs during a recession. Being a low-level, low paid employee I survived several rounds of layoffs. But I knew it was coming sooner or later. So when my boss and HR came to my office one morning, I knew what was coming. People generally understand what’s going on.

          1. Seeker of truth and light and grilled cheese*

            Yup. Layoffs were looming after the financial crash in ‘08, and my dept head scheduled an untitled 15 min meeting with me, an hour ahead. In an office in another building that was not tech folks like me. I knew exactly what was coming! In fact I had already taken home all my personal belongings the week before. ;)

          2. TootsNYC*

            A friend of mine called me for advice; she was a manager, and she’d been told that two of her people were going to be laid off the next morning.
            I’d been laid off a lot, so she wanted to know about the layoff-ee’s perspective.
            She was upset that she wouldn’t be allow to tell them anything, not even on the walk down the hall to meet with the VP. She’d been given strict instructions to say, “The VP would like to meet with you in the conference room–would you come with me?” And that she was to answer all questions with, “The VP will explain when he sees you.”

            I told her: That IS the alert you want to give her. She’s not stupid–she will know what that means.

            And you can soften it after, since it’s a layoff, by the way you treat your now-former staffers.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        this is actually something that I think is cruel. Here in France, you have to be told what the meeting is about when you’re told to attend it. This gives you time to contact the union for support and maybe work out how much severance you want and how you’re going to negotiate it.

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          I think that’s one of the biggest labor differences between the US and most other countries. Here, hardly anyone has a union much less a written contract. You can be fired at any time for (almost) any or no reason at all.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, but there’s also another crucial difference in that unless you’re fired for something truly egregious that means you have to be out of the office ASAP, most people have at least 1 month’s notice, which may or may not involve actually continuing to work after being laid off. Whether you work or not, the employer has to pay your salary for the notice period. Additional severance is extremely rare.

        2. doreen*

          I don’t really see the point of having HR join the meeting a few minutes in – but I can’t help but wonder how being told at say 10 am that you have to attend a meeting at 11 regarding your termination/suspension/whatever works , unless you mean people aren’t given any advance notice of the meeting. Because if you tell me at 10 that we’re meeting at 11 to discuss my termination, you’ve pretty much fired me as soon as you’ve told me about the meeting.

      4. Jady*

        I’ve been on the receiving end of walking into a room with my manager & HR to be laid off.

        I understand the idea HR has. Being that situation, you just know immediately and it’s awful.

        But… their “solution” is equally as awful. Being ambushed by HR during a meeting with your manager is not a solution. If anything, I honestly think that might be the worse of the two options. I’d personally rather just know up front…

        1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

          So much this.

          It feels disingenuous to come in late, like my firing isn’t important for you to be on time…

    3. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

      You have to have empathy & good judgment to know when NOT to follow the rules. Rule following as a carte blanche method of handling things doesn’t show good managerial abilities.

      1. I'm A Little Teapot*

        This. Just because you’re a rule follower by nature does NOT excuse you from acting with compassion and decency.

      2. NDawn90*

        For real, though.

        I’m a rule follower, but my immediate instinct would be to say, “Hit the brakes, send the poor guy home on bereavement leave, and figure out out while he’s gone.”

        1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

          Yeah, this is a situation where you do everything possible, actively, to make sure your employee is not put in this horrendous situation. If you don’t know, you ASK, you follow up, you err on the side of too much empathy and even – GASP! – going against potential work policy instead of being a spineless worm like Ezra was. I have absolutely no sympathy for Ezra.

              1. Troutwaxer*

                I’m not sure. Reading between the lines I get the idea that HR might be difficult to deal with.

                1. another worker bee*

                  Yeah, as a new-ish manager…I’ve thankfully never been in this situation, but I spend a surprising amount of my time protecting my employees FROM HR. If I were in Ezra’s situation, with our HR team, my gut would be that my choices would be between firing the guy that day with X severance or firing him Y days later with X – Y severance, and I’m not sure less notice is better, regardless of the timing.

              2. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

                +1

                plus HR got…unhinged…

                This will totally trickle down to the rest of the company, and I wouldn’t be surprised if folks left the company over this, and in droves.

            1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

              I do think the fact that so many commenters have such a strong emotional reaction to this (and thus to Ezra) really speaks to why this is a bad decision. Even if (as some people have implied) Fergus was making up or exaggerating his grief to post-pone the firing, the optics of this to Ezra’s team is….not good.

              1. KHB*

                I’m not disputing that Ezra made a bad decision. But it was a snap judgement in an unusual, fast-moving, and stressful situation, and I don’t think it’s necessarily reflective of his character as a whole.

                1. Observer*

                  That may be true. But it IS indicative of his inability to use his head when unusual stuff happens.

                2. Derjungerludendorff*

                  Yeah, it feels like people are jumping on Erza pretty hard (including Iris and OP). This clearly wasn’t something Erza planned to do, and he clearly said he felt like he was forced to go through with it.
                  Thats not a major character flaw, thats someone who agrees with us but thought he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and had to make snap decisions on the spot.

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  The fact that Ezra did not see options is concerning.
                  Barebones, send the guy home for his bereavement leave and beg forgiveness later. You have to be able to stand up for your people. I would have laughed at the excuse of completed paper work if this situation had not been so heartbreaking. Paperwork can always be changed. It might take a court order or an act of God, but it can be changed. I think it’s disturbing that a completed form stops Ezra dead in his tracks.

            2. Sylvan*

              He fired someone whose mother had just died. Imagine losing your job and a parent about 12 hours apart.

              Doing something like that and excusing it as misled obedience is a “spineless worm” thing to do.

          1. JM60*

            If you don’t know, you ASK

            Exactly. If I were a manager in that situation I would’ve at the minimum explained the situation to HR and ask what to do from there. Ezra didn’t even do that.

            1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

              Yep, I would have done everything I could to get someone on the phone or on email to stop this; better to try and be unsuccessful than sitting back and doing nothing.

              The fact that Ezra didn’t even try to do this, for whatever reason, is a massive mistake & big red flag regarding his managerial abilities.

              1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

                Also: it sounds like it was just Ezra & Fergus in the initial meeting? DELAY, EZRA! Make up an excuse if you have to, DO NOT GO FORWARD WITH THE MEETING.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Ideally, Ezra should have called someone and said, “I am not firing this guy today. His parent died last night.” He could have had a spine.

      3. Malarkey01*

        I value rule following in my front line people. The managers are there to use their judgement on when and how to apply those rules. They are there to manage the exceptions to the rule. If Fergus’ defense to me was I’m a rule follower, I would understand that as an explanation but that would validate to me that HR is correct and he is not suited for a management role.

      4. JM60*

        AT the very least, I would hope a rule-follower, inexperienced manager would first notify HR of the situation and ask what to do from there (such as postponing the firing). The fact that Ezra didn’t even do that, plus there’s been other instances of coming across as blunt in meetings makes me inclined to agree with Iris that he lacks the human skills to be a manager.

    4. BuildMeUp*

      I’m not sure that HR knew his mom was ill, unless I missed that in the letter. Iris may only have known he had a family emergency, or possibly only that the meeting had to be reacheduled.

      While there are things that HR maybe could have done better, I think there are a lot of ways Ezra could have handled this differently. If you have doubts, why push through without talking to HR or your own manager?

    5. Retired worker bee*

      LW said that it was customary for the HR person to show up a little late when someone was going to be fired. Maybe they were afraid that if the employee saw the HR person as soon as he/she went into the room, he/she would put two and two together and assume that he/she was going to be fired and would promptly run out of the room and out the front door instead of allowing himself/herself to be fired.

      I didn’t see anything in LW’s letter that indicated that Iris knew anything about Fergus’ mother being seriously ill.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        If the meeting was meant to be on Thursday and Ezra moved it to Monday, wouldn’t he have given Iris an explanation for the change?

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Not necessarily, he may have just said Fergus needed to reschedule. Or he may have kept it vague with something like, “Fergus had a family situation that came up.”

          1. Derjungerludendorff*

            Yeah, generally its a good idea to stay confidential about your employee’s personal lives.

      2. Harvey JobGetter*

        That’s Iris’s fault for her idiotic practice of missing part of every firing meeting.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          You mean her compassionate practice of letting the employee get the bad news from their manager without an audience and then coming later to discuss logistics?

          1. Autistic AF*

            A minute or two (or 5 or 10) really isn’t a reasonable amount of time to process something like that and the pivot to something else though. It wasn’t enough time for Ezra to pivot, after all…

          2. Ms Jackie*

            its not compassion. Its cowardness.

            Firing should ALWAYS happen with at lease two people, the firing person and a witness. HR usually fits the bill as a witness, but this HR person does not seem to understand that it part of their job.

            In my company there are always three people – 1 the direct manager 2 the next manager up 3 HR

            not to mention that the firing is rare and always expected.

          3. JB*

            Sorry, what?

            If I’m getting fired, I want HR there for the whole meeting. It’s not ‘compassionate’ to leave an employee alone with the manager firing them. I wouldn’t trust even the best managers I’ve had in that situation.

    6. pancakes*

      If you know that you tend to be too hidebound about following rules, that’s a great reason to stop and question your own thought process about whether you’re being too hidebound in whatever circumstances you’re in. It isn’t a great reason to excuse yourself from trying to be more thoughtful.

      The letter explains why the HR rep was not present at the start of the meeting. Even if they had been present, Ezra could have and should have been more discerning about not plowing ahead with termination.

    7. CatCat*

      I don’t feel that bad for Ezra and I’m also a rule-follower. The best managers I have had have comprehended when to stop following the rules, and that’s when it interferes with treating people with dignity and compassion.

      I think understanding when a rule should not be followed is a key component of being a good manager.

    8. Legal Beagle*

      I’m feeling very torn on this. I 100% know that the moment Fergus told me that his mother had passed, my reaction would have been, “I’m so very sorry. We’re not going to have this meeting right now, and let’s do what we need to do to get you on bereavement leave.” Whether or not I felt empowered to do it wouldn’t have factored because I can confidently say that it’s a bullet I would be willing to take in the event that HR or upper management was displeased with the situation. But I also only feel confident in that because of the specific leadership experiences I have under my belt. What would I do if I was young, new manager? I think I would still go the compassionate route, but I’m not completely sure that I wouldn’t just plow forward with the plan in place if I was a new manager, with no experience terminating employees or dealing with death in the workplace, AND likely feeling the worry and psychological impact of hanging on to a stable job during a horrific pandemic.

      I think that, ultimately, lack of proper leadership training and the HR tactic of joining the meeting a few minutes late is to blame here. I understand that Iris does this intentionally to avoid the doom-like scenario of walking into a meeting with your boss and the HR rep – but really – that’s kinda foolish. I mean, the person IS getting fired, so walking in and seeing the HR Rep and your boss isn’t misleading in anyway, and its not as if having the HR person enter 2 minutes after the meeting begins is going to make the employee any more comfortable with the process, or any less fired. As a matter of fact, I think it’s actually a bit cruel to allow an employee to walk into a meeting with their manager, giving the impression it may just be a touch-base, and then – whoops! In comes the HR lady to serve you your walking papers!

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        As a matter of fact, I think it’s actually a bit cruel to allow an employee to walk into a meeting with their manager, giving the impression it may just be a touch-base, and then – whoops! In comes the HR lady to serve you your walking papers!

        This! I agree with the people who are saying the problem here is bigger than just Ezra.

        1. Momma Bear*

          That’s true for even smaller meetings. I once asked for a meeting with my manager and was ambushed with a mid-year review with his manager attending. If I were Fergus’ teammate, I’d be leery of meetings with Ezra for a while.

        2. MissGirl*

          There is absolutely no perfect way to fire someone. I actually think what the HR person does makes sense. The manager explains the situation and then the HR person comes in to explain benefits and unemployment.

          The HR person doesn’t actually do the firing that’s done by the manager. It’s not cruel but it is a painful situation and there’s no way around that. I’m not sure why everyone’s focused on that part of it.

          1. serenity*

            I agree with this. And I think on this site we’ve generally seen a consensus over the years that performance management issues should be left to managers, ideally, and not to HR folks. It feels arbitrary to blame the HR person in this one specific case, for reasons that are unclear to me.

            1. LMHCSupervisor*

              I agree in principle it’s the manager’s job to term not HR. And, I can by no means defend Ezra’s decision making to proceed with the termination. However, based on HR giving Ezra coaching and a script it sounds like they are a newer manager. Having HR join later makes sense to review technical details, but I don’t agree with allowing a newer manager to lead a termination meeting on their own without someone else in the room. Just my two cents that you never know what will get said in a firing meeting and having someone with more experience is, in general, a good practice for newer managers.

              1. serenity*

                Having HR in the room is not something I’m questioning. For legal reasons, they probably should be there. I’m pushing back on the comments blaming the awkwardness of this whole situation on the HR person’s “lateness” or who claim the onus was on her to lead the meeting.

              2. Jenny*

                You shouldn’t leave a manager out aline to fire someone. Stuff can go down during firing including threats. It’s very hard to fire someone.

            2. Roci*

              Sure but talent management and personnel management is part of HR. They don’t do the day-to-day of course, but there’s no reason that HR SHOULDN’T be at a firing. Making sure that managers get the training they need to handle workforce cycles is also part of HR.

              I agree that it’s not right to blame the HR person solely in this case, however. It sounds like a bunch of factors that rolled together and snowballed out of control.

        3. Julia*

          It sounds like this company has informed Fergus of his performance issues multiple times and Fergus has even gone through a PIP. At this point, he knows his job is in danger. The precise mechanics of whether HR arrives on time or a few minutes late seem irrelevant to me; there’s no ambushing and there’s no evidence the impression was that it was just a touch-base.

      2. Bluesboy*

        This is a really good comment. You would react in (what I think) is the appropriate way for someone grieving, but importantly, you recognise that this is because of your specific leadership experiences.

        I would add that also Ezra’s manager/company culture could also be an important part of this. I am sure that when I was a young manager, if this had happened, my original line manager would have backed me up. I am equally sure that the line manager after him would have told me to call Fergus back into my office and ‘do my job properly and fire him!’

        1. Bluesboy*

          Sorry, I mean my original line manager would have backed me up if I hadn’t gone through with the firing

      3. LJay*

        Agree on both counts.

        I absolutely would not do this now and would do whatever I could to put the brakes on. And that’s not even so much getting ahold of other people to ask permission to stop it as to make sure we can stop it in terms of payroll processing, IT permissions, etc.

        But as a young manager I could see feeling terrible about it but feeling that there was nothing I could do. Was I a bad manager then? Yes most likely. I’ve always worked to treat my employees with dignity and compassion but I wasn’t as willing to speak up and advocate for them as I am now. (And I was much more afraid of being direct than I am now).

        And I really think that this HR plan is backwards. I mean, the doom of walking into the meeting with your HR rep and the manager is going to last a few moments before the meeting starts.

        Now they’re just going to have that feeling anyway when HR jumps on the line.

        And once it gets out that this is the way the company does things, every time they have a meeting with their manager on a negative subject it’s going to be in the back of their mind that HR could jump into the meeting at any moment and make them more tense and less able to listen to and process what their boss is actually saying.

      4. hbc*

        Can I agree 100% on being torn, or is that contradictory?

        I can imagine a situation where someone has been coming down on Ezra like, “When are we going to get rid of this dead weight?” and “Another postponement of the meeting with Fergus?!” It would still be wrong to terminate, but it might be an…overcorrection after fighting with your normal impulses.

      5. Derjungerludendorff*

        I agree. Erza made a big mistake, but it’s an understandable one. He misunderstood what his own bosses wanted him to do, and what authority he had.
        Thats something you fix with better training and coaching, not with firing the person who made the mistake

      6. Two Dog Night*

        Except I don’t think HR would have served Fergus his walking papers. It’s more likely that Ezra would have had the termination talk at the start of the meeting, then Iris would have joined the meeting to go through all the details–it’s usually HR’s job to deal with non-disclosures, Cobra, the final paycheck, etc. If Iris were doing the actual firing I’d agree with you, but that seems really unlikely.

    9. Team Tom*

      Yeah, this feels like a not knowing how much power you actually have in the situation and defaulting to the thing you know has to get done just to move forward.

      When I was in college I used to teach SCUBA and Nitrox. One night while teaching a Nitrox class one of my students (all of whom were men, and more than twice my age, which is important for understanding the power dynamics) got a call that his mother had just passed. He was in the main part of the store and the rest of us were in the little classroom but could hear him on the phone. In hindsight the “right” thing to do would’ve been to dismiss everyone else and stay out of sight until the student had finished the phone call. Instead I started *very* quietly continuing the lecture – mostly to provide some noise so that we weren’t actively listening to his phone call. One of the students stopped me, but it was also one of those things where I needed someone to suggest a different path (like, saying we should reschedule the class) because I was so far out of my element. In my head I really only had the power to teach or not teach (they were paying for the class so I viewed the time more as theirs than mine). I forget exactly what happened next (presumably when his call ended we did reschedule), but obviously it still haunts me.

    10. Chilipepper*

      I am sorry, I am a huge rule follower but even I would have known that the right thing to do was NOT to follow the rules right now. Even if I thought I would be in trouble for not following the rules I would take the consequences and defer the meeting. I would have stumbled through what to say to end the meeting but I would not have continued it!

      1. Matt*

        So, you postpone it what, a day? A week? Two weeks? Then you’re right back where you started.

        This wasn’t a surprise. He knew through the pip process he didn’t improve and that his firing was imminent. He had to know that he was getting fired. Sucks his mom died, but it changes nothing about the reality of the situation.

        So the expectation is the company should continue to pay him for leave, then let him work more, and then fire him? How does that help the employee other than delay the inevitable? Sure, he gets a few more bucks pay… I guess the lesson here is that if you’re in a termination meeting, mention a close relative who died to try and put a stop to it …

        1. Cat Tree*

          Yeah, while I agree that Ezra made a mistake, I just don’t think it was egregious. Fergus would be just as likely to be hurt by other timing: “I can’t believe they fired me a month after my mom passed” or “ugh, they fired me two weeks after I got back from my mom’s funeral”. There’s no good choice here. And if they instead decided to delay six months or a year, wouldn’t Fergus ask about the status of his PIP during that time? Would he just hang around with minimal guidance, probably realizing he could get fired any day?

        2. Observer*

          o the expectation is the company should continue to pay him for leave, then let him work more, and then fire him? How does that help the employee other than delay the inevitable?

          Exactly. The firing is going to have to happen. But timing really, really does matter.

        3. Ground Control*

          This was my take as well! If I knew I was likely going to be fired in the near future I’d prefer to get it over with ASAP. There’s a lot to take care of after the death of a parent (I know from experience) and it could actually have been a relief for Fergus to know that he could grieve and take care of everything without the weight of knowing he was going to be fired hanging over his head. And now he knows he doesn’t have to schedule stuff around his work schedule.

          1. potatocakes*

            Great point. It might be a relief to the employee to know that he doesn’t have to worry about a job they were expecting to be fired from anyway. He can take time to grieve, spend it with family, etc without the added stress of worrying about the termination meeting upon his return or having to request time off from an employer who’s not happy with his performance anyway.

            1. Lizzo*

              But surely there are more compassionate ways to handle the termination in light of the circumstances? An additional week or two of severance, perhaps? Or presenting Fergus with some options for how they’d like to move forward that still results in termination, but preserves some dignity?

              If you’re being terminated because of poor performance that is more of the “poor fit for the job” type, and not the “your continued presence here is damaging the company” type, it’s not like the person has to be rushed out of the building.

        4. potatocakes*

          I’m with you on this one… He would have been informed that the company had plans to terminate him around x date if his performance hadn’t improved by then, so I doubt the firing would have some at a surprise. I also don’t see the point in delaying it as there really isn’t a good time to be fired, and all of the sudden it turns into “I can’t believe they fired me a week after my mom died/right around her funeral/while I’m grieving” etc.

          Of course, the company can handle it with empathy and kindness, recognizing it’s poor timing and perhaps offering to pay him out for bereavement on top of severance pay as a good will gesture or sending over a card/flowers to the ex-employee’s home acknowledging his loss.

          I don’t see anything wrong with going through with the termination, though. It is a business relationship after all.

        5. DD*

          I fully agree with you.
          Though it seems hard from a humane point of view to let go the person, this is a business decision to let go a bad employee after unsuccessful PIP.

      2. Sylvan*

        Same here. Then again, I also know I don’t have the flexibility or people skills for management, and Ezra apparently thought he was just fine??

    11. Mr. Cajun2core*

      Not knowing the culture of the company, I can see how Ezra, especially if Ezra was a new manager and rather young would not know what to do. I can also see how Ezra may have feared for Ezra’s job if Ezra did not go through with the termination.

      We all know that there are very bad bosses out there. Remember, the employee who was told to go and put a note on grave and was (iirc) threatened with termination if they did not?

      I can understand how someone would be not willing to risk their job in this case.

      1. NerdyPrettyThings*

        In the case you mention, the note-leaver ended up losing her job anyway, because what she was instructed to do, and did, was spectacularly callous and out of line. Also, in this case, Ezra has no reason to think the meeting couldn’t be delayed because of Fergus’s situation. It already had been once. I think Iris got unnecessarily personal with Ezra, but I can’t disagree with her fundamental assessment that he lacks some necessary qualities a manager needs.

        1. Derjungerludendorff*

          But note-leaver only got fired because the grandboss turned out to be halfway competent. If grandboss had backed that manager up, then note-leaver would have been fired for refusing. And when your manager is horribly toxic, its pretty reasonable to assume that your higher management is too.

