update: my employee fired someone whose mother had died the night before

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

We have so many updates this year that I’m going to be posting six to seven times a day for the next several weeks — so keep checking back throughout the entire day.

Remember the letter-writer whose employee fired someone whose mother had died the night before? Here’s the update.

I had several conversations with Ezra (the person who did the firing) about the situation. He felt very badly about what happened and expressed remorse for the way it happened. I reiterated to him that he is always empowered to do the “right” thing. He understands now and appreciates that he is in the driver’s seat to control how he handles sensitive situations. Ezra offered to step down as the manager of the team if I (his direct supervisor) thought that was the appropriate move. I chose to use it as a coaching moment and I did not proceed with any managerial action.

Iris (the HR person) cooled way down in the couple of days after the firing occurred. She never again mentioned relieving Ezra of his management duties. She did make sure that my manager and his manager were aware of the situation. Her perspective is that situations like this negatively affect companies through word of mouth. She has done a little bit of micro-managing of Ezra since this occurred, for example, sending him a direct email to ensure he is attending required management training and IMing him during the training to ensure he was engaged. This irritated Ezra but it appears to have subsided in the past 3-4 months.

Fergus (the displaced employee whose mother had just passed) was given a week off for bereavement and his last day was extended almost 10 days to ensure that his last day was in the next calendar month which, in turn, extended his benefits through the end of that subsequent month. Ezra, Iris, and I sent him a heartfelt note apologizing for the timing of the termination message. Turns out he is a very thoughtful and understanding person and genuinely accepted the apology. He had realized that he was not a good fit for the position and was not surprised at the outcome, especially since he had been on a PIP. I also believe that he was so preoccupied with the passing of his mother that the loss of his job felt somewhat inconsequential to him.

I do believe that cooler heads prevailed in the end and I am thankful for that. It was quite a stressful week but the damage was not as severe as initially indicated.

{ 311 comments… read them below }

  1. Adrienne*

    not *this* update specific: everytime I see that red ‘lots of updates coming’ message my heart gives a joyful little flutter. Thank you to all the updaters! We get invested!

    1. Only 10 days?*

      I don’t know if I’m alone, but I don’t think and extra 10 days to get Fergus into the new month is that generous after the actions that were taken. A month or so would have been more appropriate, in my opinion.

      I guess I also think that Ezra does need a lot more coaching. So I hope that the LW will help Ezra succeed in that regard.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        In the US, 10 days / an extra month of benefits for someone who was on a PIP was generous.
        – Normal bereavement leave in the US for parents is 3 days.
        – COBRA (post-employment health care) costs over $1K for a single person / month; I know a family of three for whom it was over $5K/month.

        In general, the bereavement leave would be the most US companies would offer, and a lot of places would have just ended it all on the day. Given the error in timing, a month is not egregious, but it would be extraordinarily generous in the US, and tripling the normal bereavement time is pretty good.

        1. Sean*

          “I think giving him more days would have been the right thing to do”

          American Commentator: “Morality is different here because we live in a hellscape, and we’re fine with that.”

  2. Hills to Die On*

    I am so glad the company took care of Fergus. I also understand that some people need a moment to process changing situations so I am glad it all worked out and that kindness prevailed for everyone.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I remember getting fired while my dad was recovering from heart surgery and my reaction was honestly “oh, thank the gods, at least I don’t have to deal with that stupid job when my dad needs me.”

      1. Susan*

        Yeah, I was laid off 10 days before my dad died. It was a blessing in its own terrible way; it gave me time to process my grief as my dad’s death was known to be near, and it also was at a point where dad would never have to worry about me losing my job because he was not aware enough to be told.

    2. Kate*

      Yes – this part here with the dates was important, how awful.

      “[he] was given a week off for bereavement and his last day was extended almost 10 days to ensure that his last day was in the next calendar month which, in turn, extended his benefits through the end of that subsequent month.”

  3. Excel Jedi*

    I’m so glad to read this update. It sounded pretty traumatizing all around, and I don’t blame Iris for wanting to keep a strict eye on Exra.

    But I’m really glad to hear that the company was able to make some changes and ensure that Furgus was taken care of a little more through that time. It was an obvious and cruel misstep, but it sounds like the company did their best to correct it.

    1. Artemesia*

      Ezra had no right to express irritation at being micromanaged for a while; sounds like relieving him of management duties might have been a better choice, but certainly keeping an eye on someone with such poor judgment was not an overstep.

          1. AD*

            A single IM ensuring Ezra is attending/listening to a mandatory training session is not egregious for an HR staff person to do in this circumstance. I’d argue that the OP would be better positioned as his manager to do that, but it’s a little odd that this one thing Iris did is getting so much push back.

            1. Texas*

              The letter indicates that is was an ongoing thing (IMing him, no mention of “a single IM”) over several months.

              1. Loulou*

                I don’t think we can tell from the letter one way or another. OP herself does characterize it as micromanaging, but it also doesn’t sound egregious or like a huge deal if all the other examples were on a similar order.

                1. Your Local Password Resetter*

                  I think it’s pretty clear that this was ongoing, but happening less often over time.
                  And it would seem like pretty passive-agressive busybody behaviour if they aren’t the manager or if there haven’t been any related problems.

                2. Myrin*

                  Of course we can tell from the letter. Just quoting myself from another comment (the “hounding” is in reference to what the person I replied to said):
                  “OP says “[s]he has done a little bit of micro-managing of Ezra since this occurred” which means at least since late January (the letter came out on February 2) but it has “subsided in the past 3-4 months”, so if OP sent this letter in answer to Alison’s call for updates, that would mean August or thereabouts. That’s more than half a year of “hounding”, not one single IM plus one single email. (Nevermind that she says “a little bit” right there – she recognises that this is not the worst thing ever.)”

                3. Loulou*

                  Myrin, the person I was responding to said the letter indicates that IMing him was an ongoing thing. The letter doesn’t indicate this — just that micromanaging him, of which the IM was a single example, was an ongoing thing.

            2. Me*

              Ensuring he was planning to attend – fine. Bugging him during the meeting to ensure he is engaged is not HR’s job. His managers? Sure, but HR lady was out of bounds on that one.

              1. Yorick*

                But is attending a training something that she emails everyone about? Why single him out just because of this mistake that is presumably unrelated to attending annual trainings?

                1. WantonSeedStitch*

                  If his management skills are known to be in need of work, it makes some sense that she would specifically want to ensure that he is attending management training that could help to improve those skills.

                2. Yorick*

                  I guess it depends on what the training is. But my guess is it’s not a training that’s super relevant to this scenario.

              2. Clemgo3165*

                I don’t understand how IMing him during the training ensures he’s engaged when it quite literally distracts.

                1. Anon Y Mouse*

                  I was thinking that too. When I’m doing training, I tend to have all distractions, notifications etc turned off anyway, unless I am expecting something truly urgent, especially if the training is only for an hour or so.

          2. Smithy*

            To be fair – for company wide training of managers and the like, often it is the responsibility of HR to ensure compliance. And for a staff member that HR has flagged as having questionable management skills – this really does sound squarely within HR’s purview to oversee alongside his line manager.

            An email or two and a few IM’s….I get that it can feel like micromanagement if no one else is getting it. And it probably makes Ezra feel terrible because it reminds him of something he did that I do assume he regrets, but this level of short-term extra oversight after a mistake all sounds really normal.

            1. AD*


              We often see examples of HR overstep or total inaction on these pages so I get why this instance is hard to process for some people. But I agree that, given the situation, the “short-term extra oversight” is not something we should be freaking out about. It’s appropriate given the circumstances.

            2. StoneColdJaneAusten*

              And Iris was probably very sensitive to the fact that Ezra proceeding with the firing without even telling her about the deceased mother made it look like she approved of firing a man the day after his mother died. Is her taking that humiliation out on Ezra great? No, but we see worse abuses of power on this page nearly every day.

        1. Yorick*

          AND he was being micromanaged about things that have nothing to do with this situation. Talk to him before important meetings, sure. Nag him about being engaged in annual training, nah.

          1. Loulou*

            Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume the trainings have nothing to do with the situation. It sounds like this situation occured because he needed more training as a manager. I’m envisioning the “management training” HR emailed him about being specifically about managing, not the annual safe workplace training or whatever.

          2. The Starsong Princess*

            If I were HR, I would be managing both Ezra and OP, his manager, very closely. Ezra has incredibly poor judgment and OP is either not aware of it or hasn’t dealt with it. In fact, Ezra should have been put on a PIP monitored by HR. Everyone is criticizing Iris but she is in the right.

            1. MK*

              No, she isn’t. Even if you are right that Ezra should have been put on a PIP, even if should have had more consequenses for him and the OP, whoever had the authority to decide this didn’t go that route. It wasn’t her place to extract some petty form of vigilante justice on Ezra on unrelated areas because he messed up and wasn’t punished strictly enough.

              1. ecnaseener*

                I don’t see vigilante justice here, I see a bit of an overstep coming from a place of “Ezra definitely needs all the management training he can get.” It’s not a punishment to get messages from HR.

                1. MK*

                  I didn’t mean to say that what Iris did was vigilante justice, but the comment I replied to seemed to suggest she was in the right because Ezra hadn’t been punished enough for his misstep. I agree that her behaviour wasn’t objectively awful, but I lean more towards “petty abuse of HR authority coming from personal frustration” than any constructive desire to get him more training.

                2. ecnaseener*

                  I’m confused at that, because the comment you responded to suggested “managing him closely” and “putting him on a PIP,” again not really justice or punishment so much as natural consequences?

                3. MK*

                  I don’t read it that way? Being put on a PIP or being managed more closely is not punishment, sure. But saying that he didn’t get that when he should have and Iris was in the right to micromanage his training attendance, that does smack of punishment, because that’s not natural consequences.

                4. Yorick*

                  I agree with MK. His manager (and OP’s manager, and so on) could have decided to put him on a PIP. But doing extra micromanaging that isn’t her job anyway because she doesn’t think he was punished enough is petty and inappropriate.

                  That doesn’t mean we all think Iris’s behavior is the worst here. We just don’t think what she’s doing is helpful or necessary, and she’s the one who was doing something unhelpful and unnecessary most recently.

                  In my view, Ezra made a pretty big mistake. OP should’ve considered whether it was part of a pattern and kept an eye on him after, and it sounds like she did that. She decided firing or PIP or anything else wasn’t necessary. Iris had no role to play in any of that moving forward, so she shouldn’t have been doing anything.

        2. Andy*

          Meh, HR was not checking his paperwork nor work output. They literally checked stuff related to issue at hand, which is perfectly OK.

          1. Candi*

            Iris isn’t looping in OP, his manager, which is not okay -OP is hearing about this from Ezra, not Iris. And Iris is micromanaging him when they’re not his direct manager, which is also not okay.

            It’s one thing to do the HR job of alerting to training and whatever else HR is defined as at OP’s company. But the examples in the letter here show boundary pushing of HR’s responsibilities as generally understood in the US. Iris is doing things that are OP’s job, and should be taken up with OP or OP’s manager.

      1. Bossy Magoo*

        I was actually thinking Ezra responded to the whole thing appropriately horrified, taking accountability. It would have sucked if he tried to pass blame and/or thought what he did was no big deal.

      2. MK*

        I disagree. From the examples the OP offers it sounds as if Iris was monitoring Ezra in things that have nothing to do with his misstep; if he was called upon to fire someone else or broach a sensitive topic with an employee, it would be understandable for Iris to not trust him, as he had just messed up a similar situation, if the issue with him was lax attendance to training, it would be reasonable to pay attention to how he was handling training. But this is more like paying close attention to how punctual an employee is, because they hadn’t handled conflict with a coworker well. It’s not particularly egregious, but it is more like Iris venting her major frustration with Ezra in minor ways than her doing anything constructive.

        1. Sean*

          It sounds more like paying close attention to the management training he receives because he needs management training more than just choosing something completely unrelated to the original issue.

    2. Bug*

      If the company wanted to correct it, they should have either given him his job back (which, if Ezra was his manager, he likely did not receive adequate guidance or assistance), or redeployed him into another role more suited to his skills (or just away from incompetent management).

  4. JHunz*

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think getting an IM from HR during a training session and being expected to respond is one of the most distracting things that could possibly happen. I can’t think of anything that would disengage me more from an ongoing training than being directly disrupted.

    1. Lacey*

      Yeah. I understand why she’d be invested in Fergus getting proper training, but this isn’t the way to do it!

      1. KHB*

        Yeah, that’s by far my least favorite part of how this played out. It looks to me like Iris is just not good at her job. Her concerns may not be misplaced, but she’s going about handling them in completely the wrong way.

        1. Marketer*

          That’s seems like a bit of a stretch. One IM and she’s not good at her job ? Fergus majorely screwed up, and the fact that she doesn’t trust him to be very engaged with management issues is understandable.

          1. KHB*

            If you read the letter, it wasn’t just one IM. And I’m also talking about how she handled the original firing: She could have done a far better job staying on top of the situation and coaching Ezra on what powers he did or didn’t have to change the timeline.

              1. KHB*

                The letter says “for example,” which means that there was more to Iris’s micromanaging than is listed here.

              2. Myrin*

                OP says “[s]he has done a little bit of micro-managing of Ezra since this occurred” which means at least since late January (the letter came out on February 2) but it has “subsided in the past 3-4 months”, so if OP sent this letter in answer to Alison’s call for updates, that would mean August or thereabouts. That’s more than half a year of “hounding”, not one single IM plus one single email. (Nevermind that she says “a little bit” right there – she recognises that this is not the worst thing ever.)

            1. nodramalama*

              how on earth was Iris meant to foresee that Ezra wouldn’t know that a death in the family wasn’t cause to put a termination on hold?

          2. AD*

            Yeah, this language is getting heated. I would argue that Ezra’s manager, the OP, would have been the one who could have or should have pinged Ezra to make sure he was attending and paying attention to the mandatory training session. What Iris did was not out of line! Ezra made a very big mistake!