    12. No Winning Move*

      You know, the more I read this, the more I think Ezra might be afraid of Iris. She’s clearly not above yelling at him and telling him he’s a terrible manager and a terrible person (since she’s accosting his humanity) – LW says “I don’t know why he felt [he did not have a choice since HR had the termination papers completed]” and it makes sense Ezra wouldn’t want to go against HR if Iris gave Ezra the script and he’s scared of offending her by deviating. Many managers have been *made* aware of their pecking order when it comes to HR. I’m curious if this is the first time Iris has been “livid”, either with Ezra or at all? She seems weirdly particular in things like making sure she isn’t there at the beginning of every meeting, almost like she doesn’t want to be blamed for anything. That would certainly explain why she blew up – she feels like she’s going to be blamed and that could be a real sensitive issue for her. Bit of a tangent and certainly not urgent, but maybe some insight into Ezra’s state of mind and if it’s similar to my experience, it’s a symptom of a larger problem with HR.

        1. No Winning Move*

          Occam’s Razor. Ezra is almost certainly a new manager (has a script from HR, has follow-up coaching afterwards) and “was very upset and said he didn’t want to go through with the termination but felt like he did not have a choice”. Ezra suggested rescheduling the meeting once already, which means HR knows there’s been an adjustment and why. Is the most likely and simplest option truly that he *completely* lacks compassion and humanity?

          1. BuildMeUp*

            No, the simplest option is that he froze up in the moment and made the wrong choice.

            HR knows the meeting was rescheduled; I don’t see anything in the letter that says they were told the specific reason (i.e. more than a “family emergency,” which could be anything). So right there you’re making an assumption. You’ve also assumed a number of negative motivations for Iris’s actions in your above comment that, again, don’t have support in the letter itself.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            To me, the bigger issue is that he lacks judgment, which is a big liability in a management role. I do not work somewhere that HR is power tripping over managers, but my head of HR would have been livid if any of us fired someone who just announced their mother had died becausewho does that?

          3. Observer*

            So, firstly, we do not know whether HR knew WHY the meeting was pushed back.

            Secondly, deep lack of either empathy or ability to evaluate and act on new and unexpected information are actually the most likely scenarios based on what the OP has told us. The story that Iris is a monster who has intimidated him into shutting his brains down is actually a lot less likely.

      1. sofar*

        I had the same thoughts. Especially if Ezra was new at this. My first job out of school was incredibly toxic. Based on how I, myself, was let go (a story for another day) I am positive that, if I’d been tasked with firing someone, but then deviated due to that person having a personal tragedy, I’d have been told, “Well, you should have just gotten it over with quickly. And now we have to call him up on the phone right now and fire him, because YOU sent him home. We are NOT about to pay this guy for another week.”

        We all know what the right thing to do here was. Ezra did not do it. I go back and forth on whether he should be relieved of his management responsibilities.

        1. No Winning Move*

          “We all know what the right thing to do here was. Ezra did not do it. I go back and forth on whether he should be relieved of his management responsibilities.”

          Agreed, and if my previous statement came across like I was absolving Ezra of his choice entirely, that was not my intent. It definitely needs addressing! Perhaps a quiet conversation, just LW and Ezra, and talk about WHY they felt powerless to make that decision. Is it something that will happen again? Why didn’t you update HR when they arrived? Is it new manager uncertainty? What would make them feel like they DID have a choice? Then figure out whether it’s something coachable or not and go from there.

          If Ezra felt powerless despite being the manager, there’s a deeper issue that needs to be addressed and there are really only that could come from – himself, or from higher up.

          1. sofar*

            Agreed! And I also lean toward this being an opportunity to look at the culture and see why Ezra felt this way.

          2. Koalafied*

            Agree this really deserves further probing and context evaluation from his manager rather than being a simple black and white decision that he definitely should be fired or definitely should not. We (commenters) don’t have nearly enough information to make that decision on the basis of a single event that was relayed to us. It matters if this is part of a pattern of callousness, rigidity, or poor judgment. It matters how long Ezra has been a manager. It matters whether he’s been able to change his work habits in response to previous feedback. It matters whether Ezra has gotten the message from senior leadership or HR that he’s supposed to be rigid, or been punished for deviating from SOPs in the past and this way him overcorrecting.

            LW has all of Ezra’s work history to consider, we just have one (admittedly horrible) incident to base our judgment on, which is not enough to make a decision as significant terminating/demoting.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Let’s roll with this even though it may or may not be the case.

        The answer lands in the same place. Ezra needs to get out of management. Handling intimidating people is all a part of managerial life.
        If HR is that much of a problem then Ezra needs to report it to his boss and ask his boss for intervention at the boss’ level.

        Going even one step further, let’s assume Ezra knows that HR is as intimidating as all heck. When he found out that the employee’s mother was sick, Ezra could have checked in with his boss. “Hey, I pushed out the meeting with Fergus to Monday because his mom is reeeeally sick. I am concerned that there might be backlash from HR over this. I am also concerned that if mom gets even worse or dies, I might need another plan here. I’d like for us to talk though this because I expect problems with HR. I want to get some ducks in a row on this.”

        This is all stuff that pretty normal in management and if Ezra can’t see it, then he probably should not be managing.

    13. Arctic*

      I think being a manager requires some flexible thinking and ability to respond to a situation on the fly. If he’s just that much of a rule-follower then it goes to Iris’s point that maybe he shouldn’t be in management, at all.

      1. Anonymous Hippo*

        Or he just needs coaching. Yes, this is a really rough thing to have happened to the fired employee, but nobody is perfect (or necessarily even good) at their job just out of the gate, and IME, nobody bothers to teach management, people are just supposed to “know”.

        1. Arctic*

          I don’t know anyone who we need to be coached not to fire someone the day after their mom died. Or, at least, check-in with someone before doing so.

          He likely isn’t right for management. Not everyone is.

          1. Derjungerludendorff*

            Well, neither did Ezra. But he felt like he had to, which points to deeper problems than one manager’s judgement.

        2. Sylvan*

          You can’t necessarily coach good judgment or empathy into people. It sounds like management isn’t for him, and that’s fine — what isn’t fine is keeping him in this role where he can affect more people negatively.

    14. Susan Calvin*

      Yes, I can’t even imagine what I’d do. Maybe stall for time while trying to IM my HR contact, or my boss, who’ve both gone out of their way to position themselves as mentors/coaches – If OP aims for empowering their employees and is fairly hands-off because of that, I could see Ezra being under the impression that he needs to make the call himself, and… well.

      Anyway, thanks for this new-manager-nightmare-fuel!

    15. meyer lemon*

      I can understand why Ezra froze up in the moment, but I don’t think it’s on HR to be able to anticipate that. It may be a sign that he’s not a great fit for management, or that he really needs to work on some essential people management skills.

      My (uniformed) guess is that he’s not necessarily insensitive, but perhaps a bit caught up in his own head. He was probably so wrapped up worrying about the firing that when he found out about the mother’s death, he just seized up. If he was used to thinking more empathetically and was more tuned in to his employees’ needs, he probably would have been able to figure out that the reasonable thing was to postpone the meeting and send the guy home. Particularly since he already had a heads up from the week before that his mother was not doing well.

    16. gbca*

      I would argue that if you’re that level of rule-follower, then you should not be a manager (or are not ready to be). It’s important for managers to be able to make decisions on the fly and understand when going 100% by the book is not appropriate. I feel bad for Ezra too, but if I were his manager this incident would absolutely be making me look very critically at whether he should be in management at the moment.

    17. KateM*

      I was wondering about this:
      “That said, Iris was out of line in berating Ezra. Express shock and profound concern, yes. But the next step was for her to talk to you to figure out how to proceed, not to tell him he’s an unfit manager. Still, that’s the lesser offense here by far.”

      So, does this make Iris an unfit HR representative?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Maybe?

        We don’t know what that conversation was exactly. It could be that Ezra was so rigid that HR could not reason with him. We dunno.

        I am sure Iris felt very blindsided walking into that situation. This would make it an even worse mix with Ezra being rigid and Iris being blindsided. I’d be pretty ticked if a cohort pulled me into a situation like that without filling me in.

    18. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      But the manager had information that HR should have had. He should have contacted HR as soon as he heard. “I thought since the paperwork was complete, I had to plow through.”
      I think this shows a failure to think on his feet.
      Significant facts are now in play. Adapt.
      I think it shows an inflexibility based on his own comfort “I have to do this. I will look bad if I ask a question. I don’t want HR to think I can’t compartmentalize.”
      It’s OK to ask questions when you get new facts. If my manager won’t do it in his role, how can I be confident going to him with questions?

    19. Birdie*

      Unless I missed it, I don’t think we know for sure that Ezra told HR why the meeting was being rescheduled. Even if he didn’t need to justify the rescheduling to them, that was still an opportunity to say, “It sounds like Fergus’ mom is seriously ill, and I’m uncomfortable with the idea of firing him in the middle of a personal crisis. Do we have options to delay, at least until we know she’s recovered?” I can understand Ezra not knowing what to do in the moment, but it wasn’t like he was blindsided by Fergus being in a difficult personal situation. Firing someone with a family member so ill they have to leave work to be with them isn’t a great look, either, and if he only felt bad about firing Fergus with a recently deceased parent but not about firing Fergus with a seriously ill parent, I probably would see that as a lack of empathy or an unwillingness to ask questions when he’s unsure about how to deal with something, and both would concern me.

    20. Build Trust*

      Same. In the first month of my management position I had an employee whose mother died. And so I dug up the policy with the employee and let them know what it said, that there was bereavement time, etc. I let them know I was sorry and that I’d work with them on the details. When I told my manager this they almost went ballistic on me. I had no guidance on this and my management was almost aggressive in their expectations that I should have just known what to do. To that point they had already shown me and my team little compassion on other things, so I had developed a by-the-book default approach just to be on the absolute safe side. In hindsight it didn’t matter much. It was a leadership structure top down and domineering with little trust or guidance. Thankfully my leadership structure changed shortly afterward.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        s/Oh leadership by mind-reading. I see. You should read the bosses’ minds and then know exactly what to do.

        “Here, Boss. Read MY mind.”/s

    21. Sawbonz, MD*

      I’m a pretty staunch rule-follower but literally don’t think I could have gotten “We’re moving forward with your termination” out of my mouth at that moment. Seriously, I just don’t think I could have.

      It doesn’t make me a better person than the managers who would have gone through with it because they had to; I completely understand their reasoning. But I don’t think my mind would have been able to segue between the subjects like that.

    22. Koalafied*

      The “not wanting employee to see HR waiting” gave me pause because…is this a surprise firing? If you know you’re on a PIP and it has an end date on it like any well-written PIP does, do you really need to walk into the meeting thinking it’s not a firing only to be caught off-guard when surprise! it is a firing!

      Like what is the value of ensuring that people don’t know it’s a firing for the first 30 seconds they’re in the room?

    23. Nic*

      I wonder if the answer is that Ezra didn’t tell anyone why the meeting was postponed. Because Iris’s whole reason for yelling at Ezra was that she was unaware of Fergus’s bereavement, and I feel like it should have been obvious from Thursday onwards, that that was a possibility.

      If so, I think that’s actually Ezra’s biggest mistake in the whole process.

      I can understand if he was blindsided on Monday and then didn’t know how to (or if he was permitted to) derail the process. Some people miss the obvious (I know I do at times!). But the more people (only those were already part of the ongoing PIP process of course) who knew why the meeting was postponed, the more likely someone would have called out the elephant in the room and said “Um Ezra…we cannot fire someone who’s just lost his mother. If she’s so ill that Fergus ducked out of work early, then we need to come up with a new plan of action for if she passes away over the weekend, or if it’s clear on Monday that Fergus is going to lose her soon.”

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        I’m leaning towards that now. I mentioned that upthread and people thought maybe Ezra was trying to maintain Fergus’s confidentiality, and I can see Ezra thinking that was the best thing to do in the moment. But this may actually have been a time where Ezra would have been better explaining the whole situation to HR, asking them for advice on how to proceed, and it wouldn’t have come to this.

    24. AntsOnMyTable*

      I think I would have erred just as much as Ezra. Partly because if the employee showed up for the meeting, knowing they are getting fire, my assumption is they are mentally prepared for it. If he had called in and said “my mom just died do I need to come in right now” I 100% would be like yes let us push this back a few weeks. But to me his showing up seemed to indicate his acceptance and it ultimately isn’t going to change the result. He I still getting fired in a week or two regardless. Maybe it is because, if it was me, I would *much* rather just be done with things then have it hanging over my head knowing I was going to have to go back to my job and get formally fired a couple weeks later.

      So yes, I do understand why other people were upset, but it is hard for me to find it as egregious as others.

    25. Happy Pineapple*

      Agreed, I certainly don’t see the need to berate Ezra for continuing with the plan unless he was otherwise displaying a lack of sympathy. I had two close family members die in the last few months, and when I mentioned it to coworkers and managers they expressed sincere condolences but then proceeded as normal with our scheduled meetings and assigning me more work. I think they took the cue from me that since I showed up to work and didn’t ask for special treatment like bereavement, they wanted to keep a sense of normalcy for me.

  2. CeeBee*

    I’m kinda with Iris on this point- a compassion chip is missing and I do think that a good manager would have been able to pivot and say, “Hey this meeting can wait”

    1. Hmm*

      That’s a massive leap based on one situation that Ezra has already explained his POV for. If “a compassion chip was missing” he wouldn’t have explained to OP as he did.
      Which from his words, he didn’t (know he had) the tools to wait anyway.

      1. Hamish*

        I dunno. None of this really makes me draw conclusions about Ezra either way. I might feel really bad for him, or he might have been a total jerk, I just don’t know.

        Because I definitely know people who are missing their “compassion chip” but are charming/socially deft enough to convincingly explain this POV after the fact, when they see how upset people are by their actions. That kind of cover is very common for a lot of people lacking in compassion/empathy.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          Ezra’s actions read to me like those of an awkward person who panicked, rather than a deviously charismatic one, but of course we can’t know for sure.

        2. cncx*

          yeah, i have a friend who can explain everything when he does something jerkish and totally lacking in empathy, and covers well. The first few times it can be like, ok i get it, but when i caught the pattern (justification after the fact)…he cares more about looking good/just than actual real compassion

          1. Judy Johnsen*

            I am wondering if that is now a trend in management, if companies want to go ahead, even if they steamroll over someone. So managers feel they need to go along with the program.

    2. Bee*

      I don’t think it’s necessarily a compassion chip that’s missing, but an ability to pivot based on new information and a sense of his own authority to make decisions based in compassion. Which is also a problem for a manager!

      1. gbca*

        Yes, this exactly. I don’t think Ezra’s a bad guy based on his explanation, but I would be questioning his managerial judgement.

    3. Product Person*

      At minimum, the manager could have excused themselves and went find the HR person for a sidebar outside the room. If uncertain how to act and what to say, they could have asked for HR guidance instead of moving forward after learning of the circumstances.

    4. Nic*

      A good manager wouldn’t have needed Iris to coach him beforehand and give him a script on how to run the meeting. I suspect Ezra may be new to management rather than lacking in compassion. It sounds very much to me like he’s just wet behind the ears enough to think that the script was binding and couldn’t work out how to pivot…

    5. KoolMan*

      Yes. I cannot even come to think how could Ezra continue. He is probably a psychopath or sort of. Common sense dictates you should not fire someone, whose loved one died yesterday.

      1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        I don’t think I’d want to hear from Ezra, but OP would be in a position to reach out.

  3. Hmm*

    Is this really so bad? It’s not like he got fired because of missing work for his mother. He’s still going to need to be fired and I foresee it turning into “well how can you fire a man who’s still grieving his mother?”, “I’m still struggling because of my mother”, etc until all of his performance problems are due to her illness and death.

    TLDR I feel sorry for Ferguson and the timing was terrible, but I also see how Ezra got here.

    Iris overreacted the most and it seems really out of line for her to tell OP what to do with him when he’s not the one on a PIP and she has no idea what his work looks like. She’s lashing out at him to cover her embarrassment.

      1. Partly Cloudy*

        Yeah, and why he didn’t call out due to his mother’s death prior to the meeting. That would have saved the whole situation. Of course, I’m not trying to blame the situation on Fergus, just wondering why he went to work that day at all vs. going straight to bereavement leave.

        1. Hamish*

          Grief makes people do weird things, sometimes including clinging to routine, and often including not really thinking about what they’re doing. My dad died when I was 16, I took the next day off and was back at school the day after – it was the right thing for my own mental coping mechanisms. You never know.

          (I actually had a situation somewhat similar to poor Fergus: on the day I was out, all my teachers were told by email what had happened, but my English teacher didn’t read it. I had an essay overdue in his class and he really reamed me out in front of the whole class for still not having it for him, two days after my dad died. He felt SO BAD when he realized. 15 years later I still feel awful for him.)

          1. Self Employed*

            My mother died after many months in hospice (over 20 years ago) and it was on a 3-day weekend so I had a couple of days before I was due at work again. I worked that week, even though everyone said I didn’t have to, because as a temp I didn’t have any paid leave AND it was better to be at work in one of the best work environments I’ve had than to be home alone. (I know I had to take one work day off for dealing with government offices but I don’t remember if it was right away or not.) If it had been one of the horribly toxic environments I’ve worked in, I might’ve just quit on the spot because dealing with abuse would’ve been too much then.

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          Aside from Hamish’s comment, we don’t know how much time the company gives for bereavement leave and it may have been that Fergus wanted to save those days for more important things (the funeral, meeting with lawyers, handling the estate, etc.). Also, Fergus knew he was on a PIP, and in his mind he may have thought that taking a day off would have been a mark against him (obviously a good company wouldn’t dream of docking someone for bereavement leave, but I can see if you’re already panicked about being on a PIP thinking somewhat irrationally).

        3. Kristen K*

          Possiblity because he knew he only had, say, 3 bereavement days and knew he would need to take them later in the week for making arrangements, wake, funeral, etc. He could have kind of been in shock and was on autopilot. My mother died on a Sunday night, when I awoke on Monday my husband was getting ready for work and seemed confused when I said he would be staying home because I could not cope with a toddler that day after my mom died. She was the first person he cared about who passed away and he just didn’t know what to do do he did what he always does on Monday mornings.

        4. Polly Hedron*

          I understand why Fergus came in. If I were Fergus, I’d have wanted to get that meeting over with, instead of having it hang over my head during my bereavement leave.

        5. Kiwilib*

          I guess maybe he knew it was coming and wanted it over with? A meeting had already been delayed due to mother’s sickness and he was on a PIP.

        6. Laney Boggs*

          Nope, I found out my brother died on Sunday and went to work on Monday. I absolutely was not thinking straight and needed something to feel normal.

          I did the same thing when both grandparents died, too.

      2. Jenny*

        I once had to fire someone who was going through a divorce. Honestly there was no good time to do it, but the guy was caught lying on his timesheet repeatedly. He was warned multiple times.

        I also wonder if Ezra knew he could pump the breaks. Before we fired the guy we had to write up the termination papers and submit them. So in the meeting to fire the guy the stuff had already been done, I couldn’t have stopped the process.

        1. 867-5309*

          This feels entirely different, in that the email is fine just does not have the skills for the job. That is different than lying on timesheets, which is basically theft.

          1. Jenny*

            True, but my point is, by the time I was having the meeting, HR had terminated him and we yanked computer access. That’s standard in my org even for PIP firings.

            1. Koalafied*

              Oof, yeah, my org does that too – revokes everything at the meeting start time so employee can’t get back on after being fired – and I can imagine it being super awkward to be like, “Uh, we terminated you in the system already so I’d like to give you some more time to deal with what you’re going through but also your key card and computer login no longer works so please sit at your desk twiddling your thumbs in shame for a couple hours while I explain to IT why they need to reactivate it.”

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Yes, this was that bad. It’s unnecessarily cruel and people talk. Ezra’s reputation is almost certainly damaged.

      I know because I’ve been in this situation. I needed to fire someone and learned her father had gone into the hospital the night before. We immediately rescheduled the meeting for a couple of weeks later. It delayed the inevitable, but based on the concern in the office about that employee’s father, it was obvious how everyone else would have reacted if I had done what Ezra did.

    2. kwagner*

      I think a huge part of what was so bad about this situation is instead of treating the employee like a person, Ezra treated Fergus like a number on a sheet. He also didn’t see Fergus’ grieving as relevant information to relay to Iris and made her an unwitting participant in what she feels (understandably, IMO) as unethical behavior. Whether you believe Iris’ behavior after the fact was right or wrong, I don’t feel that she was lashing out due to embarrassment. She’s hurt and feels deceived because she was made out to be the ‘bad guy’ and made a choice that she wouldn’t have had she known all the facts.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Obligatory ‘I am not a number’ quote. (The Prisoner)

        We joke at work about ‘HR’ treating us like employee numbers and nothing else but it’s heartbreaking to see that mentality in real life.

    3. CatCat*

      Yes, it’s really so bad. Certainly, it will be rough to fire someone who is still grieving in a couple of weeks, but not nearly as awful as firing someone still reeling from a death the day before. Now they have to deal with unemployment, worry about finding a new job, and work on funeral arrangements all at the same time. It’s too much.

    4. MistOrMister*

      I don’t think they would have kept Fergus on forever, using his grief as an excuse. It seems very likely from the way the letter was written that they still would have fired him, it just would have been a fews weeks later. I can see how Ezra might possibly have believed he was expected to go forward with the termination, but it’s bad judgment on his part that he didn’t stop ad reschedule. Very bad judgment. I don’t care how poor an employee is, you just do not fire someone the minute they’ve told you a close family member has died, not unless they have done something so egregious that it can’t be overlooked, like attacking anotger empoyee.

      I think Iris went overboard in what she said to Ezra, but she had a really good reason to be completely mortified at having been a party to firing someone who’s mother had just died. That is just so lacking in basic compassion, I would be embarrassed too if I had been in yer shoes. And I would have been angry at Ezra for not having the sense to stop the darn meeting.

      1. Not sure of what to call myself*

        Iris may have gone over the score (a bit) with what she said, but you know its what everyone else in the office is thinking.

        There are lots of problems here;
        Iris being late on purpose wasn’t good.
        The meeting being scheduled for a Monday when his elderly mother was very ill over the weekend wasn’t good.
        Not checking whether the ill mother was a contributing factor to the PIP behaviour wasn’t good.
        Iris going over the score on her feedback wasn’t good.

        BUT Ezra not being able to see that he needed to at least take a 5 minute break to ask for advice on what to do in this situation is a deal breaker here. I’d have hoped any decent manager would say immediately that they would put a pin in the conversation for two weeks and send Fergus home on paid leave.

        Being able to know when to ask for advice and help is a very important part of being a manager (actually its part of being a good employee, period). The idea that he didn’t think to ask for advice is scary. Especially as he knew HR was joining, he had the perfect chance to tell Iris as soon as she arrived and hopefully she would have immediately taken control and postponed the meeting.

        Ezra would immediately become one of those people who join company folklore and who get tales told of them to every new employee. Reputation tanked.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          He also had the opportunity on the Thursday or Friday to discuss the situation with HR and/or OP and get advice on what he should do if Fergus’s mother did die or deteriorate before Monday.

          1. Sparrow*

            YES. Being nervous about firing someone and not knowing how to handle things is understandable, but this didn’t come out of the blue. He was given a heads up about a situation that might be relevant (because even if she hadn’t passed away, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect an elderly woman to bounce back in two days) and he did no contingency planning. He asked no questions. He was told, “X might be on next week’s test,” and he didn’t bother to study X in preparation. And there’s a lot more at stake here than in a college exam.

          2. Nic*

            Yeah, I think that’s my pinch point for Ezra fouling up. Not so much at the meeting where I can understand him not realising that he had a choice in how to proceed, but late Thursday where he must have had to tell Iris that the meeting was rescheduled for Monday…and didn’t tell her why.

            Because if he’s green enough to need coaching and scripts for a meeting like that, then he’s green enough to miss the obvious that a) Fergus’s mum might die, and b) that might alter the way the company wants to proceed with Fergus’s PIP. But from her reaction after the fact, if he’d just told Iris why the meeting wasn’t happening as originally scheduled, she would almost certainly have delayed her end of the paperwork and given Ezra advice on how to roll with the punches better.

        2. Autistic AF*

          Exactly. Who wants to work at – or partner with – a company who fired someone the day after his mother died? Presuming it was recent, doing so in a pandemic feels even more tone deaf. The back story isn’t going to go along with the folklore.

    5. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      It sounds like you’re implying Fergus would be likely to use his mother’s death as a stalling tactic?? I think that’s unlikely – most people wouldn’t handle it in that way – and we don’t make decisions wisely or compassionately when we make them from a place of assuming the worst of people.

    6. KitKat*

      I agree. Granted, I come from a very toxic workplace, but nobody would have batted an eye about this. I do feel badly for Ferguson, but he was at the end of a PIP. If he showed up for the meeting and was told, “Uhhhh, your mom died? Never mind, let’s meet in a few days…..” he surely would have guessed what was coming. I think Iris completely overreacted. If Ezra has other issues, that’s one thing, but this incident was just unfortunate all around and certainly not Ezra’s “fault.” If HR doesn’t want to be “the bad guy” they should allow their managers to have more say/control over firing in general.

      1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        It sounds like you’re making a few assumptions here — that HR is controlling firings and that Fergus may have been hemming/hawing and using his mother’s death as an evasive technique.

        It’s very possible that HR was only in the meeting to advise on technical details. And very few people would use their parent’s death in that sort of strategic way (some would of course, but few).

        Part of why this sort of thing is bad is that it can lead to an environment where people are primed to feel defensive and assume the worst of one another — that sort of thinking is unlikely to lead to a work environment where people feel secure. To avoid a toxic environment, you have to treat people with good-will. That doesn’t mean you can’t set boundaries, but it absolutely means that you sometimes cut people slack.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Actually in this situation, completed paperwork controlled the place. Can’t make any deviation from the path, once the paperwork is complete. Hands are tied.

          oh my.

      2. Observer*

        Granted, I come from a very toxic workplace, but nobody would have batted an eye about this

        Yeah. The fact that no one would bat an eye is a sign of just how toxic the place it.

        Please don’t let this workplace totally strip you or totally warp your sense of humanity and basic compassion.

    7. pcake*

      Yes, it’s really that bad.

      A fellow human being, who is going through one of the most grief-filled events of his life, will need what stability he can find to get through the first part of that terrible loss. Being let go at all, much less due to a lack of ability, is going to be a huge blow to his self-esteem and his feeling of competence and of normalcy.

      The day after my mother died, I worked. My client kept telling me I didn’t have to, to please take time for myself and I’d be paid for that time, but the thing is, I wasn’t ready yet to deal with the loss of my mother – which was unbearably painful, an agonizing anguish I couldn’t cope with without a little distance – and doing a routine thing helped give me some separation and keep me from thinking too much about it. When things were less raw, I spent time grieving, but that first few days are among the very worst of my life.

    8. Dr. Rebecca*

      Yes, it’s really so bad. You do not compound misery if you can possibly help it, and it could have waited a few weeks.

    9. Frank L*

      Yes. It’s that bad. It’s worse, actually. If you don’t see that, there is something deeply wrong. The lack of basic empathy such a question reveals is startling and alarming. I sincerely hope you are not in a people management role!

    10. EPLawyer*

      Iris really flew off the handle. I would be questioning HER abilities to do her job in a rational way. She made it all about HER. How dare SHE be put in that position, etc.

      Ezra could have handled it better. But he might have been thinking there is no good time to do this. Rip the band aid off and get it over with so the guy can deal with his mother’s death without also anticipating this meeting. Because Fergus had to know this was coming. He was going through his days wondering when the axe would fall. At least THAT part is over.
      Rather than take Iris’ attitude, it might be better to look at the policies related to the PIP and termination and see what needs a bit of update so that people KNOW what to do instead of guessing. And incurring the wrath of HR for doing it “wrong.”

      1. JM60*

        “Don’t fire people the night after their mother dies” is the type of thing that shouldn’t have to be a written rule; it should be the type of thing that’s super obvious. You can’t reasonably write down a policy for everything that’s super obvious.

        1. Nic*

          Yes, but if someone is a) new to management, b) new to the workplace or c) non-neurotypical, then just like “common sense”, “obvious” very often isn’t, because it’s a bundle of shared ideas/ideals that are only common within a particular culture or community.

          You can’t write a policy for everything, sure. You generally don’t need to write a policy for “everyone should use the bathroom if they need it” or “everyone should leave the building if there’s a fire”…except wait, you DO have to write a policy for how people leave the building if there’s a fire, how/when to notify the emergency services, where the best exit routes are and whose responsibility it is to check everyone’s got out safely.

          In the same way, there really should be a written policy for how to carry out a PIP from beginning to end, including what broad guidelines for what happens if there’s a need for some sort of emergency interruption to the process.

      2. Jenny*

        Could Ezra have stopped the process? If HR had processed the firing already, what would he do?

        (When I fire someone we document like crazy before pulling the trigger).

          1. Nic*

            Better yet, he had the opportunity on the Thursday that Fergus couldn’t make the original meeting…

        1. Polly Hedron*

          Ideally
          • If Ezra had no authority to extend the PIP, then Ezra should have stepped out of the meeting to intercept Iris, explained the situation to Iris, recommended the PIP extension, and asked Iris for guidance in how to proceed.
          • If Iris showed up before Ezra could intercept her, Ezra should have told Iris about the death in front of Fergus, and then paused to let Iris speak. If Iris was silent, Ezra should have told Fergus that the meeting could wait and Fergus could go home for the day, and had the conference with Iris and the OP after that.
          But all of this would require more experience and quicker thinking than Ezra probably had. It doesn’t mean that Ezra lacks “humanity”.

      1. Sleepless*

        Well, yes. Aside from the optics for the company or the emotional aspect for the employee, the day or two after an immediate family member dies are extremely busy. If you’ve never experienced it, a lot of stuff has to be done right away. Funeral arrangements have to be made, and they move fast. Life insurance policies have to be found, and elderly sick people don’t always have their paperwork organized. Sometimes, corneas (and other organs) have to be donated. Friends and family have to be called, and for God’s sake don’t forget anybody or they will never, ever forgive you. Bank accounts have to be frozen. I’m a little surprised Fergus was at work.

        1. yokozbornak*

          I have experienced it, and honestly, if I was on the chopping block, I would have preferred to be fired because It would give me one less thing to worry about.

          1. Fancy Owl*

            Same, I’ve also experienced the death of a parent and I’d actually prefer to just be fired to if I knew it was coming. Otherwise I have to keep going to to work while also grieving and sorting out funeral arrangements just waiting for the guillotine to finally drop. I’d rather have all of the horrible things just happen at once.

          2. Oh No She Di'int*

            Perhaps, but that’s only with the hindsight of knowing for sure you’d be fired. If it’s before the fact, and you still believe you have a chance to keep your job, then being fired would still come as an awful shock.

            1. Paula*

              someone at the end of PIP like Ezra knows for sure they are getting fired
              there’s no way he’s shocked

            2. Autistic AF*

              Right, we don’t know that Fergus knew for sure what was happening. Anyone who says otherwise is speculating.

        2. Anonymeece*

          Not to mention there’s the shock vs grief aspect. The shock of a loved one dying can last a few days to a week, while grief can last for years. It’s not unreasonable to have to kindly fire someone while grieving, but doing so while they’re in shock is shockingly bad.

          How much information about severance pay/insurance running out/etc. do you think Fergus really absorbed while in shock? I’m guessing not a whole lot.

      2. Joielle*

        I don’t think it’s really any better for Fergus, but the optics for the company are a bit better. Even if it was otherwise a well-handled firing, “I got fired the day after my mom died” just makes the company sound awful. If they can wait a few weeks, at least Fergus wouldn’t be making funeral arrangements and applying for unemployment at the same time.

        But I do kind of understand Ezra panicking and thinking “it’s going to be awful for him either way, just do it and get it over with.” I mean, it was the wrong decision, but I don’t think it means he’s some kind of irredeemable monster. He got unexpectedly tossed a rare, super-emotional situation and bungled it. (Does that mean he’s not well-suited to being a manager? Maybe… but I think it’s a good sign that he feels bad about it, at least. He certainly won’t make the same mistake again.)

      3. Opel*

        This was my reaction as well, though I see and respect that clearly a whole lot of people feel differently. Fergus had finished his PIP and presumably knew the firing was coming (possibly in this meeting). I think something like offering bereavement leave when an employee wouldn’t otherwise be offered time off would be a good move, but I’m confused by the idea that it would be unethical or otherwise horrible not to keep someone employed because their parent died.

    11. Three Flowers*

      It’s *garbage-level*, awful-human bad. Iris might have overstepped but her instincts are right.

      1. Eye roll*

        Would it really be better to drag Fergus back from dealing with his mother’s arrangements and property after a day or two of bereavement leave only to fire him then and send him back out? Or to let him use up all his leave (which he might overwise get paid out for) and start a job search without that extra cushion? Or to appear to waive his PIP failure for a month or two only to spring a firing on him? This was going to be awful under all circumstances, including if Ezra waited and Fergus left wondering what the meeting was supposed to be about, only to then discover HR waiting outside and his IT access already turned off. Iris made this suckiness of this situation all about her.

        1. Three Flowers*

          It would be better not to fire him *that day*. There are many other options here. One, for example, would be to let him go home that day and delay the meeting, sending him an email later in the day or the next day saying that his PIP has been extended a month. Most people, I think, would figure out that a cancelled meeting with the boss when you’re on a PIP followed by a short extension of the PIP is the proverbial writing on the wall. Another is to consider whether the severance should be altered to prevent the lost leave payout issue you describe.

          Under no circumstances is proceeding with firing someone because they failed at their job within 24 hours of them losing a parent acceptable. Never. Not at all.

          And why are we talking about Iris here? Iris maybe shouldn’t have shouted at him, but she was roped into doing something horrible and she isn’t wrong. There’s a lot of “blame Iris” in this comment section that is wildly misplaced.

      2. Radio Girl*

        Yes! Her instincts were spot on.

        What strikes me about the entire incident is that more training is needed for both Ezra and Iris.

        I’d put both on a PIP until that training is received.

    12. Person from the Resume*

      I agree with Hmmm. Fergus was going to be fired. How much longer are you going to keep him on after his mother’s death? At what point is it appropriate to fire someone after a parent’s death? There’s no end date to the grief.

      Yeah, mistakes were made. Ezra should have stopped the meeting, but didn’t know how or that he could. Fergus could have called into work and not come in that day. And Iris becoming livid and wanting to demote a junior manager (she had to coach him through the firing) for this seems an over the top reaction.

      Iris reacted badly to a situation and got livid. Ezra reacted wrongly to a situation and froze up and stuck to the script he had been given.

      1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Well, just because there’s no objective ‘correct’ time doesn’t mean that the meeting couldn’t be rescheduled. We needn’t let doing it perfectly be the enemy of doing it better.

        The fact that Iris got so livid (and so many commenters also feel livid) just speaks to why this was a bad decision. You don’t want people having that sort of emotional reaction to a firing at your workplace; it could seriously erode the relationship between Ezra and his team.

      2. boop the first*

        I’d like to know how expected it was… Fergus was on a PIP, so it’s not out of the blue, but maybe there should have been a better practice than deciding behind closed doors and bombarding someone with a decision on the last day. If they didn’t show humanity and skip the original meeting, Fergus would have been fired before the loss even happened, so was this desired humanity to blame for it happening in the first place?

        Ezra’s poor decision was simply keeping an employee’s information to himself, so, a communication issue. He probably thought that he’d already done the humane thing on Thursday and was out of cards.

    13. Brett*

      It is bad. Losing a job is stressful. Losing a parent is extremely stressful. Stress stacks, and even for an employee that you are firing it is important to avoid putting them into unhealthy levels of stress.

      Fergus needs time to manage the stress of losing his mother and dealing with all the issues that presents before also dealing with the stress of losing his job.

      That said, this makes it where additional severance should be part of the solution. That severance could help Fergus postpone dealing with job loss and any financial issues brought on by job loss or by his mother’s death. Just a simple postpone like that could dramatically lower his current stress and help his health.

    14. Foxy Hedgehog*

      I mean, Fergus is the only one who can answer that question, and we will never know his thoughts. I was let go from a job several months ago (pandemic cutbacks), and I can’t tell you how much relief I felt when it happened–all of my stress just dissolved in an instant. Yes, there was a job search ahead, but I was in a place where I could take a couple of weeks to decompress before I had to start looking.

      Personally, I can imagine being in Fergus’ place and (if they had waited a week) thinking “I wish they had fired me a week earlier–I could have dealt with my grief without also worrying about all of the stuff I needed to do at work.”

      Again, we will never have Fergus’ thoughts on this, and there was no way to get his thoughts beforehand–“when would you like to be fired” isn’t exactly a question you can ask.

    15. Jules the 3rd*

      Yes, it’s that bad.
      – It’s hitting Fergus when he’s already down, emotionally
      – It’s adding economic stress right when he may have unexpected expenses (travel, etc)
      – It’s going to look like the company wanted to evade paying out bereavement days. A lot of people won’t know about the PIP, but they will all know about Fergus’s mom.

      Iris over-reacted, but Alison’s right – OP needs to figure out if this was a one-time error or a repeated one. I get tunnel vision, kinda locked into a path, but I know it and know that when something unexpected happens, I need to stop and think about next steps, not just go forward on autopilot. In this case, I would have needed to consciously shift the meeting path from ‘firing’ to ’employee with family death’. For people who get tunnel vision, learning that conscious reset moment is really important.

    16. Anonymous Hippo*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking this way. I was beginning to think my “compassion chip” was missing as well. I wouldn’t have gone through with the firing, but honestly, when is a good time to fire someone? I just a teensy bit wonder if the employee knew it was coming and just wanted it over with (I can’t imagine anyone even showing up for work the day their parent died).

      1. Anonymous Hippo*

        My point is I don’t think the manager is such a failure that demotion is in order or even be considered. Coaching, yes, management training, sure, but that this would brand his such a failure seems ridiculous to me.

      2. Observer*

        There is never a “good” time to fire someone. But there are worse times, and the morning after someone lost a parent is very high up on “worse” times.

        1. Lizzo*

          ^This. And a newer manager–who lacks experience/training or doesn’t feel confident about the support they might receive from HR and/or their own manager if they encounter a tough situation–might not be able to direct the situation away from “worse” to “bad”.

    17. BeautifulVoid*

      It’s bad, but honestly, I was expecting a LOT worse based on the title. I’m with you – the timing was awful, and a lot of things lined up in a terrible way, but on the other hand, the firing shouldn’t have been a complete surprise and they all would have been in the same situation a day, a week, or a month later. I agree that Ezra should have slammed on the brakes and consulted HR or OP for guidance, but I also agree with the others upthread who have pointed out how he might have had a “deer in headlights” moment and just kept forging ahead. Alison’s right in that OP needs to look at patterns to determine whether Ezra is cut out to be a manager, but regardless of that conclusion, absent of any other problematic patterns, I don’t think he’s a terrible human being based on this one instance. There have been a ton of unkind comments directed toward him, which isn’t fair coming from a group of people saying “of course I would have done XYZ!” while reading about something well after the fact. Again, it was a poor judgment call on Ezra’s part, and Fergus is well within his rights to be upset, but if I were to start listing terrible things terrible people have done in just the first month of this year, I don’t know if Ezra would crack the top 100.

    18. anonforthis*

      The issue here is not just how Ezra and Iris feel – it’s what everyone else who works for Ezra and the organization see. It will not go over well that the company fired Fergus a day after his mom died. I of course feel bad for Fergus, but that is the bigger issue here.

    19. Tinker*

      By way of contrast, what I would foresee from an “intelligent and respectful” person who had gotten to the end of a properly done performance management process on account of persistently not having the skills for one particular job is that they probably know that they’re going to be fired round about now, they may already have a plan in place to move on that they can pivot more fully to, and given that the firing is to happen they probably want to get it wrapped up in a dignified and mutually respectful way without pointless delay even if they’re not particularly thrilled by the outcome.

      That’s not to say that I wouldn’t consider other possibilities and be able to shift to those plans, but I wouldn’t come out of the gate with that assumption. Also, in this particular case, given that Fergus didn’t even himself ask to delay the Monday meeting further, if he was planning to string things out with sob stories he did an exceptionally bad job of it.

      Why this assumption of good faith is important: First of all, in the case here where the person is going to be fired, visibly presuming (as contrasted with visibly anticipating as a possible outcome, which is usually understandable) that they’re going to conduct themselves unprofessionally is rude and unkind. In this case, if Fergus had asked to delay the meeting past the immediate outcome of his mother’s death, that’s a pretty reasonable request and denying it or actually expressing the sentiment of “oh, sure, and next I suppose all your performance problems will be because of your poor mother” — it’s not great.

      The other thing too, outside this particular situation, is that if you’re working from the assumption that someone who is performing poorly at a particular job must be a Bad Employee from whom nothing can be expected in the process of getting rid of them but flimsy excuses and delaying tactics, you’re potentially missing the chance that the problem with their performance really is a solvable one.

      Ultimately, your goal is to be working together with people on your common goals rather than hunting down miscreants, and being the first party in a business relationship to go adversarial isn’t typically conducive to that.

  4. Falling Diphthong*

    I like the advice (if a manager finds themselves having to adjust on the fly) to go to condolences followed by the assurance that this meeting doesn’t need to happen and the employee should take some time off.

    I do empathize with Ezra, though–I can see feeling that everything is rolling and he has to drop this news or it’s going to land as an automated email about applying for unemployment. Especially if he’s new to firing people and legit doesn’t know how much discretion he has here. And feeling that dangling “Let’s put this Very Important Meeting off for a couple of days” for a few rounds is just dragging out the hope/doom loop and a clean break would be kinder.

    1. Forrest*

      I like the advice too, but I am not particularly a rule-follower and I strongly identify with being a new manager, psyched up for a Difficult Conversation and not having the skills to pivot in the moment.

      I don’t really agree with Iris that this a matter of fundamental compassion. I used to coach doctors on communication skills, and “how to show empathy in a shocking and unexpected situation” is a skill. Lots of the doctors I worked with had stories of where they’d made an awful and appalling blunder in communication and known that they’d come across as completely lacking empathy when they encountered a situation they simply weren’t prepared for and were out of their depth.

      I think you can have all the compassion but still not have the confidence, knowledge or skill to pivot like that. The test of your compassion is what you do the next time.

      1. Therapy Questions*

        Yes, absolutely. To me, you and Falling Diphthong have hit it. Yes, it was a blunder — but it was an understandable human blunder, not evidence that Ezra is an unfeeling monster. And empathizing — not just feeling empathy, but expressing it in a good and helpful way — is a skill, not an innate quality.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        This is great. I can totally understand the feeling of “everything is already in done and in motion, I have been assigned to handle the last piece, I have no power to change anything, there’s nothing I can do, [panic] am I even allowed to pause things, [panic panic] I guess just follow through??” It feels similar to the person who was forced to drive and make eye contact with a video call – they knew it was a mistake, but didn’t know how to push back or feel that they even could do anything but comply in the moment.