          3. Colette*

            She’s also micromanaging someone who doesn’t report to her and telling employees they’re not good at their job. Those aren’t minor problems.

              1. EPLawyer*

                We don’t know its a single time. And it doesn’t matter anyway. Iris is NOT his supervisor. It’s not her place to ensure he is paying attention in training the way SHE thinks he should.

                If he is truly engaged and paying attention, he shouldn’t have his IM on anyway. So Iris shouldn’t have been contacting him that way.

                Iris is mad she got put into that situation and is taking it out on Ezra. For an HR person she should know better.

                1. AD*

                  Given the situation, a little extra oversight is not unwarranted IMO. Whether a single IM or more than that.

                  I hope Ezra has learned from his mistake and hopefully he has. The focus on harping on Iris’s actions is a little bizarre to me.

                2. KHB*

                  @AD: It’s true that a little oversight is not unwarranted, but the point is that Iris is going about that oversight in the wrong way.

                3. Jenny Craig*

                  @AD, I agree. Presumably OP gave us the “best” examples of micromanaging, and if an email and an IM about management training… for someone who had shown pretty severe lack of management skills… seems in line with what HR is supposed to do.

                4. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  @KHB: We don’t actually know if Iris is going about her oversight duties in the right or wrong way. Literally all we know is that she sent him an email to remind him to sign up for required training (which would not be out of line for HR at any place of business I’ve worked for) and that she sent him an IM about training. The letter does imply that more may have happened, but we don’t actually know that it did, and if it did, we don’t know what it was.

                  I don’t like that people are assuming the worst possible motives for Iris here when we emphatically do not have the information to determine what’s really happening.

              2. Myrin*

                It’s not “a singe IM”. OP puts a “for example” before that, meaning there were other things happening in a similar vein. (She also calls it “a little bit of micro managing”, meaning she recognises that this is not pervasive.)

          4. Your Local Password Resetter*

            So far she mishandled almost every part she had in this story. None of it is firing or reprimand worthy on its own, but it’s not a good pattern to have. Especially for a HR person, where handling this stuff graciously and maintaining good working relationships is quite important.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I agree. At best, Iris comes across as having a petty vendetta, and it’s plausible that she’s trying to scuttle Ezra to distract from her own missteps.

      2. AD*

        I think given Ezra’s recent history, this wasn’t out of line and it sounds like everything worked out more or less. When an employee makes a grave error — and this was a very serious error — micromanaging in a few key areas for a while is one of the things that’s ok to do (more for his manager than an HR staff member, but it’s not egregious). I’d say that Ezra attending and being engaged in a key management training session is one of those areas.

    2. Littorally*

      Agreed. I can understand why she’d want to keep a close eye on him but that feels more punitive than helpful.

    3. XF1013*

      Is it possible that Iris was testing for no response? That is, if Ezra answers her promptly, then he’s not paying attention to the training. That would still be inappropriate, but it makes a tiny bit more sense.

      1. NervousHoolelya*

        I wondered whether she was IN the training session herself and sent him an IM based on what she was observing in the moment?

      2. Lance*

        To me, that would be even more inappropriate if it was the case. Don’t play games when someone’s supposed to be working on improvement.

      3. Your Local Password Resetter*

        That would be a good way to make Erza question anything she says and does. So it would actually be far worse IMO.

    4. Smithy*

      I’ve been in a number of zoom trainings, where participants are encouraged to ask questions. So seeing Iris reach out directly to Ezra to ask if he’s understanding the material and if he has questions really doesn’t seem to be some wild overreach.

      I get that all of this likely makes Ezra unhappy and feel embarrassed. And arguably online management trainings are dubious at best in their overall quality. But with COVID, it may be all that they have and this level of extra oversight by HR – who are often brought it to co-oversee someone who’s had issues just doesn’t seem out of line. Whether or not she’s his line manager.

      1. Stevie*

        In those Zoom trainings, though, is someone messaging you, and only you, directly while its ongoing, though? That would definitely throw me off. Wouldn’t it be better to see what you’ve taken away from the training after its over?

        1. Smithy*

          The situation I’m imagining – that yes, I have seen, is a training where there are breaks for questions and no one is asking anything. To then see a manager or someone higher up directly/individually ask people if they had questions or even specifically prod to ask a question (in the optics sense of “don’t make the team look bad, someone has to ask something”) absolutely. This is widely common across many types of digital training that I’ve been apart of.

          For office cultures that regularly use Teams/Slack/IM to say that this would be highly disruptive may certainly apply to individual workers but would not be believable work-culture wide. Again, irritating sure – but to flag as wildly distracting to the learning process would only be believable as part of disclosing larger accommodation needs. Because then that would likely impact how a staff member would need to use IM in a wider number of situations.

          1. Your Local Password Resetter*

            Would that come from HR though? I would expect that sort of optics management to come from the relevant managers, or verbally from the presenter if they want the discussion to go on.
            And OP didn’t mention questions, just ensuring he was engaged. Which seems presumptuous unless Erza has a habit of not paying attention.

            1. Smithy*

              As I first mentioned – an IM from Iris to Ezra asking if he understood the material/had any questions/had any challenges hearing the audio due to complaints lodged from previous sessions/etc would seem normal to me. We don’t have the exact wording of questions, but also, just generic “I’m paying more attention to you” also seems fair to me given what happened only a few months ago. I’ve worked at places where an incident like that would result in weekly 1 on 1 coaching from HR.

              I’ve always said that I get this is irritating. But to paint this as onerous HR doesn’t add up to me.

              1. Candi*

                It’s an overstep. In context of a work environment, Iris is doing things that are OP’s job, and from the writing in the letter, Iris is not looping OP in on what she’s doing.

                If Iris doesn’t trust OP, then they need to talk to OP’s manager about the situation, not push their boundaries on what HR is supposed to be doing at that company. It’s clear they’re not allowed to do that at OP’s company, since OP brought it up without that qualification.

                IMing someone during a training session means you’re taking them out of the content of the session. If you’re not in the session, you don’t know what you’re interrupting since you don’t know how the session is progressing, and if you are in the session, you’re distracting yourself. There’s no way this can be processed in a positive manner.

          2. JHunz*

            An instant message from the HR department from a person who has personally expressed I should lose my job goes to the top of the triage pile. It is distracting because of the inherent context of the situation, regardless of whether an IM in general is distracting.

            1. Smithy*

              She never said she should lose his job to him. She told his manager that he might not be suitable for management and should be moved into an individual contributor role. Which for all we know would not mean a decrease in salary. Either way, no job loss.

              If the OP shared that sentiment with Ezra then that’s the fault of the OP. And would anyone like being monitored by HR, even for an acknowledged mistake? I can’t imagine who would. But to say that Iris is overstepping I don’t agree with.

              What she did is irritating. But it’s the kind of irritating thing that happens when you make an HR/management mistake.

              1. Candi*

                Iris doesn’t have to say it for Ezra to read Iris’ as she wishes he wasn’t there anymore.

                We discuss impact vs intent on this site, and whatever Iris intends, her impact on Ezra, and on the OP by going around them to micromanage Ezra, have effects.

    5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I don’t know about others – but when I’m in a training I set my Teams to “In A Meeting” and then minimize it. I wouldn’t have seen Iris’s IM’s until after the meeting was over/break. Hope that wouldn’t have been held against me – I can’t pay attention to the training and take notes if I’m also being expected to pay attention to an IM program.

      1. Anon Y Mouse*

        Yeah, me too. Especially if the training is very time limited, the fewer distractions the better.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes!! “To ensure he was engaged”? It’d have the opposite effect on me.

      Isn’t it a bit like wanting to make sure someone is asleep, and to that end, asking them “are you sleeping?” Not anymore, thank you!

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    Glad to see this. Looking back at that letter, a lot of comments about how to exhibit empathy being a skill that can be taught, and how, for example, medical personnel often had a real foot in mouth moment and had to learn to do better.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      “…how, for example, medical personnel often had a real foot in mouth moment and had to learn to do better.”

      Ugh! I wish there was some way for this to happen during training, like, pre-emptively as part of someone’s schooling and training, without it having to impact actual patients and their families. My family has had several awful interactions with medical personnel over the last several months, which made difficult and painful situations even worse then they already were. And for many of them there was absolutely no excuse for from any human being who had a smidge of natural or trained empathy or common sense.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        My brother-in-law does patient simulations with medical students where he basically plays a character of a patient or relative of a patient that are designed to teach med students how to have those conversations.

        1. Hen in a Windstorm*

          I used to work with standardized patients, and it’s true that it’s part of the doc’s training, but it’s not something they can fail their boards on, so… some of them go through the motions. Some of them are amazingly compassionate. You never know which it’s going to be.

        2. SpaceySteph*

          Someone on reddit mentioned that they do this as well in a thread recently. Seemed like such a cool/fun gig.

        3. Chicanery*

          I would love this job. I have trauma stemming from experiences with doctors and would so love to be part of a solution.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            I’m in Public Health, and I’m currently coaching a friend who is phobic of doctors because of really bad experiences through how to pick and interact with them.
            You should see if you can be a standardized patient! It might be good for both you and the doctors.

      2. Paperdill*

        There’s actually ALOT of training that goes into this, nowadays (at least there is, in my country). As a nurse and a human who needs doctors, I have actually really seen the difference in doctors who trained in the last 10 years vs those that did in the last 20 years.

      3. Bamcheeks*

        There are lots of ways this is and can be coached, but there’s no training that can simulate having been awake for 22 hours and coming directly from another patient and your head is still processing one thing whilst you’re trying to look like you’re dealing with another. It’s about support and supportive structures around you as much as training.

  6. awesome3*

    Oh man. I still feel so bad for Fergus. Thanks for the update OP, I think you handled it as best you could given the circumstance, in a situation no one would want to be in the position to handle.

    1. Alyssa*

      Me, too. And if Fergus responded to their apology with grace, he’s the biggest person in this situation.

  7. Bagpuss*

    This sounds like a positive update where Ezra was able to learn from the mistake he made and where the company did do their best to address the issue.

    I do think that Iris perhaps reacted inappropriately – she was legitimately upset but it sounds as though she didn’t handle that as well as she could have done and made assumptions about Ezra’s ability to change which were not justified.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Agreed. She scorched the earth with the burning of her cheeks. Her reaction was less “how could you do that to Fergus?” and more, “how could you let me be a part of that? I look like a jerk!”

      1. Daisy*

        Why can’t it be both? Why do you not think ‘how could you let me be a part of that’ is a valid feeling? I would also be upset and angry about being involved and Ezra not passing on the message.

        1. Le Sigh*

          Agreed. And it doesn’t even have to be about ego — I would be upset at be unwittingly involved in being cruel to another human being. I don’t want to be cruel to another person, even by accident!

          I do think Iris could have handled it a bit better — basically, not berating him even if it was a serious situation. But I think she has a right to be upset for Fergus and for having been pulled in that situation.

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I agree it could be both.
          I think her following up with Ezra on the training, even during it, was professional. She was making sure he was getting the training she felt he lacked. She may do that for everyone; we don’t know.
          But her initial reaction to demote him was emotional and yes, I theorized that embarrassment was the reason why she wanted Ezra actually punished, financially and professionally.
          She got over/through it and OP has a good relationship with HR. It didn’t remain an issue. But it did happen.

        3. Bamcheeks*

          I think Iris was legitimately upset, but did not handle that upset well. Like, any framing that says, “well, Iris was upset and shocked and that’s why she did X” has to extend the same grace to Ezra.

          1. Betty*

            I’m really confused at this framing point, did anyone say Ezra was upset and shocked? Do you think he was so upset at Fergus’ mother dying that he gets a pass on firing him seconds after learning about this?

      2. Loulou*

        I think it’s more “I would have stopped this from happening to Fergus if I had known.” There’s some weird projection going on re: Iris in some of these comments!

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            I’ve commented here a few times that my HR department is one of the top three best things about my company. They’ve helped me navigate medical, academic and professional issues for over two decades.
            I’m genuinely sorry that’s been your experience. I thought it was just a trope/stereotype (most of my career has been with this company and I don’t have bad experiences to reference).

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I would have been livid if I had inadvertently taken part in something like that. I don’t think Iris was out of line to question Ezra’s suitability as a manager after this.

  8. KHB*

    This is a good update. I’m glad Ezra is getting another chance to keep developing as a manager. He made a mistake, but I don’t think he deserved most of the vitriol he got (from Iris and from some of the commenters here).

    1. dresscode*

      I agree. He SHOULD have maybe asked for a sidebar with HR before continuing, but in the moment especially as a new manager, it can be really hard to think straight. Especially if this is his first firing.

    2. Anan*

      I don’t understand the vitriol towards Ezra. I don’t think I would have known how to redirect the meeting in the moment. I would be thinking– the meeting has been set, Fergus is here, HR is going to join at any second and it’s going to be obvious where the meeting is going at that point. As soon as HR joins and Fergus sees her in the meeting, delaying the meeting is just going to leave this hanging over his head while he deals with everything else. There’s no turning back, I guess we’re doing this.
      In a company with layers of hierarchy and HR, direct managers don’t always have complete control over the timing of hiring/firing, anyway, so it’s not unreasonable that he really didn’t know whether he had an option to back out at that point in the process.
      Managers are human, too, and this was an awkward and terrible situation for Ezra to have to handle with little time to think through his options. It’s not like he was callous about it. It would have been better if he could have found a way to let Iris know when she joined the meeting, so she could soften her delivery and talk about options, but her response feels like an overreaction to her own embarrassment.

      1. KHB*

        Yes, I agree with all of this. I completely understand the thought process that led him to do what he did, I can easily see myself thinking the same thing in a similar situation, and I think a lot of inexperienced and imperfect managers would do the same.

        If this is really evidence of such a flawed character as Iris et al. seem to think, I guess we just live in a world of flawed characters.