        No argument that Ezra made a big mistake and requires training, but I too disagree that it’s a matter of lacking fundamental compassion. “…you can have all the compassion but still not have the confidence, knowledge, or skill to pivot like that.”

      3. Nic*

        Agreed. Ezra needs more training on communication and his own managerial powers, rather than complete condemnation.

        (Also, I think Ezra’s more significant mistake was earlier, when he failed to talk to HR about the delayed meeting and ask for advice/a new script to deal with the changing situation.)

      4. Roci*

        I agree and doctors/medical staff delivering difficult news is a great parallel. Performing empathy is a skill that can be taught and learned. Clearly Ezra has compassion because he feels awful about it today. But he didn’t know how to express and act upon his feelings in the moment. I think coaching is certainly in order but it’s not right to claim he’s an “unfeeling monster” or a “spineless worm.”

    2. BigTenProfessor*

      Yeahhhh…I’m not sure that “let’s just postpone this very important meeting with HR present” would be any better for Fergus’s mental health. Surely he knew what was coming.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        It would have been better for him practically, since he’d have the bereavement time and pay.

      2. Observer*

        So? “I’m probably going to get fired” is something that you can shove to the back of your mind when dealing with something like the death of a parent the evening before. On the other hand being actually fired – and sitting through a whole meeting about the technical details is NOT something you can push back that way.

        And even when you know it’s coming, being fired is stressful – a LOT more stressful that knowing it’s probably coming. Having it happen when your defenses are totally shot is absolutely a kick in the gut when you’re already on the ground curled up in pain.

        And for all the people saying that having the looming ax just finally falling being a release – that’s true for a lot of people, but it’s because it means that you can move on. When you get fired the morning after losing a parent, you can’t really do that so it’s a very, very different thing.

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          I have to disagree on your first point–I would spend WAY more time dwelling on “I’m about to get fired” than I would on “I just got fired”

  5. KHB*

    “I can imagine a situation where an inexperienced manager, probably already nervous about firing someone, gets in this situation and doesn’t know how to handle it so just plows forward … mostly because he thinks he has to, and also maybe because he doesn’t know how to change direction at that point.”

    This is exactly what I was thinking happened, and it’s the kind of thing I can see myself screwing up in a fit of panic if I ever find myself in this situation. (I’ve never managed anyone, but it’s possible that that could change soon.) I feel so bad for everyone involved here.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed, in that I think this is what happened with Ezra. Fergus has been through a PIP that failed, the meeting already got put off once because his mom was ill, how long do you keep pushing things back in order to have it not be right in the middle of a bad time for him? I think the events were in motion and Ezra was unsure how much power to reroute events already in motion.

    2. No Winning Move*

      My thinking as well. I also wonder if Ezra had an encounter with upper mgmt, where they were berated for not following protocol or being “firm” enough with reports. That would certainly contribute to following protocol, even while feeling awful doing it.

      1. pbnj*

        I wondered if management/HR told him to go through with the firing no matter what Fergus says, with the intent to not give in to employees begging for more time.

        1. No Winning Move*

          For what you’ve said and other reasons, I caution my managers specifically not to give absolute instructions unless it’s something they’re willing to back up with their own reputation, and that the default for them and their reports should be to stop and ask questions, never to plow ahead or fake it. Granted, we’re a much more horizontal structure so it’s a bit easier for us.

    3. Mujj*

      Same here! I am also a lower level manager and would not be sure that I even have the authority to not move forward with the firing, offer extra compensation, etc. I truly don’t know what I would have done in this situation.

      1. Paris Geller*

        Yeah, this is my reading of it. This is a horrible situation, and Ezra made a mistake, but I don’t think he was maliciously callous. OP says that they would have backed Ezra up on postponing the meeting, but Ezra might not have known that at the time. I had a job where, while I was not a manager, I did have the authority to make certain decisions. . . or so I was told. It turns out every time I made one of those decisions, it came back to bite me, and I was often asked why I didn’t ask my manager. I’ve also seen this with my managers in past roles–sometimes when you’re a manager but not C suite, authority isn’t clearly defined. I’ve worked in organizations where Ezra could have put off that meeting, and I’ve also worked in organizations where that absolutely would not have been his call.

        Ezra definitely needs some training if he’s going to continue to be a manager. He needs to realize this was a mistake, that his actions hurt Fergus & also probably his team’s opinion of him (like others have said, it’s gonna get out that Fergus was let go the day after his mother died), but I don’t think he needs to be necessarily be immediately demoted to an individual contributor role. He needs to know what he’s empowered to do & what he isn’t. . . and then he needs to actually DO those things. If, after that, it becomes clear he can’t do that, I think that’s when he should be placed at an individual contributor role.

      2. Jenny*

        I’ve been in that meeting and by the time we’re having the conversation the paperwork is processed. I don’t think I could stop it.

        1. Observer*

          You really could not even say to the HR person in the room “By the way Fergus lost his mom last night”?

          That is totally messed up.

          1. Jenny*

            We’ve literally removed someone from the computer system by the time they’re told they are fired (this was based on a security incident with a fired employee).

            1. Self Employed*

              Even if Fergus was off the computer system, if the meeting pivots from “you’re fired” to “of course you’re going out on bereavement leave” then Fergus doesn’t need to be at work using his email/network/keycards. They’ve got a few days to sort that out while Fergus sorts out his mother’s affairs.

              1. Roci*

                Fergus is going out on bereavement leave immediately following the meeting? No chance to log back into his email and set an automated outgoing message?
                Undoing a termination can be a tricky process with downstream systems. I don’t think there is always enough time to fix it before the employee notices, unless you keep them in that meeting while you contact HR and IT…

        2. Katrinka*

          I know of no circumstances in which it could not be stopped or delayed. No one’s access to email, etc. should be cut off until they’ve been notified that they are terminated. What if the company had had to delay if for some reason (I can think of several possibilities off the top of my head, including another employee leaving or some sort of emergency that shuts the company down for the day)? It is literally a matter of minutes to terminate someone’s access and payroll continues to the end of the next pay period any way, as they should be reimbursed for days worked up to the point of termination, unused PTO, etc. Paperwork can be shredded and re-written at any time prior to finalization and can be superseded by subsequent filings.

          We’ve had long-term subs who were taken out of the system because someone had the wrong date for the termination of their contract. It took only a few minutes to get them back in to email, less than an huor to get their full access back. And payroll was never affected.

          1. Ellenaria*

            In my experience, access to email is *always* revoked before the person is informed, or the revocation is set to coincide with the start time of the termination meeting.

      3. pancakes*

        Not being sure of the limits of your authority in a situation like this is a good reason to delay and seek clarification. It isn’t in itself a reason to assume you wouldn’t have the authority.

        1. KHB*

          But now we have a catch-22, because “delaying” is the very thing you don’t know if you have the authority to do.

          1. Jenny*

            Yeah like literally “he’s been removed from payroll” problem. If he’s been removed from the system pumping the breaks creates a headache.

            I’m sorry but Iris and the HR system aucks here. Being late to the meeting caused problems.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              I think HR being late with the reason I don’t want someone to be more nervous is always bogus. Be kind and compassionate and ON TIME.
              I think if Iris had been on time she would have known and she more than a mid manager would have the authority to press pause on a termination. Could be why Iris lashed out so harshly at Ezra after the fact.

              1. pancakes*

                Point taken about payroll potentially being a problem, but I don’t agree that Iris is wrong to arrive late to meetings where someone will be fired. I think it’s fine, maybe even for the best, to give people who are being fired a moment to take in the news without an audience.

            2. Katrinka*

              The only way payroll would be a problem would be if they closed the pay period at the same time as the meeting ended. and even then, they can always cut a manual check if they can’t get him back in the system on time. With most, if not all, payroll systems, you can reopen payroll to make changes/corrections right up until you cut the checks.

      4. LJay*

        Yeah I’m not a new manager and I know I can’t offer extra compensation without a lot of sign offs.

        But I don’t know at what point in my company is a firing past the point of no return. You bet I’d be stalling scrambling to find that out before moving forward and not moving forward unless it was irreversible.

        And now that it’s come up here I’m going to talk to my boss about it so I know if this ever happens (and I’m betting he doesn’t know either and will have to ask HR).

        Because if payroll has been cut off already that would have to be managed because it’s definitely not kinder or legally okay to send him back to his desk to work for free. Same with insurance coverage cutting off.

        Nor would it be cool for him to walk out of the cancelled meeting to find all his IT access has been cut off, his access badge has been cut off, and security badge been cancelled (that last one is outside our company and would take at least a couple weeks to be reissued and there’s no turning it back on once it’s turned off.)

        I’d also want to check in with HR to ensure that there was no legal or other implications (if we’ve moved forward with firing someone in a similar situation in the past could this be considered evidence of unequal treatment if we don’t now? if we continue letting him work after failing the PIP do we need to issue a new PIP before we get to the point of firing again (I’ve worked at a place where if you didn’t do a writeup the next time they worked you couldn’t do it after that. I think it was to prevent someone from holding onto offenses to attack someone with them all at once or so vindictive people couldn’t write an employee up for something from months ago if the employee annoyed them. But in practice it was disfunctional.)

        Nowadays I would figure most of that could be reversed (maybe with some stalling required or issuing manual checks rather than our normal payroll processing) but I can definitely see myself as a new manager feeling like an immovable machine had been put in motion and that I was not able to bring it screeching to a halt.

      5. gbca*

        I can understand that. I think the thing to do would be to tell Fergus you needed to hold on for a moment, step outside and wait for HR to arrive, and give them a heads up on the situation and ask how to proceed. Or step out and call HR or your boss. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing what to do, but part of managerial judgment is knowing when to ask.

        1. Genny*

          This sounded to me like it happened over video conference…so what would you do when leaving the “room” looks even more suspicious than it would if you were all physically present?

          1. Self Employed*

            There are always excuses to go off camera on Zoom. FedEx at the door, pet/child shenanigans, etc.

            Or just say you need to talk to HR about Fergus’s bereavement leave.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          This a good time for “let me grab you a cup of coffee/glass of water” stall, and then book it to find Iris and explain the situation. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.

      6. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

        Hopefully you’d at least TRY, which is not something the spineless worm Ezra could manage to do.
        1. Seriously– do not fire someone whose parent has just died! Just don’t do it!
        2. Ezra didn’t even TRY to see if he could stop it. Ezra is a spineless worm.

        1. Roci*

          The name-calling is not necessary. Ezra made a mistake but it wasn’t malicious and he’s not a monster.

    4. Chilipepper*

      But when you are a manager, you do have to be able to roll with things and not screw up this much in a fit of panic!

      1. KHB*

        I mean, of course, ideally you should? But the thing about people is they’re not perfect, and the working world is kind of notorious for promoting people into managerial positions based on their skills as individual contributors, without really teaching them (or sometimes even giving much thought to) the separate skills necessary for managing.

        Ezra made a mistake in a stressful and fast-moving situation. I can easily see myself making a similar mistake. If you want to make inferences from that about me, I guess I can’t stop you.

        1. Partly Cloudy*

          Same, and I totally agree. Management is a skill that needs to be learned, just like changing a tire or solving quadratic equations. I think it’s unfair to vilify Ezra over this extremely unlikely and hard-to-be-prepared-for situation.

    5. JustaTech*

      It sounds tome like Ezra is new-ish to managing, and maybe this is the first time he’s had to fire someone?

      If Ezra didn’t know that putting off the firing for a week for a death in the family was an option, then he might have felt stuck. With hindsight, I can see two things that could have helped here:
      First, talking to the OP after the first re-schedule and asking (or the OP offering) what to do if Fergus’s mom died.
      Second, as soon as Fergus told Ezra, Ezra should have paused and (if in-person stepped out to talk to Iris, if on a call, messaged Iris or the OP in some way).

      But if you don’t know that there are options, that there are paths other than the firing in front of you, then it can be very hard to change on the fly.

    6. BeautifulVoid*

      Exactly. In a perfect world, Ezra would have paused the meeting to consult someone else, but since 1) he’d already needed to be coached on how to fire someone, and 2) the termination papers were completed, I can totally see how he might have panicked. Like, can you offer bereavement leave to someone who’s no longer considered an employee as of XX:00 time? Did he feel like he had the authority to postpone the meeting/termination? How long would he have been allowed to delay the inevitable, if at all?

      Yes, OP needs to look at patterns, but I don’t think Ezra is a horrible human being, and a lot of the comments here seem unnecessarily cruel. It was a bad situation all around.

    7. Observer*

      “I can imagine a situation where an inexperienced manager, probably already nervous about firing someone, gets in this situation and doesn’t know how to handle it so just plows forward … mostly because he thinks he has to, and also maybe because he doesn’t know how to change direction at that point.”

      This is exactly what I was thinking happened,

      So the thing is that as a manager, you need to be able to navigate this. Beyond that, Ezra actually had a perfect opportunity to find out what the options were. I mean, it is just not believable that he had any reason to believe that he could not say to Iris when she came in “Just do you know, Fergus just told me that his elderly mom died yesterday.”

      1. KHB*

        I disagree – of course it’s believable that he could have had a reason. Maybe he feels (as I tend to) that other people’s family tragedies are not his to share.

        Now, is that a good reason? I don’t know, maybe not. I’m not disputing that Ezra screwed up here – he could and should have done all kinds of things differently. I’m just saying that I think he was in a tough situation that a lot of people would have found themselves unprepared for, and I feel bad for him because of it.

  6. Sled dog mama*

    When I read the headline I thought this was going to be firing someone for an absence related to the death which is the only way this could have been worse. I’m so happy to see that it was at the end of a PIP.
    It’s so hard to realize that someone needs taught when that they have the authority to do something in a more humane way. I wonder if Ezra really didn’t believe he had the authority to change anything about Fergus’s separation from the company and that led him to continuing.

    1. lobsterbot*

      that’s my feeling. Did he know he had options. Could he have known, based on things he’d seen before? Or is this sort of thing actually normal at this company only now he’s facing heat for it.

    2. Mike S.*

      I once took a training class from someone who fired an employee for being late (they had a history of tardiness), only to find out later that she was late because she took her mom to the hospital.
      He ended up hiring her back, and impressed on us the importance of finding out why someone’s having an issue.

    3. BluntBunny*

      Yes is it really that hard to say “can I speak with you outside a second Iris?”. I think some of it is compassion but also common sense. I would think that managers have had more coaching in the last year to reach out and check their direct reports and colleagues are ok. There has been a big focus on mental health this year as people are struggling in the pandemic, I can’t really see why they wouldn’t try and stop the firing even if they didn’t know they had the power to. On whether he should still be a manager, I would have to see what his other direct reports think.

      1. Claire*

        HA no most managers have had no extra coaching this year. And really how to you coach “managing during a pandemic” anyway? It’s not like anyone has experience to teach that class, we are all learning as we go along.

  7. Kitty Cathleen*

    Oh my goodness.

    I think it’s important to consider the impact that this could have on Ezra’s relationship with his other direct reports. If Fergus has a relationship with any of his former co-workers outside of the office, I’d assume they’re going to hear about this. If I heard my manager had fired someone the morning after their parent died, I’d likely be looking for a new job. I would be completely uncomfortable working for someone who seems to lack empathy to that degree.

    1. EventPlannerTurnedNurse*

      This. If I were Ezra I would be telling people this as a warning to not work under Fergus especially, but also the company in general because it seemed like HR was aware of the situation even though we know that is not the case. I would be looking for a new job immediately.

    2. Code Monkey the SQL*

      This is 100% the concern I would have. Ezra may have panicked. He may not have known how to pivot and reschedule. He may not have been certain of his course.

      But if I were still reporting to Ezra, my relationship with him would be completely trashed. I would never feel safe admitting to any personal circumstance, and I’d probably be looking to change managers if at all possible. If he can’t apply the pause button to business processes in the face of “my mom died,” I would hardly believe he’d have my back with smaller things, whether that’s “my kid is sick at daycare again” or “this client is being unreasonable, can you get her to reread the contract?”

      My heart goes out to Fergus.

    3. Three Flowers*

      If I was on Ezra’s team I’d be rallying the rest of the team to go to OP together and demand a change in reporting. I’d consider this a hill to die on.

    4. Chilipepper*

      This! I am as horrified as the HR rep who lost her mind and chewed out Ezra!
      And I cannot believe the people here saying this is not so bad and that they would probably do the same as Ezra; that they might panic a bit and keep going with the firing. I am sorry but as a manager, you do have to work on not panicking, on being able to pivot, and in having some compassion. I’m a rules follower, think work should all be about work, and don’t want to bring any emotions into work but even I know that when your mom dies, these things go out the window.

      1. Mr Jingles*

        +1
        For me the most important quality of a manager is being aware of imperfection. It’s more than likely Ezra was out of his dept and didn’tknow how to move forward. But then he should have asked. He should have excused himself and wait for HR and asked or he should have gone to/called LW and ask what to do. It might be a legitimate thing to plow away when your most important duty is to fold boxes and the worst that could happen is to fold them upside down but I expect from my manager that they remember they work with people and postpones at least a few minutes to clarify what to do with their own managers and HR especially when the situation is as grave as this! So yes, I completely agree with the HR lady, the fact that he plowed away showed he’s not manager material. The fact that he was new only hardens my opinion that he should have asked somebody first. That this didn’t occur to him shows he is too afraid how he looks himself than to be able to manage people properly and fairly.
        There was a chance that Fergus issues where related to his private situation. If his Mom was ailing a longer time who knows if his performance wouldn’t have seriously improoved the next weeks anyway. The fact that hecame in that day could indicate that he was willing to bury his grief in work or not.
        At least Fergus would have deserved a few days of compassion before he was terminated. Maybe one or two weeks to bury his mother wothout being burdened by unemployment on top.
        I know compaies aint welfare orgs and I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask them to keep people indefinitely out of pity but just a few days? That’s the least they owe the social contract of society.
        Something like that was once the reason I quit a job and LW should be aware that this could happen now because of Ezra’s inepness.

    5. Opel*

      You’d be uncomfortable working for someone who fires people when they are at the end of a (failed) PIP? I feel like some people in the comments are acting like he fired Fergus for the hell of it, or because his mom died. Yes, he could have gone about it better, but as a report of Ezra I think I would be thinking “yikes, that sucks for Fergus and I wish management had handled this better” not “ohmygosh management is chomping at the bit to fire anyone who parent dies I need to leave”

      1. Autistic AF*

        Privacy legislation would most likely prevent them from knowing about PIP details, or even the PIP itself.

          1. Self Employed*

            Company practice or not, I think I’ve read here that most people can suss out when a coworker is on a PIP. Especially if Fergus’s lack of skills affects them in some way–you’re in QC and his teapots are always painted badly or you’re the one who calls the vet when he overfeeds the llamas and they get colic.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It’s the stunning lack of compassion and lack of recognition that this is a fellow human being that people are reacting to.

        It has nothing to do with failing the PIP and being fired. It has everything to do with the fact that his parent just died. Dying parent trumps PIP.

        I have worked for an Ezra. He thought I was out of ear shot. He did not know I heard him say, “She needs to put her father in a nursing home, forget about him and go back to work.”

        I later told my immediate supervisor that I sincerely hope the Boss’ kids do not follow that model that the boss outlined as being the best approach for handling a dying parent. Because if the kids do buy-in, Boss is going to be very lonely in his final days.

        Right… boss needed coaching. This boss did this to other people. He was literally screamed at, acted all remorseful, then he turned around and did it again. People always comment, “I wonder why no one goes to see Bob in the nursing home.” Well here’s a reason why right here. Karma.

    6. CommanderBanana*

      Yeah, I imagine Ezra is going to be forever be ‘the guy who fired someone the day after his mom died.’

    7. Ellenaria*

      Many comments on this post show not everyone would have that reaction; plenty of folks here are arguing that this is a regretful situation but that Ezra didn’t really have any good options. Especially if everyone in the department knows Fergus is bad at the job, has been on a PIP, maybe we’ve been picking up the slack on his work… If I were a colleague, I can see feeling very sad for Fergus but not hating/fearing Ezra over it.

  8. CmdrShepard4ever*

    I know that Fergus was dealing with grief, but I think they also own partial responsibility. Why did they wait until the start of the meeting to inform their manager that their mother passed away. Was the termination meeting really first thing in the morning that he did not have a chance to send an email or talk to their manager before. I can understand wanting to go into work after that happens some people might want to use it as a distraction (if it were me I would be saying home) but I think Fergus should have send an email late Sunday or early Monday explaining what happened.

    I can see how this might have happened. The meeting had started, Fergus was there and explains the situation with their mother, the manager blanks or takes a second to process (thinks how terrible why are you even here) then the HR person walks in with the termination paperwork, Fergus sees them. Now manager has to make a snap decision keep going or try to make up a bad excuse for why HR was there and cancel the meeting.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      When my mother died, I was not thinking straight. It took me several hours to even begin to function normally. While it’s clear that Fergus needed to be fired–at some point–I would not judge someone for failing to email their boss in the immediate aftermath of losing a parent

      1. Nia*

        Is it clear he needed to be fired? Evidence suggests his manager is terrible. How do we know Fergus was being evaluated accurately.

        1. Forrest*

          HR was involved and they had all the documentation necessary to terminate a PIP. I mean, it’s possible that Ezra was wrong about everything, but there’s no evidence to suggest that.

        2. AskJeeves*

          That seems like a leap. LW agreed with the termination needing to happen, Fergus was put on a PIP and apparently not improving, HR signed off — this wasn’t a snap decision. And I don’t think one instance of very poor judgment is evidence the manager is overall terrible at their job.

          1. Nia*

            Was LW evaluating Fergus’s performance themselves or were they relying on reports from Ezra? Same with the PIP and HR. Maybe Fergus did need to be fired but if all the documentation for that is coming from a demonstrably poor manager then someone at least needs to look it all over to be sure.

            1. Self Employed*

              Good point. Maybe Ezra lacks experience training people if he’s a new manager, and if he’s a rigid rules follower, he may not be good at adapting his training if it’s not sinking in.

              Also, there were a lot of comments upstream that maybe Fergus needed intermittent FMLA to take care of his mother before she had a crisis. He may have been worried about her.

              Back before FMLA, I was fired from a job because I was taking off too many half-days to take my mother to the doctor and I was not hiding my worry about her well enough. Even if I’d paid for a taxi instead (which would’ve been about half a day’s pay) she needed someone to help her get to the right office and wait with her. (Mom never had a good sense of direction, and Scripps Clinic is the size of some colleges I’ve attended.)

              The next job I remember after that was the maternity leave gig where everyone was so good to work with. I really wanted a permanent job there, but the opening they had was a different skill set and wouldn’t have worked.

              1. Self Employed*

                Oops! I cut some paragraphs and left out the part that between taking Mom to the doctor and her getting home hospice and them taking her to the doctor but also calling me every day at work about things they could’ve left on my answering machine or asked Mom about. I can’t imagine starting a new job and getting trained up on it properly in the middle of all this–I was already at the “can do this job in my sleep” stage by then. If Fergus had been dealing with lots of “sick Mom distractions” and maybe Ezra not being the best trainer, then maybe Fergus didn’t belong on a PIP in the first place.

        3. Three Flowers*

          This is what I think. The whole PIP, everything about Ezra’s management of Fergus, needs to be evaluated because Ezra has shown he has poor basic human skills.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        You are right the saying Fergus should have emailed late Sunday when it happened is unrealistic. But I still think that would be something you want to make your manager aware of when you get in Monday. I guess I am having a hard time imagining not letting my manager and coworkers know right away to explain why I would not be on my best behavior.

        1. BuildMeUp*

          I can easily imagine running on complete auotpilot in that situation. To be honest, I think you’re really underestimating the impact grief can have on someone.

          1. Evan Þ.*

            I agree. That’s exactly how I felt when my grandpa died. I went into the office because it was the normal thing to do and my addled brain couldn’t think of any reason not to. If it hadn’t been for needing to take time off, I don’t know how long it would’ve been till I thought to mention it to my boss.

            1. DarthVelma*

              My dad died early in the morning on a Sunday. I went to work every day of the following week. It was that or sit at home alone stewing in it for a week until I could fly back home.

              And I will say that what managers do in these situations matters and people DO NOT forget. Mid-week we had a staff meeting. My boss decided we were being mean to her (again) and started crying (again). I hadn’t cried at work that week after MY DAD DIED. She picked a really bad time to pull her emotionally manipulative bullshit AGAIN. I still haven’t forgotten it and she’s been gone for well over a year. And I still haven’t completely forgiven the rest of the people that were on the management team at the time for asking me what I needed/wanted and then going completely against my bluntly stated wishes.

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            You are right I did underestimate the autopilot reaction that many people here are describing. So far I have been fortunate enough to not go through the grief process for a parent, maybe I will understand the autopilot response better eventually and will end up reacting the same way. I can see why Fergus would not have told his manager first thing.

          3. meyer lemon*

            Yes, and also shock, depending on the circumstances of the death. It can be a very disorienting experience.

          4. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Grief last year catapulted me into a nervous breakdown. There was no way in heck I could have been considered sane enough to do anything.

            (Grief, lockdown….gods 2020 was such a mess)

          5. Mr Jingles*

            When my dad had a stoke and my mom called me at school I ruined my car on my eay home. I didn’t crash but I didn’t pay attention to it and missed a warning light going on and drove the car with a coolant leakage till the motor burned out.
            I didn’t even tell anybody at school about it, I didn’t even tell I was going home. I finished my call, for which I had stepped outside of the classroom, left all my stuff in class, went to my car and drove home till the motor bursted.
            The next days my husband took care of the most basic things. He put clothing out for me to wear, told me to brush my teeth and comb my hair, forced me to eat. I was just so numb.
            No it is not realistic to expect Fergus to behave sensible or remeber anybody elses needs. He lost his mom. For at least a few days, he has a raincheck to be dazed and forgetful.

        2. PhysicsTeacher*

          I mean, I found out last Monday night that a good friend of mine had passed suddenly and went in to work Tuesday. I didn’t tell anyone at work until at least lunchtime mostly because I wanted to be busy and not think about my friend dying. It doesn’t seem off base, especially when you think about the fact that he may have gone to work to give himself a way not to think about it.

      3. Firecat*

        Yes this!!!

        Losing a parent is a whole nother level of grief. It changed my entire outlook on life to this day. The world was literally dimmer and less vibrant for months. I legit thought I had something wrong with my eyes.

        Beside I don’t think Fergus telling him at the meeting is even neccassarily poor judgement. Emailing someone can cause you to burst into tears. Being in a private room to let them know can be the right call.

    2. RC Rascal*

      It sounds like you have never lost a parent.

      When you lose a parent you are numb. It’s worse if you are the only child, or the one responsible because your siblings aren’t around. Communication doesn’t happen like it normally would, there are things to do and people to tell and its all a blur. Oh, and you have to start giving information for death certificates, maybe go to the hospital and do paperwork. You are a mess.

      I actually think Fergus’s notification of the death is pretty normal for a bereaved person.

      1. Anonym*

        Agreed. I’m surprised he even made it to work. There is no reasonable expectation of how someone “should” behave in the wake of that kind of loss. It’s numbness, grief, confusion and overwhelm in no particular order and sometimes all at once. Please have more compassion than to expect some sort of “proper protocol” in this scenario.

          1. Self Employed*

            I can well imagine being in his shoes and thinking “oh dammit I have a meeting scheduled I have to do this”

      2. Massive Dynamic*

        This. There’s a numbness that can’t be described until you experience it, but it permeates your entire thought process to the point where you might be fooled into thinking that you’re thinking rationally. It’s only after time has passed when you realize how the fog was actually messing with your thinking.

    3. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Submitted a bit early.

      I do agree the manager should have postponed the meeting.

      But we can see from the example on Thursday that Erza really does have empathy that is why he canceled the meeting when Fergus told them his mother was sick. I could see myself making this mistake in a similar situation, the ball has started rolling and not being sure if you have the finesse/authority to stop it.

      Personally if it were me, I would rather get on with it. If I am called into a meeting with my manager and HR and it is canceled/postponed, I am going to be freaking out the entire time and thinking about it. Having your mom die and being fired in the span of two days sucks but at least then you have clarity, having your mom die and then go into a meeting with HR and your manager to then have it canceled with a flimsy excuse or no excuse that sounds like pure torture to me.

      1. Observer*

        Personally if it were me, I would rather get on with it

        This is actually nonsense. I see why people are saying this, but it’s really not true for most people – even ones who felt relief when a looming layoff finally happened. Because under normal circumstances, this is what is consuming your life, so a definitive end is a relief, even when it’s a bad end. But in the IMMEDIATE aftermath of the death of a parent, that looming layoff is not what is consuming your life. Having someone actually do the layoff and spend time expecting you to take in all of the technical details of the layoff is forcing you to bring it to the foreground and deal with it when you are already running on empty.

        1. Allonge*

          I think it’s a bit too much for you to say what other people may prefer or not in any case. Sure, if the choice is between being fired or not, that is normally easy. But being fired or being 85% sure that you will be fired but not just yet (but maybe in a day, or four, or a week, or three weeks), but maybe not is not at all straightforward.

          And if you need to figure out how to process your grief, then having the added stress of still being on a PIP is not helping either. So I would not question those who say they would rather have it over with.

      2. LJay*

        This.

        I without question give my employees extra days off for bereavement, let them leave early to attend to personal issues, let them take it easy when they have other issues going on. I always have and haven’t really cared about official rules.

        But firing seems much more official and involves so many more people and moving aspects than letting someone take a couple extra days off here and there or reassigning some work etc.

    4. LifeBeforeCorona*

      My mother suddenly passed away last year just as Covid was beginning. As a result, everything connected with her passing was very disjointed and convoluted and still not finished. We haven’t been able to bury her yet because of travel restrictions. I was at work when I got the phone call and really don’t remember much of that week, except that my manager gave me time off without a question. There are still people who are unaware of her passing and it’s very difficult trying to remember everything. I give Fergus a pass, sending emails would be last on my list.

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Can we please not victim blame Fergus for not calling his boss in the immediate aftermath of losing his mom? That’s really unkind. Grief has a way of taking over other mental processes, and when you have to make dozens of other phone calls to family members and/or hospice services, calling work might be one of the things that gets lost in the shuffle. I don’t think Ezra is an evil, horrible person that shouldn’t ever be a manager again, but this was not Fergus’s fault.

      1. donotvictimblame*

        Yes, do not victim blame please. Its possible Fergus was in and out of hospitals for all the days leading up to the firing. He was likely running on very little sleep, and grieving for goodness sake. He may have not even begun processing everything yet, bc he could have been comforting his mother’s partner or his siblings. this was not Fergus’s issue.

        1. Autistic AF*

          Add the pandemic to all of that – presuming this happened within the last year. Everyone’s already a bundle of nerves, so add that to the difficulty of losing a parent. Fergus may not even have been able to see his mother or hold a funeral.

      2. Three Flowers*

        Yeah, and whose *boss*, with whom they probably have a nerve-racking relationship if they’re on a PIP, is at the top of the list to call when there are family and friends who have to be notified, doctors to deal with, funeral home to be contacted, plus the shock and the lack of closure due to the pandemic? There’s no way Fergus should be blamed for not calling the boss!

    6. BuildMeUp*

      It’s very likely Fergus was dealing with family, funeral arrangements, etc. for all of Sunday. While in a perfect world it would have been good to notify Ezra, I think expecting that seems a bit unkind.

    7. pdq*

      Gonna be real, when my dad died, making sure my manager knew about it was approximately 23498712th on the list of things I had to deal with and worry about. I think I sent an email saying I wouldn’t be in about 15 minutes after I was supposed to be in the office, which I do not feel bad about in the slightest.

    8. kittymommy*

      I mean when my mom and then dad died my immediate thought wasn’t that I have to let me boss know. I went to work because I was supposed to go to work and I was in shock and it was routine. I told them that I was going to need time off because of what happened. It honestly did not occur to me to call them to deliver that news and truthfully I think it would have been harder to do from home, by myself, on a phone rather than being in person. Thinking about it now I knew I had to keep it together at work (I don’t really cry in front of people).

    9. Observer*

      I know that Fergus was dealing with grief, but I think they also own partial responsibility. Why did they wait until the start of the meeting to inform their manager that their mother passed away.

      ~~snip~~

      the manager blanks or takes a second to process (thinks how terrible why are you even here) then the HR person walks in with the termination paperwork, Fergus sees them. Now manager has to make a snap decision

      So let’s get this straight – Fergus has just lost him mother and makes a possibly less than stellar decision. Ezra, who is supposed to be a manager and has NOT just lost his mother “blanks” and totally fails to make a good “snap decision”. But Fergus is as responsible for this mess? Because dealing with the death of a parent is “just the same” as dealing with an unexpected situation at work? Keep in mind that part of being a manager is making snap decisions!

      And, Ezra actually had another, very simple option. If he really felt that this was an HR thing – well HR was in the room by this point. Why did he not just tell Iris what Fergus has just told him?

      Ezra may be a compassion-less monster. Or not. But he IS lacking in whatever it takes to be a good manager – either he has no compassion or he has no clue as to how to handle anything out of the ordinary or unexpected. Neither is a good thing in a manager.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I do agree now that it is understandable that Fergus did not let anyone know prior to the meeting about his mother. But in my original comment I never said “Fergus is as responsible for this mess” I said “they also own partial responsibility” partial responsibility does not mean it is 50/50. I also never said dealing with the death of a parent is “just the same” as dealing with an unexpected situation at work. I do think and originally did think the Ezra was the main person at fault and should have made a better decision.

        I agree Ezra currently does not posses the skills to be a good manager, where I think we disagree is that I don’t think it means he incapable of learning them.

        1. srsly??*

          Yeah, this is still an absurd and terrible take, no matter, how much you want to parse your original statement. Blaming Fergus is gross, and you could own your take instead of the back and forth you’re indulging in here.

    10. Tinker*

      Fergus doesn’t have any responsibility to make sure that the timing of his firing isn’t objectionable to his employer, though, and even if Iris’s dismay were his responsibility, I don’t see how he could have reasonably known that news of his mother’s death was that time-sensitive.

      Nominally, Fergus didn’t know he was being fired on Monday until after the meeting in which he was fired started — the point of bringing HR in later is to conceal this even past the point when he enters the room, and while anyone who has been around knows these things are guessable a) there’s a difference between strong suspicion and definite knowledge b) you can’t exactly hold someone responsible for not acting on information that you’re making an effort to prevent them from having. Aside from that or the case where he decided to not come in (and he did come in), I fail to see why one’s employer would be on the list of people who needed to be sought out and informed before the subject naturally came up.

      It seems comparatively much easier for a person who knows they are firing someone who has just experienced a family emergency to connect the dots between that and a potential desire not to sack the recently bereaved.

    11. Penny*

      As someone who found out that their grandmother had died and her father had cancer while in the office, I can tell you that grief makes you do some weird stuff. I stayed in work both days to finish up because my brain needed to compartmentalize things in order to process it.

      If Fergus was on a PIP, I can honestly see him thinking that he needed to get some stuff cleared up before going out on bereavement because he wanted to show he was making an effort with the PIP. Also, assuming that he was out with his mother Thursday afternoon and then Friday, he might not have seen the meeting invite until he started to work on Monday morning. Its not uncommon for people on PIPs to have routine check-ins to discuss progress so Fergus could have thought that was the situation.

      I honestly don’t think its fair to put any blame on Fergus for this immediate situation, his termination is separate issue entirely, but the Ezra was to blame for creating this mess and HR really overreacted.

  9. Librarian of SHIELD*

    OP, you said that Ezra has trouble when he’s exasperated. Do you remember what it is that’s caused that exasperation in the past? From the information you’ve given us here, it sounds like Ezra might be the kind of person who pre-plans conversations and then gets flustered when things don’t go according to his imagined script. But being able to improvise and adapt your strategies is a really important attribute in a manager. If you think that’s part of what led to this, that’s definitely something you’ll want to talk with Ezra about.

      1. HR Exec Popping In*

        This is very possible. By the time the PIP is over, managers can be so over the whole thing that they just want it over. I always advise managers to not wait to address performance for too long as you can’t allow yourself to get to this point. It frankly isn’t fair to the employee. Also, I strongly believe that it is on the manager and HR to treat a separating employee with the utmost respect and compassion. I don’t care if they stole from the company, you are terminating them. Do it with kindness. There is no “winning” or “justice”.

      2. RC Rascal*

        Yes. I think Ezra was already fed up with Fergus and charged ahead with the termination because that was the easiest thing for Ezra at that moment.

        He neither thought about nor cared about any of the other stuff. And he likely didn’t anticipate fallout.

  10. Well...*

    Oof this IS awful, but I do wonder if Ezra just froze up and took the path of least resistance. I sympathize because I always freeze up when people tell me about some bad personal news, as my anxiety sort of plays the fork-in-garbage-disposal sound every time I know I’m in danger of messing up a social situation (I hate how anxiety can be, in practice, so so self centered).

    Anyways he needs to be able to do better to do his job. This caused harm, no matter what the reason is. I disagree that he can’t learn or that he’s necessarily missing empathy. Social skills and emotional intelligence aren’t fixed. It’s up to OP to decide whether he can improve fast enough to do his job.

      1. Jim Bob*

        Seconded. Perfectly describes a large minority of my social interactions; never had a good phrase before.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I’m thinking about Amy who harassed people to come home with her or let her run errands with them to avoid being alone with herself.

  11. Mary*

    I think Iris should reflect on the stress she put on Ezra to complete the PIP and the termination. It sounds as if she coached him through every step of the process and was trying to orchestrate everything from behind the scenes. She should consider what it was in her direction de-powered Ezra from making a decision he felt was the morally right thing to do – “he felt he had no choice” and forced him to continue on with the script. Joining the meeting deliberately after the start is a way of saying to Ezra, when I join the meeting it better be on the right track or else.

      1. Mary*

        You are possibly right. It is just I have been at the end of HR “coaching” on the correct way to approach something and when I pushed back hard that it was not right in the moment HR just kept saying New Process, New ways of doing things now, do you need more coaching or are you up to the job? I had no issue with having the tough conversation, it was just the timing was all wrong. It takes an experienced manager to stand up to the HR pressure, and this felt like such an incident to me.

        1. tuesdyah*

          It sounds like you’re projecting your experience onto LW’s company. Most companies don’t function in the passive aggressive way you’re describing. I’ve worked in HR in several different companies and industries and while it’s important to deliver certain paperwork and make certain things clear during a termination, there’s no “HR pressure” that forces you to lack empathy and not use your judgment to consider extenuating circumstances. Also, it’s not some kind of “behind the scenes” plot by HR to make managers be the bad guys and deliver crummy news by forcing them to administer a PIP or terminate someone. Managers need to know how to handle difficult conversations like this. Joining the meeting a bit after it’s started also isn’t some sort of weird power play like you’re describing. If an employee walks into a room and has the initial termination news delivered by their manager, it can be much more comfortable for the employee to not have someone they probably don’t know as well as their manager sitting there during the conversation.

    1. Arctic*

      Iris probably just have assumed that Ezra was a human being with a modicum of empathy and common sense who wouldn’t move forward with a firing under those circumstances.

      1. Chilipepper*

        Bingo!
        assumed that Ezra was a human being with a modicum of empathy and common sense who wouldn’t move forward with a firing under those circumstances

    2. Anne Elliot*

      This, plus Iris needs to rethink her strategy of being a couple minutes late to meetings to avoid making people nervous, because sometimes when you’re late, you miss some awfully important information. First, what would be gained by being a few minutes late so Fergus doesn’t see her waiting? He’s being fired; there’s no reason not to be seen as being involved in a meeting she needs to be involved in. Second, even if she feels that is a necessary or beneficial strategy, then she needs to share that with the meeting leader so that he or she knows not to say anything important until Iris arrives, and to repeat anything important Iris might have missed once she DOES arrive. It seems to me like there’s blame enough to go around to everyone here (“dishonor on you! dishonor on your cow!”), but I think there’s scope to push back with Iris on what SHE could have done differently before, during, and after the meeting. I would protect my report (Ezra), but I would have a serious conversation with him about judgment and kindness.

      1. tuesdyah*

        Where I’ve worked it was standard for HR to join a bit after the meeting started so if the employee gets emotional and needs a moment, they don’t have someone they don’t know very well sitting there watching them. Nothing was stopping Ezra from asking Iris to step outside for a moment so he could tell her what he learned. Iris probably didn’t need to feel like she had to instruct him to tell her of any horrible news he learned at the beginning of the meeting because to most people, that would be common sense to do. Also, what are the odds someone has something awful happen the day before they’re fired, and secondly, what are the odds that something so distressing happened to someone right before their termination that the company would delay that conversation? Super low right? You can’t blame Iris for not thinking of every possible permutation of events that could happen before a termination. Ezra showed a serious lack of judgment and common sense, which is not something he needs to be protected over.

    3. Estrella the Starfish*

      Really? I didn’t get that impression. The only mentions of Iris are around her showing up with the paperwork and then berating Ezra afterwards. I can’t see what suggests that Iris was the reason that Ezea felt he had no choice. But I do think that the reasons for that are worth exploring with Ezra – it MAY have been Iris, but it may have been the attitude of senior staff to things like this, a particularly rigid work culture, or even pressure from OP as his manager. Or it may just have been that Ezra is quite rigid in his own thinking and following process so felt he had no choice purely because the process had already started.

      1. Nic*

        There is mention that Iris is particularly angry with Ezra because she’s been coaching him on the upcoming meeting, to the point of giving him a script to follow. I’m not sure that equates to Ezra feeling pressured, but certainly I think it points to Ezra having a lack of confidence/experience which could well have led to him feeling unequipped to divert from the plan.

  12. Tracy*

    Any chance that Fergus’ performance was related to the mother’s failing health? Really, this whole situation reeks.

    1. Tracy*

      I mean really, I would be a total wreck at the best of times if one of my parents had failing health and was in the process of dying. Especially if I was a caregiver. This whole situation is so messed up.

    2. pcake*

      I was wondering that myself.

      My mother developed dementia that got worse and worse, then developed some physical issues, and I never got time to rest or recharge, just lived constantly with this overwhelming sorrow for my mother and constantly needing to help the memory care home – a family member visited my mom daily and I visited 5x per week minimum, but all important decisions and trips to emergency were on me or my husband and me. Believe me, work, suffered. In my case, I started proof-reading my proof-reading and editing, and I caught a lot of errors I made or missed the first time, so my work slowed a lot.

    3. Dax*

      That’s a good point. It sound like a situation that has been going on for months and has the potential to drag down performance long term.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I wonder about this as well. The OP says that Fergus had been struggling for quite a while, but we do not know how long his mother was sick for. All we know is that it was some time, and long enough that a full PIP that didn’t result in improvement had run.

      I don’t think there would have been a perfect time to let him go – just a less worse time for it to happen.