      2. Kate R*

        This was exactly thought. Since I’m not a manager, it was easy to see how I might flub this situation too thinking both that I don’t have the power to delay the firing and that Fergus will know what’s happening as soon as HR strolls in 1-2 minutes late. Ideally Ezra would have jumped in as soon as Iris entered the room to explain the situation, but again, I can see my own brain saying, “What do I do? What do I do?” I can also understand Ezra getting annoyed at being IM’d *during* the training sessions both because that’s hugely distracting and when I’m feeling ashamed about a screwup, having someone checking up on me repeatedly just makes me feel deeper shame. But I’d also understand why she was doing it so I’d be keeping my annoyance to myself.

      3. Leenie*

        I work for a large company, have a few direct reports, and wouldn’t feel empowered to make a change as Alison suggested. What I would have done is stepped out of the room and contacted my boss and/or HR to find out what the options were. I would have responded with a basic level of recognition that Fergus is an actual person.

        You have a manager who has someone sitting in front of him, telling him that he’s going through something essential and traumatic in life. When that manager responds as if this person is a box to be checked or a problem to be solved instead of treating him as a fellow human, that’s a serious issue.

        I don’t think Ezra deserved vitriol. And I do think that empathy can be taught, or at least nurtured along. But I also don’t blame Iris for staying on top of Ezra for a little while, to make sure he was taking advantage of the training available to him, and that he was progressing as a manager. This was a really big mistake.

        1. Your Local Password Resetter*

          It seems pretty clear that Erza absolutely sympathized with Fergus. He just didn’t think he could do anything to help. And making levelheaded decisions is very hard when you’re new to this and right in the middle.

          1. Leenie*

            Sure. But his instincts were terrible, and that’s why Iris felt the need to track him for a bit. I just have trouble with people casting her as the villain. I agree with Alison from her initial answer that Iris didn’t react well in the moment, but that her offense was by far the lesser offense. I also agree with Alison’s assessment that Ezra was astonishingly callous.

            Of course someone who was put in the position that Iris was put in kept an eye on him for a while. And while Ezra doesn’t deserve vitriol, and may still have potential to be a great manager, this was a serious misstep and needed to be treated as such.

        2. Anan*

          See, I don’t think Ezra is necessarily lacking in empathy or treating the person as a box to be checked. From the original letter: he felt bad and felt like he didn’t have a choice because HR had already completed the termination paperwork.

          Additionally: This sounds like it was a phone call, not an in-person meeting. Put yourself in Ezra’s place. You can’t just step out and talk to your manager or intercept HR, like you would in an in-person meeting. The HR person is on a 60 second timer, just enough time for Fergus to have told you about the situation, so HR is joining the meeting at any second and you don’t know exactly when. You can try to end the meeting and get Fergus off the phone before HR pops in, but there’s no way to cut it that short without also being callous. As soon as HR joins, Fergus will probably suspect he’s being fired, and you don’t want that uncertainty hanging over him any longer than necessary. You could frantically message the HR person and hope she sees the message before she joins the meeting, but that’s not guaranteed. You don’t have time to message your manager. You don’t know what your options are, because the wheels are already in motion. Is Fergus going to lose access to his email account today? That’s definitely a way worse way for him to find out. Can that process be stopped? You don’t know, HR is in charge of that part.

          It’s possible that the most empathetic choice you see available to you in that situation is to deliver the news as gently as you can, before that second face pops up in the meeting and you lose control of the situation to HR. Ezra’s main failure in judgement that I see was not telling Iris what was going on, either verbally on the call or by messaging her during the call. Whether going through with the firing itself was a bad judgement call depends a lot on the organization, how much control Ezra actually had to change the situation or delay the firing (not just how much control we think he should have had), and how much he knew or could have done ahead of time (did he know how dire the situation with the mother was, how much did he know about the firing process at his company, could he have consulted his manager or HR about alternatives ahead of time, could he have delayed the original meeting longer rather than just to Monday, etc).

          1. Leenie*

            I did put myself in Ezra’s place. My initial comment was from the POV of someone who has direct reports, but not the kind of autonomy needed to make a change like this on the fly. I couldn’t tell if it was a phone call or in person from the original letter, but I don’t think that matters. Ezra should have recognized that he was in over his head and sought out HR and his boss instead of plowing through it like he did. I don’t think he’s a bad person. But I do maintain that he acted on terrible instincts, and that it’s beyond reasonable to make sure he’s learned and is growing as a manager.

            1. Anan*

              Fair enough, that’s one perspective. I suppose I just disagree that Ezra’s instinct here was so terrible. I can see why the ticking timer of HR joining the meeting would tie his hands. Based on more context we don’t have, it could even have made delivering the message immediately the better option, once the meeting had already been scheduled and started.

              1. Leenie*

                Also fair enough. It’s just a different POV. In any event, it seems like the outcome was actually pretty good, all things considered.

      4. LizM*

        Exactly. In my office, if it’s gotten to this point, there is a good chance the person’s computer access and building access are being terminated as we speak. I’d like to think that I would be able to pull it back at this point, but I can totally see a new manager panicking.

        1. LizM*

          Another piece is that managers really need to be coached what is their decision and what is not. We are really coached to stay on script during adverse employment actions, because HR has cleared that script through legal, and legal has likely reviewed the action. If you want your first line and second line managers to act like humans and not robots, you need to make it clear they have the discretion to be human.

    3. JustSomeone*

      I strongly agree that Ezra got more vitriol than he deserved. It sounded to me like he legitimately didn’t know he had any other option than to proceed. Sure, maybe he should have known. But if no one ever told him he any leeway on this sort of thing, I don’t think it’s fair or reasonable to be this hard on him. He had a task to do that involved following through on a plan set my multiple people across departments. It’s utterly awful how it played out, but I don’t think it makes Ezra a Horrible Manager and Shit Human.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree. With the benefit of hindsight I’m sure Ezra can see that he probably shouldn’t have carried on with giving Fergus the termination paperwork – a better idea would have been to express his condolences, then when Iris came into the room he could have said that Fergus had just given him some terrible news and could we please send Fergus off on bereavement leave, and then Ezra and Iris could have used the rest of the meeting (without Fergus) to discuss how to work the whole situation out. In the grand scheme of things having the company pay for a week’s leave for Fergus and then having a respectful conversation with him when he got back about how his performance wasn’t up to scratch and he was therefore being relieved of his duties would have been the best way to go. But I can absolutely sympathise with Ezra for panicking and thinking oh no, let’s just get this over and done with so that Fergus can get out of here. If you’ve never had to fire someone before and you’re given a script and a timeline and told you must fire this person in this meeting then I can imagine not having a clue what else to do – of course, Ezra could have just said ‘I’m so sorry, I just need to step out and have a brief word with HR’, and gone to find Iris to warn her and/or ask what to do. But again, that’s with the benefit of hindsight and for whatever reason – probably lack of experience or lack of confidence in his own authority – that’s not what Ezra’s brain decided to land on in the moment.

      2. JustSomeone*

        If Ezra was the owner/CEO of the company, then doing this would mean he was a Horrible Manager and Shit Human. But as a middle manager who had almost certainly never encountered a situation like this…I can’t fault him.

      1. KHB*

        Not unless there’s a lot more wrong with Ezra’s performance as a manager than we know about.

        Fergus wasn’t kicked to the curb after one unfortunate misstep. He was warned, he was put on a PIP, and only after it was clear that he wasn’t going to improve his performance was he fired. Ezra should get (at least) as much of a chance to recover from his mistake as Fergus had to recover from his.

  9. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    I’m so glad that this situation turned out to be far less damaging than it could have been. If there is a lesson here, it’s the old one that managers (and HR) should take time to step back in highly emotional situations to avoid saying something regrettable. That would have helped Ezra in the meeting and Iris afterwards.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Another lesson to take from this is that supervisors need specific kinds of HR training. I’ve had a handful of supervisory jobs in the past and my current job is the only one that put me in training for hiring and disciplinary processes, including hypothetical case studies. If the onboarding had included “if you were about to hire or fire someone and you realized at the last minute that you needed to change directions, what would you do?” Ezra might have been a little more prepared to go off-script here.

      1. Mockingjay*

        This is an excellent point. In my industry in recent years, I’ve seen more manager training for employee management and coaching, but nothing really about how to work within the management hierarchy.

      2. Anhaga*

        That kind of training when he joined the company/moved into a management role with the company would have also reassured him that he *could* go off-script without putting himself in the line of fire. I’ve worked at places where going off-script would have landed me in deep trouble, even if it was the right thing to do. If Ezra had experience with that kind of thing, I can completely understand where he would be at a loss for how to handle the situation.

      3. Jessica*

        That’s a great idea. It’s easy to tell people to always/never do some abstract thing, but scenario roleplays are often a lot more useful for helping them understand HOW they might actually handle real situations.

      4. Lady Danbury*

        Excellent point! I’ve never had any type of hiring/firing training (and was purposely given bad advice in one firing situation by HR, but that’s another story) and it definitely would have helped me to avoid some missteps as a manager.

        1. Stitch*

          I did actually sit down and roleplay a firing talk with my manager before I had to deliver it, and it really helped.

      5. Littorally*

        Yeah, this is a key takeaway. It sounds like Ezra is getting remedial management training, which is great, but more specific preparation before the whole thing would have been better. A PIP is a fairly standard process, so I would think that “here’s how we handle PIPs, here’s what happens if it ends without a successful remediation of the underperformance, here’s the kind of wiggle room you have to give an employee an extension or to move things up if something untoward happens, here’s how rigid the process is, etc.

  10. Iris is right*

    I still don’t know if this letter writer truly gets how egregious this situation was. Framing it as Iris’s “perspective” that situations like this negatively affect companies through word of mouth — that’s utterly true! it’s a fact! it’s not some out-of-bounds thought that the HR person is pulling out of whole cloth. If I learned this happened at my company I absolutely would think less of everyone involved, and of the company in general.

      1. AD*

        I agree with you but some commenters are thinking otherwise. Couldn’t be me! Ezra made a very, very big mistake and Iris IM’ing him to make sure he was attending a mandatory training isn’t the problem here at all.

        1. Anon for this*

          Yeah, it’s not really a problem, unless she took lack of response because he was attending the training to mean he wasn’t paying attention. But the update gives no indication that that was the case.

          1. AD*

            I think there’s just some AAM contrarianism going on with this. Iris isn’t the issue here. If she kept gunning for Ezra or wouldn’t back off, it would be a different story.

            1. Melody*

              Because there are people who perceived Iris’s behavior towards Ezra as gunning for him. Whether that’s the case, we can’t know for sure from the information at hand. And you can discuss why you think Iris is reasonable (I agree) without making false statement about the contents of the letter (stating that there was just one IM when the language of the letter was that it was IMing over the course of 3 to 4 months)

    1. L'étrangere*

      Totally agree. I think the OP is deluded if they think that the incident is over and no damage was done. Yes, it’s entirely possible that the fired employee could be gaslighted into agreeing tbis was OK. And it’s even more likely that the loss of their mother put into perspective how inconsequential this company was in their lives, and how they could be better off away from this toxic environment. But don’t be fooled that the other employees didn’t see what happened, or draw their own conclusions about how valued they are

      1. Blarg*

        “Hey, Fergus, I saw a job posting at company x, didn’t you used to work there? Should I apply?”

        “Well, it wasn’t a great fit for me, I admit, and I ended up on a PIP. I kind of figured it wasn’t going to end well. I’d started job searching but then my mom got really sick, really suddenly.”

        “Oh yea, I remember that, she passed just a couple days later, right?”

        “My boss fired me the day after she died.”

        1. Smithy*

          Absolutely – so many people work at unpleasant or difficult places where it’s often very difficult to summarize why the place was bad. Particularly if something is just a bad fit or there are larger issues that would be bad for anyone.

          Hearing someone say “I have a boss that yells” – lots of people have experienced a version of that and may decide that they’re just more comfortable with intense personalities. But if you hear, “my boss there yelled all the time – after I told him my mom died and I needed to leave at noon, he came back to my office an hour later to yell about a report that wasn’t due for two weeks” that sticks with someone differently.

          Lots of people have managers who aren’t given lots of training. But if you say, “I don’t think my boss had any management training – he fired me right after I told him my mom died” – that’s going to stick with people.

        2. Evonon*

          “So Iris, I see you’re still employed at Company X. Is there a reason you’re looking for–”
          “A manager fired an employee the day after that employees parent died and I wasn’t told until after the meeting was over.”

        3. EPLawyer*

          Yeah and if Ezra is asked by someone applying he is going to say “Yeah its okay to work there but never make a mistake or your humanity will be questioned and then HR will micromanage you even though they aren’t your boss. ”

          It works both ways.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Agreed – I wonder if Iris ever thought about the fact that she has now created the impression that she wants nothing less that superhumanly perfect – a standard that almost nobody will meet. That reputation about her will also get around.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                I’m sorry. In what way does “when you’re about to engage in disciplinary action against an employee and you find out they’ve just experienced an extremely bad life event, put the disciplinary action on pause and check in with someone with more authority about what you should do” qualify as superhumanly perfect? I don’t expect that Ezra would have known the exact right thing to do in the moment. but I *do* expect a manager to recognize when they don’t know what they should do and check in with someone for assistance. That’s not superhuman, it’s baseline.

                This is not me vilifying Ezra. He was put in an entirely unexpected situation that threw him for a loop, and I don’t think handling it badly makes him a terrible person. But at minimum he should have known to ask someone what to do instead of barreling ahead with the plan.

            1. KHB*

              I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is pretty much no work-related mistake that justifies an HR officer telling an employee that he lacks humanity (a quote from the original letter). Either coach them not to make the mistake again, or remove them from the position to make sure that they don’t – but disparaging people’s personal character is not something that HR should be doing.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                This is a double standard though. You’re saying that Ezra’s failure of empathy is normal and understandable and forgivable, but that Iris’s failure of empathy is a permanent unforgivable flaw.

                1. Gray Lady*

                  I think it’s more that Iris’s failure of empathy should be seen as a failure, rather than her scorched-earth response being perfectly understandable in the situation.