    5. CRM*

      OP mentions that Fergus “doesn’t have the skills needed to succeed in the role”, which suggests that he was struggling from day one. Even if Fergus’s performance issues were directly related to dealing with an ill parent, and he was upfront with Ezra about how this was affecting his work, it’s difficult to provide him with leeway without knowing what he is capable of in good times. That’s why this situation would be different for someone who is already established as a high performer; you know that they are very good at their job under normal circumstances, and just need a little grace. They didn’t have that context on Fergus, so how long were they supposed to wait? The fact that he was on a PIP in the first place indicates that he was probably there for more than 3 months (the standard probationary period in the US when someone can get fired without a PIP), so there’s a good chance he’s been there for a while and had many opportunities to prove that he could do the job.

      This is a really tough situation to be sure. But I think the company was correct to terminate him- not right after his mother died though! Which, of course, is the real question being asked here, not whether Fergus was unjustly fired.

  13. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

    I agree with your comment that Ezra might need more guidance/support, but also, I’m not impressed with Iris’s “fashionably late to meetings” angle, and a bit surprised that it hasn’t bitten her before now. Because…yeah, this is the sort of thing that happens when you’re late to meetings like that.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Completely agree. If she’s doing that, at the very least she needs to let the manager know and to ask them to catch her up on what’s been covered so far.
      And it sounds like more than a minute or two, frankly.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah, gotta say I am really unimpressed with this HR person. You start everything and get things going then I’ll sweep in and tidy up final details after the “dirty work” is done.

      1. AskJeeves*

        But the lateness is deliberate so the person being fired doesn’t get spooked by seeing HR and…think they’re about to be fired. Which they are. It’s a silly tactic that seems to be causing more harm than good.

        1. boop the first*

          Yeah, that’s a little messed up.

          Ezra, who already showed humanity by delaying the meeting for five days to accommodate this employee is deemed The Heartless One,

          but here’s Iris with the practice of keeping someone’s firing a secret until they can fashionably pounce in with the paperwork, and she’s got something to say? Ehh.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            I don’t think she keeps the firing a secret until she arrives; I think the idea is to let the manager give their report the bad news in private (without other employees present) and then HR arrives to go through the details with the now-fired employee. OP even says, “Monday morning, Fergus tells Ezra at the beginning of their meeting that his mother passed away the previous evening (Sunday). Ezra then proceeds to continue with giving Fergus his termination papers.” So it sounds like Ezra went through all of that before Iris arrived.

            1. Lady Meyneth*

              That would be valid if she came to the meeting 15 minutes after its start. But OP says she typically gets there only 1-2minutes late, which is beyond silly.

              I don’t see how Ezra could have done all of this in such a short time. If Iris really was only 2 minutes late, she was there for the whole firing and only missed hearing abour Fergus’ mom. That serves no purpose except being “fashionably late”.

        2. Self Employed*

          Some time they’re going to fire someone who reacts violently and their manager isn’t going to have backup because Iris is conveniently missing the part of the meeting where they react to being fired.

      2. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

        It was late enough here that Iris missed some pretty critical information. I’m not saying that it’s is an unforgivable sin or anything, but…not impressed.

        1. Three Flowers*

          But if that’s common practice in their company, why are we blaming Iris for not having that information? Why aren’t we blaming Ezra for not stepping outside to give Fergus a minute, and coincidentally intercepting Iris to tell her and re-strategize? The fact that Ezra didn’t tell Iris is a pale shadow of how terrible it was that he continued the termination, but it’s still bad.

          1. Mr Jingles*

            That! +10000
            And even if its indeed just Iris’ practice and not company practice, why didn’t Ezra the most reasonable thing to do if confronted with an unexpected situation: ask someone with more experience what to do?

    3. Forrest*

      It seems pretty unnecessary!

      You’re at the end of a PIP, you know it hasn’t gone well, you walk into a meeting and HR is there– like, if that person is still thinking, “Well, HR isn’t here, so there’s a high chance this is going to turn out fine!” you’ve done your job very badly! I thought the whole point of a PIP was that it shouldn’t come as a surprise to someone that they’re losing their job.

    4. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I agree the policy seems unnecessary. But she was 1-2 minutes late — if that had been because she was rear-ended on the way to work or a colleague spilled coffee on her in the elevator or her Zoom froze at the exact wrong moment, it wouldn’t necessarily change the outcome. It’s reasonable that HR expect a manager-level employee to have the emotional intelligence to loop her in on something that significant.

        1. 867-5309*

          This is common in many places where I have worked. The manager delivers the news and HR joins about 5 minutes after. We can debate overall if that is the right policy but does not seem relevant to this specific OP’s question or challenge.

        2. KHB*

          But those 1-2 minutes aren’t for the others to “settle in” – they’re for the manager to do the dirty work alone, without her being there to advise and support.

          The more I think about this, the less impressed I am with Iris. She knew that Ezra was an inexperienced manager who needed coaching on how to fire someone, and she knew that Fergus was having family health troubles (at least, she knew the meeting had been postponed – I presume she knew the reason). She could have figured out for herself that it was unlikely that Fergus’s mother was going to miraculously recover between Thursday and Monday, and she could have pulled Ezra aside at any time to say, “You know, there’s a good chance that Fergus’s mother will either still be very sick or will have passed away by Monday morning, and here’s how we should handle that.” She could have clarified with Ezra that he had the authority to postpone the firing further if he felt he needed to. She could have checked in with Fergus herself sometime before Monday morning to see what the situation was. Or she could have realized that Ezra might need extra support during the meeting and either been there herself to provide it or made arrangements for someone else to be there.

          She didn’t do any of those things – instead, she hung Ezra out to dry.

          1. du_h*

            Managers need to be able to have tough “dirty work” conversations, with or without HR present. Nothing in the letter points to Ezra or Iris having reason to suspect that Fergus’ mother was going to pass away. When I hear someone has a family emergency, my mind doesn’t immediately go to “their family member will probably die in the next 72 hours”. A lot of commenters seem to have vitriol towards HR and want to blame Iris when it’s not her fault Ezra didn’t use common sense.

            1. KHB*

              “My elderly mother is very ill and I need to go be with her right now” implies that there’s at least a strong possibility that she’s going to die soon. I’m not sure what else it could mean.

              Yes, managers should have the skills to have tough conversations with people, but it sounds like it’s no secret that Ezra is still developing as a manager. Getting promoted to management doesn’t magically endow someone with the ability to effortlessly fire people. (And again, Iris knew this, since she’d been coaching Ezra on how to handle the firing.)

              Ezra definitely mishandled the situation, but Iris bears some responsibility too, given her role in helping to train Ezra. And Iris was entirely out of line to lash out at Ezra with the level of vitriol that she did.

    5. Lalaroo*

      Umm, in what world is this the kind of thing you can reasonably expect to happen when you purposely (and with prior notice) join a meeting 1-2 minutes late? And why is it on Iris now when Ezra is the one who heard the news and barreled ahead?

      Some of y’all commenters are really seeing yourselves in Ezra and trying to find a way it wasn’t his fault.

    6. Starbuck*

      To be honest I think it makes a lot of sense to do the meeting this way. If it were me, I wouldn’t really want an extra audience to the news of me getting fired and my immediate reaction to that. Coming in later to handle the logistical details that are the scope of HR seems fine. And of course it would be the manager delivering the news, they’re the person who’s been handling the performance issues. Her sitting there for the whole first part of the meeting not saying anything would be weirder I think.

  14. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    I think I’m with Iris on this one. Ezra is not fit to be a manager. Can you imagine how other staff will react when they find out he fired Fergus the day after Fergus’ mum died? This seems impossible to recover from.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I would agree if Ezra truly believed he was right and should have fired Fergus. But OP says the Ezra was upset about the situation they didn’t want to fire Fergus but they didn’t feel they had the authority to postpone the termination. My read is not that Ezra wanted to fire Fergus because he didn’t care but because he felt he had to since the ball had already started rolling.

      1. Three Flowers*

        Ezra was upset after firing Fergus *and after being reamed out by HR*. Maybe Iris inspired some guilt or fear for his own job and he realized he screwed up. Maybe Ezra did genuinely freeze up in the moment (not at all an excuse for his behavior), but I don’t think we should give him credit for “empathy” because he was upset after the larger chain of events.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I am not saying Ezra freezing up excuses his behavior. I do think it was bad and he needed better training. I do think his “empathy” or what ever you want to call it does give him some credit in regards to is Ezra being a manager. This was a big mistake, a we need to train Ezra better, give him close support/scrutiny type of mistake and maybe it does lead to Ezra being demoted to an individual contributor role, but I don’t see it as a this person is irredeemable and needs to be demoted or fired right away.

          1. Three Flowers*

            I actually don’t think it matters much whether he felt empathy before Iris harangued him, or whether he panicked in the moment (and sorry, I didn’t think you meant it excused him; that was just a clarification on my own words). Ultimately, Ezra now cannot manage his team. They will never trust him again, and they are probably already polishing their resumes. OP has to decide whether they want to demote Ezra or lose that whole team to other jobs or hellacious dysfunction. Demotion is a perfectly natural consequence of his actions, and he feels bad about it, well, I guess that speaks to his character, but it shouldn’t save his job at the expense of his reports’ ability to do theirs and have a decent work life. Firing would not be out of line, but I think demotion would be better, especially if OP wants to make a point about basic decency even when someone is not being successful in their job duties.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Maybe or maybe not. The other staff is probably quite well aware that Fergus was underperforming since he has been on a PIP and not improving. The timing was terrible, but there may be relief that a low performer who was possibly making their work lives more difficult was finally let go after months or longer.

      I don’t know, but I know that working with people who are in over their heads can really frustrate coworkers.

  15. AndersonDarling*

    I have to wonder what kind of company this is. If the company is all about the bottom line and cutting back on benefits and generally not supportive of their employees, then I could absolutely see how Ezra thought that the right move was to plow through the termination meeting.
    If there is a for-real company culture of being supportive and compassionate, then I would wonder why Ezra didn’t take a second to reconsider the situation and cancel the meeting.
    So as much as this is being put on Ezra, I also wonder if a share some of the blame should go to the company for not creating a space where someone can second guess procedures and choose compassion over a process.

    1. Chilipepper*

      I think HR’s reaction suggests the company is the opposite of “all about the bottom line.” It sounds like Iris lost it because the company believes what Ezra did was cruel.

      1. Forrest*

        What companies think is their culture is not always what their culture actually IS, though. Companies which say lots of nice things about supporting their employees and responding empathetically but don’t actually coach new managers on HOW to support employees or respond empathetically are hardly unknown.

        1. Forrest*

          (Actually thinking on this further, I think Iris’s reaction shows this isn’t a compassionate culture. A culture where an HR adviser is livid and tells someone they’re not fit to be a manager is not a compassionate culture! “First offence and you’re out” is not a compassionate culture! To build a compassionate culture means empowering managers to make compassionate decisions, and to do that you need to looking at all the factors that lead to a major mess-up. If Ezra feels awful and is committed to reflecting on what went wrong and doing better in the future, a compassionate culture supports him to do that.

          1. du_h*

            But some people actually aren’t fit to be managers, and it seems like Ezra has other issues that make him unfit to be a manager and this was a tipping point. He’s described as “somewhat effective” (not a good or great manager, just somewhat effective) and is a “little bit blunt when he’s exasperated” which sounds like a nicer way of saying he’s rude when something annoys him. Iris is allowed to be angry about what Ezra did. A compassionate culture doesn’t necessarily mean one that will allow you to deeply hurt people more than once for the sake of “giving extra chances”. Ezra showed a massive lack of empathy and it’s very hard to teach empathy.

            1. Forrest*

              Iris is absolutely allowed to be angry, but she’s not allowed to “berate” an employee! She is also responsible for managing her feelings and dealing with this situation in a measured and appropriate way.

              But I also really disagree you can’t teach empathy. As I said above, I used to coach doctors on communication skills and you absolutely can. You can’t explain to people why they should care about other people if they don’t, but if you have someone who cares about other people but thinks their job is to prioritise something else like profit or productivity (which is extremely normal in a lot of corporate cultures), or who doesn’t know how to demonstrate that care to the employees, you absolutely can teach both of those things. You can certainly teach people to stop and consider whether their intended course of action is the right one when they receive new and shocking information and are panicking.

              Maybe this was a mistake that Ezra can’t recover from, or maybe it isn’t recoverable based on this plus other errors. But a compassionate culture would make that decision on a calm consideration of all the evidence, including what kind of support and training Ezra had leading up to this, not by Iris in the heat of the moment when she’s feeling shocked and horrified because she thinks she looked bad. Iris is acting no less impulsively than Ezra in this telling.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      I get what you’re saying. It seems to me that this is a big enough deal, and an unusual enough situation, the justify doing a broader analysis of company culture/management training/firing procedures to figure out where things might have broken down and how to avoid it happening in future.

  16. RC Rascal*

    Something like this happened to me when my dad died. I was Fergus.

    My dad passed away the spring of 2009 at the height of the financial crisis/market bottom. I worked for a financial services company and was performing poorly due to the financial crisis. (I just couldn’t make my numbers any more). My dad died suddenly. Then they fired me.

    The optics to the rest of my office were AWFUL. Everyone hated my boss and his boss and they were already generally unpopular at that point. I was a popular employee, worked hard, was well respected, and everyone just saw it as kicking a person when they were already down. A number of people left the company shortly after that and what they did to me was the icing on the cake. Folks were already unhappy but when i was fired right after my dad died the others saw that we had no value to management or the company.

    There is going to be collateral damage from this. Ezra can’t be a manager at this company any longer.

    1. Ryn*

      I think this is a really good point — its not just about Fergus’s ability to manage (dubious enough), it’s also about whether anyone in the office will want to work with him. I certainly know I’d have a hard time being around someone so callous. If Fergus stays a manager, I imagine they’ll be some turnover — or at the very least a real hit to morale.

    2. Luke G*

      That might depend on how clear it was to the rest of the company that Fergus wasn’t successful in his role. It sounds like your case might have been a bit of a controversial firing anyway- if Fergus was legitimately not cut out for the role, co-workers might be less inclined to be upset that he was fired. (Upset HOW he was fired, sure, but not at the firing itself).

      This almost seems like a case where Ezra has to just come as clean as he can while respecting Fergus’ privacy. Apologize sincerely to Fergus, offering anything he can (such as extra severance). Assume that everyone knows or will know about the timing of the firing. Make a public announcement that “Hey, I want everyone to know that I screwed up on how I handled this. I put a meeting plan in front of decency, and I realize I should have shown more compassion in the moment. Please know I’ve apologized to Fergus and am doing everything I can to make up for treating him thoughtlessly.” It may still become clear that Ezra can’t manage after the hit his reputation took, but that also might open the door for people to accept that even managers can have bad judgement sometimes and move past it.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        I understand this point of view, but someone would have had to cause me actual serious harm at work for me to not view management differently after this.

        And I still wouldn’t trust their apology unless I had a very long working relationship with the manager in question.

        1. SweetestCin*

          Exactly. And even then, no guarantees I wouldn’t compartmentalize “yes, Fergusine was a lousy XYZ and caused me grief and extra work, or buggered up my project, or even threw me under the bus to the boss, but this is some straight up $hit what they did to her!”.

      2. Darlingpants*

        Yeah we had someone who was fired (“decided today was her last day”) a week after getting surgery the day we started social distancing at work. Do I feel bad for her because of the timeline? Of course! But she’d been failing at doing her job and creating a lot of extra work for the rest of us since I started at the job 5 months earlier, and frankly I think the best way out of the timing issue would have been to fire her in January instead of waiting til March. I don’t blame management for the terrible timing.

    3. Persephone Mulberry*

      My late father-in-law was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2005, and by October 2006 when it became clear he was terminal with only a few months left at most, my husband asked for a leave of absence from his job to assist his mom with home hospice care. They fired him instead. Oh, and did I mention he was a youth director for a CHURCH? (And then FIL passed away about three weeks later.)

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s not even in the same area, but I was fired from a job just after returning to work from a serious car crash where I’d been told I’d never walk unaided again (they said I’d had ‘too much time off sick’)

      To this very day, decades later, I still regard the manager who did that and that specific firm as absolute trash. As did everyone else who found out they’d done it.

      One wrong move can tank an entire department’s morale.

      1. SweetestCin*

        As do I, from this day forward, as I don’t recall hearing you mention this before. So yes. They are absolute gar-bage.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I carry a lot of PTSD from that whole thing so I….generally don’t talk about it often. Also guilt, I didn’t fight back, I didn’t try and sue them, I was just numb and weak.

      2. Liza*

        I know someone who was fired for “not having a flexible enough schedule” and “taking too much time off.”

        Because he needed time off for surgery and other interventions to treat his skin cancer.

        If I didn’t already loathe the place (bc I had worked there before and was fired for dubious though less glaringly offensive non-reasons) I certainly would now.

    5. Voodoo Priestess*

      Totally agree. It doesn’t matter how he is the rest of the time, when this gets out, no one will have a good opinion of him. I certainly wouldn’t want to work for someone like this. At a minimum, I would assume he’d be better off stepping away from managing for a while. Especially if Fergus had good relationships, like you mentioned when you were fired. People may not know he was on a PIP and this is going to look horrendous. Talk about poisoning your own well.

    6. Lora*

      THIS. I don’t think Iris should have read Ezra the riot act because it’s unhelpful, but I don’t think Ezra can or should be a manager here – and this is going to look terrible on OP too.

      I got fired from a job when I was going through a nasty divorce and had (early stage, very curable, but still) breast cancer. The same breast cancer my aunt had had when she was that age, who nearly died of it. I was overloaded with projects and had zero support – as did everyone else in that organization, they were cited by the FDA as being understaffed for the daily work – and my boss re-orged from a kindly, highly experienced, thoughtful manager to a new hire, absolute a-hole who hated women. I mean HATED women, though he hated damn near everyone I think really. When he fired me he had several HR and EEOC complaints filed against him, and even contractors lasted less than a day before walking off the job. Yet, his boss blew off all the complaints as “hey, people have to be adults and get along and do what they are told” (with no support staff, adequate computers or software, and no budget) right up until my then ex-boss was asked to explain the FDA finding and did his “best” behavior for senior management, who fired him on the spot – and demoted the director who had supported him and kept him in that role, because the director should have known after the mountain of complaints, legal issues and high turnover that this guy was bad news.

      OP, you need to decide how much turnover you can absorb from Ezra’s screwup here; it may depend on your field, whether people can easily find a new job or not, but I can say that when managers act like this, high turnover and difficulty recruiting can be a challenge you deal with for years. Right now there’s a dude in another department where I work who has similar Personality Issues, and he is understaffed by about 30% and will probably never be able to hire anyone very good. We are trying to figure out how to work around him, but not having a ton of success and senior management is very much lining up a successor with more emotional intelligence right now – and it definitely blew back on his boss, who recently left the company as her reputation was damaged by not managing him well.

  17. Vermont Green*

    I am making the assumption that everyone is sure that there actually was a death in the family, and that this wasn’t a ploy to delay the firing. This kind of thing does happen. Otherwise, I support the ideal of providing particularly generous severance pay.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      A little bit of me was wondering this as well. It could also be that Fergus was performing so poorly because he was dealing with his mother’s illness for a long time and only mentioned it when it got serious.

      1. Self Employed*

        I would also be unsurprised if Fergus hadn’t brought up his mother’s illness because “caring for sick relatives” is coded as women’s work in our culture. I don’t know how closely involved he was–it could be she was far away and other family were doing most of the caregiving and he just went to help/visit at the very end. But it could be a worry on his mind (in a not traditionally masculine way) if she’s across the state and he can’t afford to go help in person.

      2. Mr Jingles*

        Don’t ever start assuming the worst in people from the start just because it can happen.
        What you describe is very rare. If you think of that with so little information it’ll poison your view and create selfullfilling prophecies all around you.
        You will severely impact and poison all your interactions with people because it fixes your focus on negative things.
        In most cases people are honest and friendly. It is a biological need in us to be busy to provide existetial needs and to be social for our own good. It’s an instinct. Behaving the way you describe is unnatural and rare, not the norm. But beacause of that, if it happens, the impact is so huge we tend to overestimate the frequency of stuff like this simply because it is so shocking.
        I highly doubt that Fergus is that cunning without any more proof of him being flaky that way!

    2. Lalaroo*

      Yeah, you should make that assumption. Because there is zero indication that it is otherwise, and that’s a really nasty ploy that would be bizarre. What is the point of this comment, even? Cast aspersions for no justification on a man who lost his mother and was fired the next day? If it was a ploy wouldn’t he have made sure Iris knew about the death?

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      That’s a rather harsh read in my opinion. The last thing anyone needs to be asked after a traumatic loss is ‘can you prove you’re not making this up?’.

      1. Firecat*

        Yeah my prior company, emphasis on prior, thought most people lied about deaths for 3 days off so they required a published obituary or death certificate.

        Que me sitting at my desk tears streaming down my face, nose running, and trying to stifle active sobs before a friend saw and took over for me.

        I went to the bathroom and cried for half an hour before I realized I just couldn’t work anymore and took the test of the day off. So the company won a less productive employee and a lot of staff were grumbly at management for quite a while after that.

        They eventually changed the policy. That’s were these views of – timing is suspicious – must be a lie get you. It’s practically never convenient to lose a parent.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Glad you got away from there mate, it sounds absolutely horrible. Hope you’re somewhere now that doesn’t preemptively declare people liars :(

  18. Luke G*

    Regarding the point about how an inexperienced manager might just plow forward with the course of action, feeling locked into it: It seems to me that a firing discussion is a big enough deal that it’s not really fair to put such an inexperienced manager in sole charge of it. The same inexperienced manager who might freeze up and push a head a firing instead of seeing the need to pivot for such an extreme circumstance, might also be the manager who’s so inexperienced he accidentally says something that leaves the company on a legal/financial hook related to a termination. HR’s presence would limit that, but the damage might be done early if the HR rep routinely comes to termination meetings a little late. If I’d needed to terminate someone as a very new manager I likely would have expected, and welcomed, my own manager’s presence at the meeting to make sure everything was done properly.

    That assumes Ezra is truly an inexperienced manager. If he’s reasonably expected to have better judgement that’s a him problem- if it’s reasonable that he’s new enough not to know what to do, he shouldn’t have been running the meeting solo.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This is a really good point. If Ezra had never fired anyone before, his own manager should also have been in the room.

      The other piece that’s just occurring to me is that Ezra knew when he postponed the Friday meeting that Fergus’s mom was in bad shape. Why didn’t he go and talk to his manager and/or HR right then and start making contingency plans? It’s not as if this was a complete surprise to Ezra, he knew it was a possibility and he didn’t consider it when he was making his plan. That in itself feels like a bigger red flag.

      1. Luke G*

        The fact that he didn’t react to the news Fergus’ mother was in bad shape is bad, definitely. What it means, depends on things we don’t know (but LW probably does). Does it mean Ezra lacks the awareness to notice potential problems in advance? Is he overly rigid in his thinking and doesn’t want to change his planned course? Is he unaware that he can change the plan, and needs to be taught?

        Or HAS he been taught and isn’t learning the lesson? Or, is the company the kind of place where a manager at Ezra’s level legitimately isn’t empowered to adapt to changes- where he’d have been reprimanded for trying to change the plan in advance? The specific problem aside, LW should be doing some honest consideration to figure out how it got to that point.

      2. Urt*

        The meeting was rescheduled and HR apparently scheduled to be there. Why should we assume that HR didn’t know why the meeting was rescheduled?

        1. BuildMeUp*

          I don’t think we can assume either way. This may have involved as little actual communication as an Outlook calendar notifcation, or may have been framed as a family emergency, which could mean a lot of things.

        2. Therapy Questions*

          Because it sounds like Iris, the HR manager who was there, sure didn’t know what was going on with Fergus!

      3. mf*

        “Why didn’t he go and talk to his manager and/or HR right then and start making contingency plans? It’s not as if this was a complete surprise to Ezra, he knew it was a possibility and he didn’t consider it when he was making his plan. That in itself feels like a bigger red flag.”

        This is an extremely important point. Once he found out that Fergus’s mother was very ill, Ezra could have reached out to HR and his manager to see if moving the termination back a few days is an option. The fact that he didn’t think about this lends credence to the theory that Ezra was acting without considering the human factor in this situation.

    2. Mercurial*

      Also based on the same assumption that Ezra is inexperienced, company culture and Ezra’s knowledge/understanding of it must play a part. If the company culture is understanding and tolerant then after Ezra has made a mistake, I would not expect HR’s response be to berate him, and then call his manager and try and get him demoted. To me this was a pretty egregious mistake by Ezra, but if Ezra thought he had to plough on through or face serious consequences because he had not “followed the rules” then some self-examination on the part of those who made him feel that way might be warranted.

      1. Therapy Questions*

        Right, this is standing out to me too. A culture that berates people over mistakes, however legitimate they may be, is a culture that does not encourage deviating from established procedures, even if it’s to be compassionate.

  19. Esmeralda*

    While I think that Ezra really screwed up, I have sympathy for him because Iris walked in and moved the meeting along. Iris didn’t know about Fergus’ mom, of course, but I can see how Ezra took his lead from her. I would not read this as Ezra is a horrible person and his judgment as a manager is terrible and he should stop being a manager right now. Is this one terrible error? is this typical of Ezra? How long has he been in this managerial position?

    Is this the sort of error where Ezra must be demoted/removed from his management positon? (genuine question…)

    1. londonedit*

      I really think that a) Ezra shouldn’t have started the meeting properly until Iris had arrived, and b) once Iris did arrive, the first thing Ezra should have said is ‘Iris – Fergus has just given me some very bad news. I suggest we reschedule this meeting – Fergus, please go home and take any bereavement leave you might need; I’ll be in touch at the end of the week’. Then, Ezra and Iris should have had a separate meeting to discuss how to move forward with Fergus’s firing. But I don’t think Ezra is a terrible person with no compassion – it’s easy to come up with the perfect solution in hindsight, and I can imagine Ezra was blindsided and just thought right, OK, let’s get this over with as quickly as possible so Fergus can go home. I think Ezra could definitely benefit from some management coaching, but I don’t think he needs to be demoted or fired.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        “I really think that a) Ezra shouldn’t have started the meeting properly until Iris had arrived”

        I found that confusing too, but am wondering if Ezra thought the part where Fergus told him about his mom was “small talk” before the meeting and not part of the meeting itself.

        1. londonedit*

          It seemed to me that Fergus told Ezra about his mother, then Ezra ‘proceeded with giving Fergus the termination documents’, and then Iris arrived. In an ideal world I think Ezra should have waited until Iris arrived and not started the process of handing Fergus the termination documents – that way he could have at least asked Iris to step out of the room with him for a minute and asked her advice on how to continue.

      2. pcake*

        I completely agree with this in every way, except the last part. I don’t think that Ezra could benefit from management training because he seems to be lacking either normal empathy or the need to look like he has empathy.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I disagree that Ezra lacks empathy, they were upset about firing Fergus and the timing of everything. They didn’t go a head with the the termination saying f Fergus he is a terrible person and terrible employee.

          I can see why Ezra might have felt/thought once HR enters the room the train has left the station and we can’t stop in the middle of no where we need to keep going with the termination, not because they are cruel but because they froze and are not sure how to put a stop to everything.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        ALL OF THIS, and Ezra could have had Iris explain to Fergus what bereavement benefits he was entitled to while she was there. And if HR came down on me for not going through with the firing for handling it the way Ezra did, well, I’d be willing to take the hit on that and alert my boss to the situation so they were aware of it. Some things are worth spending a little political capital on.

  20. ProdMgr*

    That’s awful. It sounds like Ezra didn’t lack empathy or compassion, but he also didn’t know how to act in the moment. That’s coachable.

    The way I’d coach a manager here is to anticipate the ways the situation could evolve. He knew on Thursday that there was a family medical emergency. There was a non-zero probability that Fergus wouldn’t be ready to be back at work on Monday. Instead of rescheduling the meeting for Monday, he could have arranged to check in on Monday and see how Fergus was doing and then reschedule or delay based on that. He could have also coordinated with HR on Thursday to be prepared to delay if the termination couldn’t happen on Monday.

    1. AthenaC*

      “Anticipate the ways the situation could evolve.”

      This is probably the most productive advice here.

  21. Retro*

    I strongly believe that as a manager, you should be able to handle difficult converations and uncomfortable circumstances. It seems to me that Ezra put himself in the position to be the least uncomfortable. He minimized his discomfort of disagreeing with HR to move forward with the hiring, and by firing Fergus, he can be rid of Fergus and the situation of needing to fire Fergus eventually even though Fergus suffered a personal tragedy. This may be me taking an unfavorable view of Ezra.
    As a manager, I think it’s your job to absorb some of the discomfort in order for your employees to function well. For example, if you have a disruptive employee, you have the hard conversation with the disruptive employee in order to minimize their ability to cause discomfort to the rest of the team. You don’t sit back and let your team suffer just because you don’t want to have that difficult conversation with the disruptive employee.

    1. Voodoo Priestess*

      I wish you could convince my previous manager of this approach. They prefer to Avoid Conflict at All Cost, which leads to pretty crappy culture and morale. And if you do bring up an issue, you’re immediately labeled a Troublemaker.

      It’s me, I was the Troublemaker. And I’m very happy to have moved on from that manager.

    2. Chilipepper*

      Retro, thank you! You put into words what I have been trying to get to – as a manager, you should be able to handle difficult conversations and uncomfortable circumstances. It seems to me that Ezra put himself in the position to be the least uncomfortable. He minimized his discomfort of disagreeing with HR to move forward with the hiring

      That is it in a nutshell, as a manager, you should be willing to be uncomfortable and Ezra violated that basic contract and put himself first.

      I don’t mean that managers have to be crapped on, but in the normal course of operations, there are uncomfortable and awkward situations and managers are the ones who are in the role to both be uncomfortable and shape things so that their reports are not the ones to bear the brunt of things.

  22. Cant remember my old name*

    Hmm. So my initial reaction is that ezra maybe needed more support through this termination process. He absolutely made the wrong call with Fergus and yes you want to be able to rely on managers to make the right call. But if Ezra says he didn’t know he had the agency to postpone the firing, I believe him. You say you don’t know why he didn’t think he’d be supported, but I hope you try to find out. Also, Iris presumably knew Fergus’s mom was severely ill when the meeting originally scheduled for Thursday got pushed to Monday. That would have been a great time for you, LW, and Iris to walk through what to do if his mom took a turn for the worse. Firing is hard and managers need management to. I think you and Iris may need to look into how, if at all, you may have unintentionally contributed to this hot mess sandwich.

    1. Leo*

      This was my feeling too. I didn’t like how the HR rep handled things when they felt embarrassed. You cannot focus just on Ezra’s screw up but also look at how Iris and yourself LW sets these things up. I feel for everyone involved but it’s not a one person blame game here.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Yep. Just because you get a title of Manager does not mean that you become a supreme being that can juggle all the outcomes of the universe. This feels like a coaching failure on the company’s part. If Ezra knew he had the authority to change directions, then he probably would have.

      2. Starbuck*

        I think it’s beyond just embarrassment though – she was unwittingly made to participate in a very cruel act. I would be mad about that, and I’d feel terrible for the person I did that to, even unknowingly. Saying it’s just embarrassment seems to imply that she should just get over it and there shouldn’t be any consequences or guidance for Ezra.

        1. Nic*

          I don’t think you can entirely say “unwittingly” though. She knew the meeting had been postponed from the original time and day. If she didn’t know why (i.e. Ezra didn’t think to tell her) then she probably should have asked. If she did know why, then she knew Fergus’s mother’s death was a possibility and – given Ezra’s clear inexperience which needed him to have coaching and scripts from Iris in the run-up to the meeting – should have indicated to Ezra that he needed a more flexible plan.

      3. Jenny*

        Yeah, I’ve had to fire people and it’s awful. Hr has always helped out. Hr did not provide adequate support here. I put all of this on Iris. I think Ezra was put in a bad situation without proper support.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I don’t think you can put *all of this* on Iris. I’m absolutely willing to say that Ezra didn’t have enough training or support for this situation, but we don’t actually know how much or how little information Iris had about Fergus’s family situation. She can only work with the information she has, and the one thing that’s clear in this letter is that the communication surrounding this meeting was pretty terrible all around.

          1. Jenny*

            Maybe not 100% but 95%. Her personal attack on Ezra was inexcusable. Her showing up late is a bad policy and would have provided proper support in this situation.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      I think it was Ezra’s primary responsibility to share this information with HR once he learned it. This is the sort of thing that can seriously damage a companies reputation. I think the fault is primarily his. Meetings get rescheduled all the time, and you don’t always know why. More then that, “severely ill” can mean a lot of things. I’ve taken multiple days off to help with a severally ill family member this year and to my own shock, and that of the Doctors, they seem to be pulling through again and again. I can count multiple times I’ve been told they won’t make it and they seem to always do so. My point is that “severely ill” can mean a lot of things and it doesn’t always mean “died a few days later.”

  23. I should really pick a name*

    In a situation like this, when DO you actually fire the person?
    I agree that the day their parent died is not the right answer, but there’s never going to be a really GOOD time later on, just a less bad one.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Less bad is still less bad. Let them take their bereavement leave and then find the time. People aren’t always thinking straight in the immediate aftermath of a death and some time would at least provide some opportunity to better digest COBRA, separation agreements, etc.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      A week or two later. Let them have the full bereavement leave, and any accrued vacation they want to take. Consider severance through the end of the pay period or through the next one.

  24. CatCat*

    Oh man, poor Fergus. He sucks at his job. That’s no reason to be so cruel as to fire him with this kind of timing. Too fresh. (I mean, I *can* imagine an outlier scenario where someone should be fired despite the timing, e.g. violence in the workplace, but this is no such scenario.) If the company can send some sort of heartfelt apology in writing (so it doesn’t put Fergus on the spot to manage the feelings of people in an org. that has treated him poorly at a difficult time) accepting responsibility for how he was treated, that would at least be a nice gesture, and just send extra severance, maybe for the amount of bereavement leave he would have been entitled to or something.

    If word of this gets around (and it probably has), it is going to do real reputational damage and demoralize people already working there. I can’t imagine being Ezra’s employee and not giving him to side eye every single day and wondering whether I can trust him. I don’t see how Ezra can stay in the management role after a screw up like this.

  25. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

    If you don’t have the good judgment to NOT put an employee in this horrible situation because rule-following, then you aren’t management material.

  26. Keymaster of Gozer*

    One part of being a manager is dealing with the harsh situations like reprimanding or firing staff.

    Another part is being able to make decisions about *when* it’s appropriate to postpone those decisions or bend the rules.

    Both are skills that aren’t inherent in a lot of people but can be trained or worked on.

    The manager here has shown that they don’t have that second set of skills and it’s really sad that it came out in a situation this harrowing. If one of my direct reports had done something like that I’d be in damage control mode and trying to stop the rest of the team from fracturing once they found out it had happened (and they will, somehow). I’d suspect they’d have no trust in their manager anymore, and certainly a very low opinion of them.

  27. Kiki*

    I don’t know if Ezra should or shouldn’t be relieved of his management duties because I could see how a really green manager may think they have no choice but to continue through the meeting that is already happening. I think it’s important to highlight in management training that if a manager feels like they’re about to do something terrible on behalf of the company, they should stop and talk to a trusted superior or colleague about it. I think a lot of management training is bad and plays up the importance of independence and “making hard calls” and doesn’t emphasize “hey, being shitty actually costs the company a lot, so it’s fine to take a pause and ask for guidance during tough situations.”

    1. Luke G*

      +1 to this!

      Knowing when it’s appropriate to follow the standard plan, when to be independently decisive, and when to kick a decision upstairs for more thought is a real skill that managers have to learn, not just a thing they automatically know.

  28. Pumpkin215*

    I know this is not the same thing- not even remotely close. However, I was let go two weeks before Christmas once. It was over 15 years ago but I never forgot it. I had just purchased a bunch of gifts for friends and family that I had to return because I needed the money. Fergus will never forget this as long as he lives. They will always be THAT company to him.

    1. londonedit*

      People have such differing views about this sort of thing. Being let go before Christmas is awful, but if the company had waited until January, people would have spent even more money, and there would have been that ‘How could they let us all blithely enjoy celebrating and spending money on food and presents when they knew we’d be let go in January?’ feeling. It’s the same as how some people think you shouldn’t be fired first thing in the morning (‘How could they drag me all the way into work just to fire me straight away?’) and other people think you shouldn’t be fired at the end of the day/week (‘They got a whole day/week’s work out of me and they knew I’d be getting fired at the end of it!’) The truth is, there really is no good time, but I do think ‘first thing in the morning after your mother has just died’ is pretty high on the ‘inappropriate times to fire people’ list.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      That sounds like a surprise layoff, though. Fergus has been on a PIP and well knows that his job is in jeopardy.

      I mean, I’d give the guy another two weeks or something but it can’t override the fact that he hasn’t been able to do the job for quite awhile, it seems.

    3. Scrooge McDunk*

      My boyfriend was once fired from a now-defunct department store chain… on Christmas Eve… by his boss who was dressed up as Santa Claus. He never set foot in one of their stores again, and it really soured their reputation with anyone who heard the story.

    4. Anon4This*

      My husband was laid off the day he went back to work the week after our daughter was born. It was a last-in-first-out layoff, and he’d been hired off a contractor position despite having been at the organization longer than half the department. They are definitely THAT company to us.

      It did turn out for the best – someone else in the building heard about and networked him into his next position. In the end, he got six additional weeks home with me and the new baby, four of it covered by severance, a signing bonus, and a job at the place he’s worked for the past decade. I have offered to send his former employer, who is continuing to struggle and I’m surprised has not gone under, a thank you note for advancing his career/paygrade far better than staying there would have.

    5. le teacher*

      I have a colleague at my last job get fired the Monday before Thanksgiving. While the colleague in particular wasn’t that great of an employee, it completely destroyed morale.

  29. Properlike*

    This sounds like a pile-up of last-minute circumstances with a time limit, unclear expectations, and two people in management (HR and OP) who assumed Ezra had all the knowledge they did. Maybe not. If HR has been coaching him throughout the entire process, it sounds like Ezra is inexperienced at this and maybe doesn’t have the ability to pivot in this *brand-new* skill, and then HR joining the call late was him taking the lead.

    HR knew the call was rescheduled, right? Because they would’ve been on Thursday’s call? Why didn’t the HR person make sure to be there on time, or contact Fergus early, or remind Ezra to take it into account and plan for it?

    This feels like HR’s projecting their own mistakes onto someone else to assuage their guilt. Lots of mistakes get made when there are random, unexpected events. It’s a flaw in the system. Use it to get better, not assign blame.

    1. Lois M. Hilty*

      I agree with you Properlike. I also would like to point out that from a practical standpoint, Iris’s stated reason for not joining the calls on time is disingenuous. Fergus (and other employee meetings with HR) would have been able to find out who was invited to the meeting simply by opening the invitation. So by “keeping it secret” and joining a few minutes late seems to be purely to cause anxiety, not allieviate it. If you’re doing it right, the firing should not have been a surprise to Fergus and there is, therefore, no reason to join the meeting late. Her logic is flawed.

      1. aok*

        Companies sometimes have management deliver the termination news so the most difficult part of the conversation is as in private as it could be, should they get emotional. There’s nothing in the letter that indicates Fergus was surprised to be fired. As you say, if you’re doing it right it shouldn’t be a surprise, and it likely wasn’t one considering he was on a PIP, and it’s usually easy to tell if you’re hitting your goals when you’re on one.

  30. Noncompliance Officer*

    I have a few thoughts here:

    – If this is Ezra’s first time firing someone, he may not simply have known what to do. Firing someone is incredibly nerve wracking, and now he’s been thrown a curve ball. I could see HR being similarly upset if he NOT fired Fergus.
    -Why wasn’t HR or a higher-level manager part of this? I have never heard of a company where a mid-level employee unilaterally fires someone. At my organization there would no less than 4 people involved in the conversation.
    -Nothing has changed about Fergus’ work. He won’t be grieving any less a week or a month from now. There’s never a good time to fire someone.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was thinking that two! At another company, HR would have been enraged that Ezra didn’t fire Fergus and could be making the same arguments that Ezra doesn’t have what it takes to be a manager. Heck, another HR person at the same company may have taken that stance.
      This was a terrible position to be in and there is plenty of blame to share between HR, Ezra, and the Company.

    2. Estrella the Starfish*

      Quite possibly there’s blame to be shared around here,, particularly if Ezra is an inexperienced or junior manager but regardless I do think that Ezra should known enough to take Iris to one side to fill her in and clarify the next steps

      1. LGC*

        I can definitely see that – I wouldn’t have known exactly what to do as a newbie supervisor, and I would have been afraid to ask for clarification. (Now, I care far less about what others think of me, so I’m more willing to ask. And like, also, it would have FELT extremely wrong to me anyway, so I would have asked even back then.)

        But…I keep going back and forth on this, but I feel like this is eventually on Ezra. He knew in advance that Fergus’s mom was severely ill, to the point that Fergus needed to leave work to be with her. If he didn’t at least fill Iris/HR in on that in the intervening three days, that’s a huge error on his part. (Huge if, I know – we don’t know that part.)

    3. PartialEzra*

      “I could see HR being similarly upset if he NOT fired Fergus.”

      I have to agree with this statement.

      I was put in a similar, but thankfully not *quite* as bad, situation five-ish years ago. I was planning a role elimination of a remote employee (so not a PIP situation) and it had been planned for at least a month in advance. We finally had the date set for first thing on a Monday. The employee in question emailed me the Friday before and let me know that she would be working from X state next week as she was traveling to be with her father who had just been put into hospice care. I emailed my HR rep and manager and asked if we should postpone the conversation on Monday but the HR rep kindly, but firmly, said “No, there is never a good time to be let go but everything has been processed and we need to move forward.” I felt horrible about it, but we moved forward on Monday (her father had not passed away, but the first thing she asked after I informed her her role was eliminated was “is this because I came to see my dad?” I still feel so guilty about that).

    4. Jenny*

      Yeah, I put all the blame on HR. I’ve fired someone before and we never ever just had one person in the room. That’s nuts.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Just because that is your experience doesn’t mean that it’s a universal experience. Many companies let the supervisor let the employee know that they’ve been fired before bringing in HR. Personally, if I were being fired, I wouldn’t want an audience.

        1. Jenny*

          We always have someone from our union as well if there’s any legal issue. It’s not about audience it’s about support for both the employee and manager.

  31. Jerry Larry Terry Gary*

    If Ezra didn’t feel comfortable enough to step out to talk over the situation with Iris or the OP- let alone making the call to delay the firing- does he fundamentally have the judgment needed to manage? Or is his training and support that poor?
    I hope Fergus has been offered whatever pay you would have given for bereavement.

  32. Three Flowers*

    I mean…automatic demotion for Ezra, and someone else should re-evaluate Fergus’s PIP and performance if only Ezra was in charge of that. This is such an outrageous lack of judgment I’d want to consider whether Ezra is capable of making a firing decision at all.