                2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  I apologize for putting words in your mouth.

                  But. When you say there’s no excuse whatsoever for Iris to have said what she said, that’s exactly the mindset and attitude you’re implying.

                  Vilifying Iris for saying an ill advised and hurtful thing when she was upset is every bit as bad as vilifying Ezra. They both messed up here. So why are you willing to extend grace to one of them but not the other?

                3. KHB*

                  @Librarian: Three reasons:

                  1. Iris is in a position of greater power in the organization. With greater power comes greater responsibility not to screw it up.

                  2. I’ve been picturing Ezra as new to management and Iris as experienced in HR. Looking back at the original letter, I realize it doesn’t actually say that anywhere, but it’s the only way the respective roles (with Iris coaching Ezra beforehand on how to handling the firing) make sense. So this is an assumption on my part, but if it’s right, it’s a reason to extend Ezra a bit more grace.

                  3. Ezra said afterwards (in the original letter) that he felt terrible, that he didn’t want to go through with the firing, but that he felt he had no choice. There’s no mention of Iris expressing any remorse for berating Ezra the way she did, or of feeling that she acted under pressure from anyone else.

        4. Melody*

          What… is this conversation you’ve constructed? I would NEVER say “oh right your mom just died after that” to someone. Goodness.

      2. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        I don’t think it’s even a given that Fergus thinks this is okay. There are a lot of genuinely decent people out there who don’t rip someone a new one when they are upset, no matter how deserved. There are a lot of people out there who believe, often correctly, that they will be judged on their reactions to bad treatment, again, no matter how badly someone treated them. Fergus could very well believe that there is nothing to be gained by expressing his low opinion of the company and how he was treated, and chose to not throw a match on a rickety bridge.

      3. Loulou*

        I don’t think anyone’s talking about GASLIGHTING Fergus into thinking this WAS ok. It’s more, this thing that wasn’t ok happened and we can’t go back in time and change it now, so how do we move forward in the best way possible? We can all agree it would have been better if this never happened! But it did.

        1. TechWorker*

          Yeah this is an utterly bizarre usage.

          There was a heartfelt apology which was ‘genuinely accepted’ (which could be being professional and actually he’s still pretty pissed off, but that’s by the by). Who is getting gaslit here?!

          1. Melody*

            For some reason a chunk of people on this site (and the internet in general I guess lol) love to throw around “gaslighting” when they mean “a person disagreed with me.”

            1. your therapist said this post means i'm a narc*

              At this point, I’m guessing it’ll eventually come to mean “any communication other than ‘THIS x1000′”

      4. Tara R.*

        There are different kinds of people in the world. Some people would be outraged and devastated by this, and that’s certainly their right; it’s an egregious thing that happened. Other people might simply let it go, and that certainly doesn’t mean they were ‘gaslit’. I think in Fergus’s shoes, I would be ready to forgive and move on for a few reasons:

        – He was aware that he was going to be terminated soon. He was on a PIP, was aware it wasn’t going well, and probably suspected that the rescheduled Thursday meeting was a termination one. In his shoes, I would feel like the firing was hanging over me at that point and would be somewhat relieved to have it over with. I wouldn’t want to have that uncertainty looming while dealing with all of the logistics that come with death.

        – Genuinely empathizing with the manager. This wouldn’t be large in my mind when dealing with overwhelming grief, but especially if he felt well-treated by Ezra otherwise he might appreciate the fact that he is very inexperienced, didn’t realize he had another option, and genuinely feels terrible about his actions. There have been times in my life when I’ve done the wrong thing, and I’m lucky that the stakes weren’t so high.

        – The company and Ezra apologized and tried to make things right after the fact, which would further reinforce my belief that this was a mistake and not monstrous levels of indifference.

    2. Evonon*

      100% agree. I actually don’t think that Iris overreacted and is spot on about how this will affect company perception. If this happened to me, if I was fired the day after my parent died, I would never forget that as long as I lived. The company ultimately handled this (after the fact) kind of well be giving time off and rolling benefits over to the next month…but if I was another employee who heard about this incident it would give me serious pause. I’d be surprised if other employees haven’t pieced together the timeline of his firing and his mother’s death.

      1. Loredena Frisealach*

        This. Over a decade ago, right around the time I hit ten years of service at my employer, my spouse went into the hospital w/pneumonia. 3 months later he finally left after 3 major surgeries, and being on life support for several weeks. I worked from the hospital during that time, and spent the next two months working from home because I was his caregiver while he recovered. I finally was able to go into the office for the first time after not being there for close to 6 months because my parents came for a week to do the shuttling to appointments. The day after I came in for the first time I was called into a meeting with my (new to me) manager for a one on one – which turned out to be with HR, and I was laid off. Keep in mind that when I had realized how bad things were I asked about intermittent FMLA, which would have protected my job, and was encouraged not to use it.

        On the one hand, as layoffs go this was a pretty good one – significant severance, benefits covered for another month, hell I was essentially paid to take a month off to recover mentally from the trauma of the year. But I have *never* forgiven them! I would never give a positive reference to anyone involved, and I still to this day do not knowingly purchase anything they make/sell (with a single exception of a product made by a company they merged with a few years ago).

        I do think that internally this is a forgivable moment for Ezra that he can get past, but only because he was taken off guard and few people are good at recovering in the moment. But, he absolutely needs coaching and oversight for any other firing/layoffs in the near term!

      2. Casper Lives*

        So you think Iris telling Ezra he “lacked humanity” wasn’t overreacting? I disagree. I see a lot of people making mistakes in this letter, but no one comes off looking perfect. (Except the former employee looks blameless)

        Iris devolved into personal attacks. I very much doubt that HR told Ezra he could ever deviate from the script for his 1st firing. Inexperienced, untrained managers make mistakes that don’t require HR to question whether they’re a human being!

        1. Loredena Frisealach*

          Oh, I think the lack humanity comment was definitely too much, and it seemed like at least some of her reaction was less concern about Fergus and more about how it made her look, which isn’t awesome. But she was still more right than wrong that this is bad and they should all feel bad.

          I’m glad for Fergus that amends were made, and agree with the OP in giving Ezra another chance (though coaching is clearly required!) and really appreciate the update overall!

        2. Smithy*

          I think the comment that he had a “lack of humanity that made him unfit to be a manager” – not that he “lacked humanity” was harsh and could have been softened. But only in the sense that if I was Iris’ manager, I’d talk about how in future she could be more effective in upsetting professional moments – not that her overall assessment was wrong.

          Discussing whether someone should be moved to being an individual contributor as opposed to a manager if they don’t have the basics to manage is the purview of HR.

      3. Cj*

        If I knew the job wasn’t the right fit for me, I’d probably be glad for the timing of the firing because it would mean I could deal with everything the comes with the loss of a parent, emotionally and logistically, without having to worry about work.

        It was good to see in the update and the extended his end date so his benefits continued longer, though.

    3. T. Boone Pickens*

      Agreed, I don’t really blame Iris for their reaction, especially if their job involves recruiting or hiring. It’s tough enough out there to find talent, it’s even harder when your company gets known as, “That place where they fired an employee the day after their mom died.”