    1. Three Flowers*

      AND – has anybody looked into whether Fergus’s performance issues were related to having a very ill parent for longer than anyone knew? Would Ezra have bothered to find out, or cared, or would his attitude have just been “this is your job, suck it up and perform as if nothing is wrong or get fired”? I’m with Iris. I don’t think you can trust anything about how this guy may have treated his report(s) in the past. Full investigation of everything he ever did as a people-manager.

      AND AND – OP, would you consider re-hiring Fergus, maybe in a role that doesn’t require this skill set? The terrible PR you’re going to get is worth considering.

      1. Paula*

        your response all on this post are reallt…intense & not in a good way. making this like it’s some big failure of humanity that you should take personally would reflect badly on the company too if you brought this thinking into a real role
        it’s not so cut & dry a bad thing like you frame it either since many of us disagree w/Alison

        1. Three Flowers*

          Um. “Don’t fire someone within 24 hours of a close family member’s death or people will think you’re terrible” is pretty cut and dry. I have a lot of questions about people in this comment section who are like “but was it really that bad?” or “what about Iris?” or “wouldn’t it be best just to fire him now?” Ezra’s failure of compassion and good sense *is* very much that bad. Intensely bad. It does call all of Ezra’s judgments about managing people into question. It may well not be trainable. And it does ruin any chance he has of being a successful manager at the company. I would not work for him. There are a *lot* of commenters here who agree. And I’m deeply glad I don’t work for anyone who is defending him.

          Now if you think I personally am too involved in this conversation, well, sorry.

  33. Blue*

    I’ve never worked at a company with formal HR so this is a genuine question…what’s up with this meeting style? It seems SO odd to deliberately be late to a meeting that will literally upend another person’s life – this is worst case scenario but there are plenty of other ways it could be awkward or problematic! An extra moment of foreboding at seeing HR in the meeting room will surely be expunged by the feeling of getting fired anyway. Is this a normal way for firings to be conducted? What is the justification?

    1. Malarkey01*

      I don’t know if deliberately late is the right phrasing. My experience is to start with just manager and employee, break the news and explain the reasoning (about 5 minutes) and then I let them know I’m calling in HR to walk through the severance package and will give them a few minutes to collect themselves. I like this approach because it allows me to have a honest conversation with the employee without them feeling like there’s a crowd watching, and then gives them a few minutes to sort of reset before sitting down through all the technical details on leaving.

      This is altered if having to let someone go for something serious like harassment in order to have a witness and help diffuse things, but a normal performance or layoff would work this way for us.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, this is how we do it. HR is not there to fire anyone. They are there to explain severance and handle paperwork. This structure (changed if there’s concern about lawsuits) is meant to allow the Employee a neutral third party they can ask if they have questions about severance or something while not forcing them to rely on the person who just fired them.

    2. Chilipepper*

      Alison said it was normal to have the manager handle the firing and then HR to come for the paperwork part.

      1. SimplyTheBest*

        But that’s not what is described here. What is described here is Iris coming in one to two minutes late (not enough time for the firing to have actually happened) so that the person does not see HR and get spooked. Nothing about HR coming significantly later just to go over the paperwork.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          But OP states “Monday morning, Fergus tells Ezra at the beginning of their meeting that his mother passed away the previous evening (Sunday). Ezra then proceeds to continue with giving Fergus his termination papers.” That makes it sound like Ezra did do the firing before Iris got there. Also, 1-2 minutes is certainly enough time for a firing to have happened.

    3. Partly Cloudy*

      FWIW, I’ve never heard of this strategy before and I think it causes more problems than it solves. Having HR sitting in the room for a routine check-in would unnecessarily give someone a reason to panic, but having them in the room for a termination makes absolute sense. Delaying their arrival feels like a mind game.

  34. No Tribble At All*

    I didn’t know managers had the authority change the paperwork on a termination. Were the papers effective the day of the meeting (escorting Fergus from the premises) or would he have a few days notice anyway? Because I can totally see someone panic-freezing that we’ve already moved his final day once, they had to recalculate his last paycheck already, I had to get permission from BigBoss to move it already and now what do I do, just say this meeting is for us to say “here’s our bereavement policy! Seeya!” and then Iris will come waltzing in and slide the departure information to him??

    If this is the first time Ezra’s fired someone, I can absolutely see him not knowing he has the flexibility to change the date. I agree Iris is lashing out because she feels guilty that she was involved in this. Also, it’s weird that Iris waits until the meeting has started. Get Fergus there, have him sit down, have HR show up, and then start the meeting. None of this bursting in like the Kool-aid man.

    At the very least a re-evaluation of your management training, because I’d guess Ezra felt blindsided and stuck and didn’t know that he could or how to change the discussion.

    1. Eleanor Konik*

      THIIIIS.

      To me this is a “management training” issue not a “Ezra is evil” issue and I feel pretty bad for everybody piling on. It’s not like Ezra knew walking into the meeting that the mom had died?

    2. Jenny*

      When I’ve actually had the termination conversation, HR has already done the paperwork.

      This is 100% HR’s fault.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        The fact that this is how *your* company handles terminations doesn’t mean it’s the way *all* companies handle it, or the objectively right way to do it. OP’s company clearly does terminations a different way, and different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong. I don’t think it’s 100% anybody’s fault, and trying to make anybody here the absolute bad guy isn’t going to help OP. I think their termination process definitely needs to be rethought and adjusted, and Iris and Ezra both need some coaching and training. But you can’t say HR is 100% bad and Ezra is 100% a victim of his circumstances. It just doesn’t work that way.

    3. HR Exec Popping In*

      It is paperwork, not a blood oath. A termination date can be changed. Things happen. What if the manager got in a car accident and didn’t make the meeting? It would be rescheduled and the paperwork would be changed.

      We should not allow paperwork dictate our behavior. Paperwork generally documents behavior, it doesn’t cause it.

      1. Kitry*

        “We should not allow paperwork dictate our behavior. Paperwork generally documents behavior, it doesn’t cause it.” That’s an excellent phrase right there.
        I was once about to fire someone when I found out her husband had died. The paperwork was all done, but I just… shredded it? And nothing bad happened? I dunno, I didn’t ask anyone’s permission for that, I just did it. Seemed like the right thing to do.

    4. Jerusha*

      I completely agree! Also, depending on how things like “cutting off IT access and deactivating their badge” goes, I can see there being a real difference (either in actuality or just in Ezra’s perception) between “I rescheduled the meeting _before it was supposed to start_, so nothing irrevocable had happened” and “The meeting has already started, he is being fired (i.e. access cutoff, payroll, etc) as we speak, the only thing I can do now is deliver the news. If I don’t tell him, he’ll be just as fired, he just won’t know it until he tries to log back in to his computer…”

      That doesn’t absolve Ezra of the need to talk to HR and/or OP about the reason for rescheduling the meeting and figuring out what to do next (including which steps in the process are really, truly irrevocable, vs “we can fix this but someone/some department will complain; let them complain” vs “we can undo this as easily as we did it”). But it may go a long way to explain why, once the meeting had actually started (the train has left the station), Ezra didn’t feel like he had the ability to do anything but continue.

      1. Jerusha*

        And re-reading the original post, the OP said that IRIS “had coached him on the process and had given him a script to use”. That could have contributed to a sense of “I may be able to delay the process and not start the script (postponed the meeting on Thursday), but once I have started the meeting and the script is running, that’s just how the process has to proceed and I don’t have the choice not to follow the script to the end”

        I think at this point the two things that need to happen are damage control with Ezra’s other employees, and really digging into why Ezra didn’t feel like he had a choice – is it a personality issue (and, if so, can he be coached to over-ride or work around that?)? A hangover from a previous job where he genuinely wouldn’t have a choice? Something he’s been told (implicitly or explicitly) at this job, from someone other than the OP? (Like HR, with the process and script for him to follow?) The OP clearly thinks that Ezra had the ability to pause the process – but was Ezra ever told that? If not, maybe think about how he was supposed to know that. (Yes, common sense and human decency – but it’s pretty clear to me from what the OP wrote that Ezra _wanted_ not to fire Fergus that day, but he didn’t think he _could_. So the question isn’t “How is Ezra such an unfeeling monster that he thought it was OK to fire someone the day after their mother died?”, but “How did Ezra become convinced that he couldn’t prevent/delay/pause firing someone, even though their mother just died?”)

  35. yokozbornak*

    Iris sounds like she is trying to cover her own ass for being late. Ezra sounds inexperienced and some coaching is needed, but if he is a fairly new manager, he may not have known exactly how to handle it. It is unfortunate that it happened, but would waiting a week to terminate fergus make a huge difference? It may make HR feel better, but I doubt Fergus would feel better either way. He is still getting terminated right after he lost his mom.

    1. Three Flowers*

      I think Iris feels bad about having unwittingly contributed to something godawful, but OP explained why she wasn’t there at the beginning and Alison has confirmed above that this is normal practice, not something she would cover her ass for.

        1. Three Flowers*

          Sure, but it’s normal practice at *this* company, and Iris’s reaction is within that context.

        2. Jenny*

          It’s an absurd practice. Meetings like this should NEVER be one on one for any part of the conversation.

    2. Arctic*

      Iris is in HR the actual firing should be entirely done by the manager. HR should only be detailing the what’s next and maybe citing the reasons for termination just so everyone is on the same page. None of the substance should be her job.

      People trying to blame Iris rather than a person who callously continued firing someone after learning their parent died is baffling.

      1. Three Flowers*

        I agree. I’m shocked there are whole threads here about Iris being late when Iris being (intentionally!) late is so laughably far from the real problems that it hardly even registers to me.

        1. Nia*

          Baffling to me the number of people here that think this is somehow Iris’s fault for not bailing Ezra out of his own bad decision. Even if it was her responsibility to do so it was still Ezra’s bad decision in the first place.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      This is how has worked at the last two places I’ve worked. Manager explains to employee they are being terminated. Invites HR into the meeting to discuss severance, benefits ending, all that jazz. That gives the employee someone to ask questions about these things who isn’t the manager who just fired them. HR isn’t there to fire anyone. They are just there to take the employee through the next steps once they have been terminated. I don’t think Iris was late. She was giving Ezra a chance to do his job (the termination), so she could do her job (here’s the paperwork.)

  36. Almost Empty Nester*

    If I were one of Fergus’ coworkers, I would be job hunting immediately, having just had it illustrated very clearly to me how little the company values their employees. You just don’t proceed with a termination when you’ve found out your employee’s parent just died.

  37. 'Tis Me*

    Contacting him to apologise for the timing, explaining that Ezra didn’t realise the meeting could still be delayed, and giving him paid bereavement leave and the option to take a month or two’s extra unpaid leave (while still technically employed and getting health insurance etc)/extra severance to help give him a bit of a cushion while job searching could help at least soften the blow and leave Fergus feeling that, while the situation still genuinely sucks, the company does value him as a person and didn’t deliberately make a terrible day that much worse.

    But yep, even if Fergus was aware he wasn’t making the necessary progress on his PIP and the meeting was to review that, it wouldn’t have made a terrible time any better.

  38. LGC*

    …like, I’m hardly willing to put someone on a PIP when they tell me they’ve had a personal emergency or been sick recently! Holy cow.

    Honestly, though – I…don’t think Iris is wrong? I don’t think Ezra was malicious – that is, I don’t think he doesn’t care about Fergus, and that he went out to hurt him further. But it’s a shocking lack of emotional intelligence, so much so that…yeah, I do think demotion might be on the table here. You can definitely coach Ezra on how to handle a situation like that in the future (and I really hope that never comes up again, for everyone’s sake), but people are going to find out that he’s the guy that fired someone the day after their mom died. And I think he’s always going to have that reputation.

    At the very least, I’d really reconsider having him be responsible for terminations and other disciplinary measures. I’d say he’s burned a bridge with Iris, but at this point it sounds more like it’s been vaporized entirely.

    1. LGC*

      (And by “hardly willing,” I mean – if someone tells me they’re going through something, I’m going to at least push it back by a day, not that I’m going to reconsider it entirely. If you can’t tell, I’m terrible at commenting and yet I still do it anyway.)

  39. Bookworm*

    I also feel bad for Erza and really question HR–it seems like it would be good SOP to have both the manager AND HR manager there for the sake of a witness, if anything else and while I haven’t been in Erza’s position exactly I could see why he felt pressured to proceed with the meeting and paperwork, human factor aside.

    It seems like it might have been gracious to give Fergus at least an extended amount of time to find a new job but now that he’s done, I’m definitely more concerned with how HR is exactly involved in this type of processes. That is not to say that Erza himself is blameless (only you know) but it sounds like an awful situation for just about everyone involved.

    I’m so sorry. Good luck.

    1. LGC*

      To be fair, LW explains why Iris wasn’t initially there – she says she joins a little later so the employee doesn’t immediately have their guard up. (Which…spectacularly failed in this case.) I still feel like it’s ultimately on Ezra, though – what if Iris had joined at the start of the meeting, but Fergus had emailed Ezra about his mom passing away beforehand, and Ezra didn’t mention this to Iris? (So, basically, same situation, but there would have been a witness for the entire termination meeting.)

  40. Free Meerkats*

    Like it or not, OP’s company now has the reputation of a place that fires people the morning after a parent died. For current employees, some probably know that Fergus was on a PIP, most don’t. All they see, will internalize, and are already talking about is, “Fergus’ mom died and the heartless bastards fired him THE NEXT DAY!!” And that’s all people outside your company will hear.

    1. Jennifer*

      I wonder if Alison has any advice on how they can change the messaging surrounding this so the employees know that the entire company isn’t heartless.

  41. Colette*

    A few thoughts:
    – I’m surprised Fergus didn’t call in and tell his boss that his mother died (and then take the day off)
    – Ezra absolutely should have rescheduled (and reminded Fergus that he could take bereavement leave)
    – Failing that, Ezra should have told Iris about the situation when she arrived
    But
    It might be better for Fergus to know that he doesn’t have to worry about work while he deals with whatever practical issues he needs to deal with as a result of his mother’s death. Yes, he may need to job hunt, but that’s not the same time commitment as a full-time job. (In any scenario, he would have been out of a job soon, so job hunting was going to be in his future anyway.)
    And
    The best outcome is for the company to increase the amount of severance they’re paying to reflect that they handled this badly, and that Fergus was entitled to bereavement leave that he didn’t get. And if they offer an outplacement service, they should make sure that Fergus doesn’t have to access that right away.

    1. Chilipepper*

      re your 3 points –
      1. others commented that after their parents died, they might have just gone to work on automatic as their brains were mush and they did not even think to take a day off
      2. Yes!! Ezra should have rescheduled, even if he got “in trouble” for not following the rules
      3. YES, YES, YES! Why on earth did Ezra not say that to Iris when she arrived 2 minutes later!!

      1. Danish*

        I can see a scenario where, if I were on a pip expecting the axe to fall but, you know, maybe trying to hold it together with a little hope, calling in even with the death of a parent as a cause would feel like it absolutely wasn’t an option. Already on the thinnest ice, can’t call out.

  42. Jennifer*

    Wow, this is awful. I can understand Ezra being at a loss for how to handle it in the moment. I know sometimes I over-prepare for meetings I am dreading and then when everything doesn’t go by the book I’m completely caught off guard. However, what he should have done was taken a break and conferred with HR or maybe the OP. Reach out to Fergus, offer a more than generous severance and an apology. I would suggest flowers or some other gift but that seems trite at this point. Maybe even the offer of career counseling to help him find a new role and an agreement not to fight it if he applies for unemployment if he has not found a job by the time severance runs out. You may want to sit in on similar meetings in the future until you are confident you can trust him.

  43. Delurking*

    I’d also suggest looking at the relationship more generally between managers and HR. At OldJob I worked with a large HR team who had created a huge bureaucratic infrastructure with complex rules and cumbersome processes and spent their time servicing that (whilst constantly telling us they were ‘partnering’ with us!). Every time I went through a process I was worried I’d get something wrong, and I’m a relatively experienced people manager. I did a complex restructure and even though my HR person ‘coached’ me, it felt less like support and more like being given a series of instructions with the threat of staff raising grievances if I got it wrong. So it might be worth exploring whether managers feel they can work with HR as partners, or if there’s a deeper issue more like the experience I had.

  44. Not So Super-visor*

    I understand that the timing and optics are terrible as well as the need for having empathy for a fellow human being, but what was the solution for Ezra and the company? How long should a company hold onto an employee that is failing? I agree that the day after the death was harsh, but I know people who have gone for months (or longer) with their grieving for a parent and would snap back with “How could you do this to me while I’m grieving?” The performance issues don’t seem to be tied to the mother’s illness, so they weren’t going to get any better. At what point should the company say now is a good time to fire him?

    1. CatCat*

      I mean… maybe wait until after the funeral at least?

      You can fire someone who is grieving and they may have Feelings about that. That’s okay. It can be hard to draw the line. That’s okay too. It will be hard and there’s no perfect here. There is almost never a “good time” to fire someone.

      But the day after the death is objectively ridiculous and cruel timing. They could have waited to figure out a time less awful than that.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’d probably land on a solution like “We’ll extend the PIP by (one month, six weeks, whatever length of time management and HR can agree on) and schedule another meeting when the extension has concluded.” You’re right that the actual grieving for a loved one never stops, but the immediacy will lessen and the employee won’t be dealing with the seemingly endless checklist of funeral planning and cleaning out their relative’s home and figuring out what to do with their belongings, and they’ll be ready to start living their new normal within a few weeks.

      1. Jenny*

        Did Ezra have the authority to do that, though? At my work we have really strict documentation requirements for PIPS. I couldn’t unilaterally extend one.

        1. Allonge*

          Yes, this is the same for everywhere I worked too. By the time there is a firm decision and paperwork to fire somebody, their manager does not have the power to stop the process.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            But SOMEBODY in the organization does have that power. And as a manager, part of the work is knowing when to seek assistance from the people above you in the authority structure. I don’t think Ezra is terrible. I really, really don’t. I do think that when he heard that Fergus’s mom had just died, he should have excused himself from the meeting and gone looking for the people who had the authority to make changes. Just because he couldn’t do the exact thing doesn’t mean he couldn’t pause for a moment and seek guidance from someone more knowledgeable than himself.

            1. Allonge*

              Oh, I agree, I don’t think Ezra handled this ideally, or, in any way well.

              Honestly, coming from large, rigid structures, where the termination likely would not be stopped / delayed, this is why 1. we fire people with plenty of preparation and transparency toward the person 2. in the presence of HR and giving the employee the option to bring a union rep/lawyer along 3. almost never with immediate effect. As the system itself is so rigid, we have multiple failsafes for handling the human factor (so in this case the talk would be delayed when the employee reports such an extreme situation, but not the process itself). Obviously this does not work for every company.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      No, but like… you can wait three days or after the funeral or something. This isn’t about the employee (though Poor Fergus), this is about the company reputation. You do not want to be the place that fires people the day their parent died. That’s just going to look super bad.

  45. Mara*

    Oof this is so terrible all around. I’m also wondering about the cultural / structural issues that contributed to all of this. Is it possible that the company doesn’t have bereavement leave or that it’s vastly inadequate or Ezra was unaware of it and therefore didn’t perceive offering it as an option? I know that’s a small question with everything else going on, but still.

  46. Anat*

    I’m going to dissent a bit. I think if I already knew I was failing my PIP and would likely be fired soon, I would prefer to get it over with, rather than have to deal with the considerable stress of that work while in pain from grieving. As long as it’s handled kindly, there’s severance, and he is eligible for unemployment, I don’t see the benefit of dragging out the inevitable.

    1. Joan Rivers*

      What we don’t know is if Fergus’s work was affected by the stress of his mother being ill for a long time, or whether this was sudden, and he needed to go cause of lack of skills.

      He sounds like someone who might not tell mgr. his mother has cancer — he sounds obedient and not too insightful.
      But mgr. sounds like he might not see clues of stress and find out if F. is OK, either.
      A mgr. who’d go through w/firing like this might also be “unaware” of why F. is failing. I’d want to know this when evaluating mgr.’s performance issues, just as w/Fergus’s performance issues.

      1. Paula*

        yeah actually we do read it again
        OP said he doesn’t have the skills for the work & can’t handle it regardless of performance

    2. Tuesday*

      See, that’s what I was thinking. I think Fergus probably had a pretty good idea what was coming after the PIP, even without the HR person present. If I were Fergus, I think to have someone say, “Oh, this can wait… take some time off and come back later” would have just been that much more stressful. I think I’d prefer to get it over with too. At any rate, I can see Ezra trying to weigh which was worse in the moment and deciding to just go forward. Life doesn’t have a pause button (maybe in the next upgrade?), and that makes a situation like this really hard.

      1. anony*

        Yep. Methinks that Fergus may have known the firing was coming, and *chose* to go to the meeting rather than take that day off, to get it all over with at once.

      2. Jennifer Strange*

        But in that case it at least offers compassion to offer to reschedule the meeting, even if Fergus declines. I agree with you that Fergus probably knew what this meeting was about, and if he – like you – would have preferred to go through with it right then and there he could have then said “Actually, it’s okay, I’d rather meet now to discuss things.” I’d rather put the ball in the court of the person grieving.

    3. MCMonkeybean*

      I agree. I think it’s clear that the *optics* of firing him that day are bad, but as for whether it is actually kinder to put off the firing I think that will vary from one person to another. There is no good answer here, in my opinion. I feel bad for both Fergus and Ezra.

  47. Boundaries*

    I have lot of empathy for Ezra here (obviously Fergus too, but his behavior isn’t being debated).

    I can fully unde