    4. Pennilyn Lot*

      It’s wild to me that the overall vibe from the letter and many of the comments is “Iris bad, Fergus good.” It is pure luck, not good handling of the situation, that he didn’t tell everyone about this, and you better believe that it’s coloured the way that other staff see Fergus, NOT Iris.

    5. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      I mean, it’s awful, but honestly I don’t what I’d have done in Ezra’s situation. It’s literally in real time, you show up with legal paperwork ready to go that others have put time and effort into, and find out *in that moment* that the guy’s mom just died, and you’re… maybe a little flummoxed?

      Plus most of my management experience is military, so there’s an element of “The date on the paper is the date the thing happens baring a literal act of Congress” to orders from higher up, do I might not immediately realize I had discretion in such a matter.

      Don’t get me wrong, dude definitely screwed up. At the very least he probably should have immediately expressed condolences and started messaging… well, everyone, for guidance, but I can honestly see not realizing he even had a choice but to continue.

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          HR paperwork is a pretty big deal in a lot of companies. Has IT already disabled his access? Has legal been notified, or security (okay, probably not with remote work, but not impossible either) Has a final paycheck already been issued? HR is literally on the way to join this Zoom any second, if she joins before I can give Fergus condolences and get him off the line, is he not going to know what the purpose of the meeting was?

          Again I’m not saying he did the right thing, but I could totally see him thinking he had to do what he did, even if it was gut wrenching. Plus he had about 2 seconds to think about it.

      1. zuzu*

        He knew someone from HR was on the way. He could have simply waited for her to arrive, stepped outside the room with her and explained the situation, and asked her how she wanted to proceed.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Something that came up in the comments to the original letter is that Ezra knew a few days before that Fergus’s mom was in bad shape and might not have much time left. He could have checked in with HR right then and said “we have a meeting scheduled to fire Fergus on Monday, but his mom is in the hospital in really bad condition. If she passes away before the firing meeting, how do you suggest we proceed?”

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            This is a good point. We don’t know if Fergus expressed the likelihood that his mom would actually die, but it might have been prudent to just delay the whole thing until there was some resolution. Even if she was *just* still in the hospital it might have been a good idea to delay until the situation was clear.

        2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          So like “Hey Fergus, this is Iris from HR, who is joining our meeting now. Excuse us while we go have a totally non-suspicious confab in light of your awful news. Hang on a minute…”

      2. Anan*

        I agree with this. I think people overestimate the control a manager has in this situation. Firing someone is a process with a procedure to follow. Once the wheels are set in motion, it’s not unreasonable that Ezra wasn’t sure in the moment whether he had the power to put on the breaks.

        1. Broadway Duchess*

          I guess I don’t understand why you don’t just… ask if you’re not sure? Why guess when there’s an actual HR professional joining you?

          1. Tara R.*

            So somehow avoid the topic of what the meeting is about for the first several minutes, then when the HR professional joins, you… say out loud “Fergus’s mom just died, should we still fire him?” in front of him?

            Obviously not, and there are other options; try to take up the time expressing your sympathies, and say something along the lines of “Fergus just shared that his mother passed away last night. Are we able to reschedule this?” It will be extremely obvious to Fergus what was about to happen, but it’s still better than firing him in that moment. But in the moment, I can see panicking and thinking that now that you’re in the meeting and Fergus is hearing every word you say, there’s no way to avoid moving forward.

            1. Broadway Duchess*

              Obviously not.
              You can step away if you’re in person. You can send a message if this is being done via Zoom or Teams. If it’s a phone call, you can literally say that you’re trying to get organized and you need to call back in a few minutes. This comes down to an inexperienced manager who was in over his head. The problem isn’t that he needed help. It’s that he didn’t know it and seemed to be lacking the emotional intelligence to delay, figure out th next step, then proceed.

              1. Tara R.*

                Yeah, there are definitely many many ways he could have handled it better. (Although I think a lot of the variations of ‘delay the meeting briefly to confer with HR’ risk coming across as disorganized and unprofessional and leave Fergus sitting there with a pit of dread in his stomach– not necessarily what you want from a termination meeting. I don’t want my manager to schedule a meeting, say they need to ‘get things organized’ and hang up, then call me back later and fire me! Nor would I want them noticeably distracted by typing a DM as I’m informing them of my mother’s death, waiting for a response, reading it, and then firing me!)

                I just don’t think that “just ask HR if you’re not sure” is as straightforward of a solution as it seems– there’s still maneuvering that needs to be done, and the same inexperience that led him to not just cancel the meeting on the spot and postpone the firing on his own authority probably prevented him from figuring out the best strategy to delay so he could consult with someone else.

          2. Anan*

            It seems like Ezra didn’t have time to talk to his manager or talk to HR offline. He started a meeting with a ticking timer, and it was his job to deliver the core message before HR joined the meeting to go through the details. By the time Fergus got through telling him that his mother had died, HR could have popped in to the meeting at any moment. Once HR joined the meeting, it would be obvious to Fergus what was happening, so Ezra had seconds to either deliver the message himself or have the HR representative join the meeting and deliver it with her mere presence.

            Perhaps he could have done what Tara R. suggests: waited for HR to join the meeting and said something along the lines of “Fergus just shared that his mother passed away last night. Are we able to reschedule this?” But I’m not convinced that would have been significantly better, because Fergus would still have left the meeting knowing he was about to be out of a job. What Ezra definitely should have done was let Iris know as soon as she joined the meeting, rather than letting her go through her script without knowing what was going on, but I can see why Ezra didn’t feel like he had another option in the moment.

    6. Unicorn Parade*

      I actually worked for a company that did exactly this – fired an Assistant Store Manager two days after his mother died. He was told over the phone because he was still in his home state with his family, mourning his mother. (Which company? Think orange apron).
      Anyway almost everyone in that entire store – over 250 employees – knew exactly what happened and were really bitter and expressed that bitterness vocally. I was actually an HR manager (but was essentially a scheduler – I had very little HR responsibilities, they consulted me as a formality and did what they wanted anyway, and paid out a ton of unemployment because of it) so I spent a lot of time listening to how upset and betrayed the employees felt.
      In the end it was one of the main reasons I left my job there. I am still friends with that manager, actually, and he bounced back but the timing was horrific. They didn’t even pay him out for his promised bereavement time.

      1. Broadway Duchess*

        Fellow orange apron survivor! I was the HR manager-turned-scheduler when they first instituted the position. I essentially became the witness when either of the assistant managers or store manager wanted someone gone. I hated it.

    7. BigHairNoHeart*

      Eh, I think LW understands. Their employee offered to step down from his management role because of this mistake, so that suggests that he understood how serious this was (and that LW appropriately conveyed that to him).

    8. Lady Danbury*

      Iris definitely did the right thing in flagging the issue up the chain of command. The timing reflects sooooooo terribly on the company, even though it wasn’t a company decision. I do think they did a good job at salvaging the situation but it highlights a need for further managerial training in general, as well as in specific situations before/during the PIP process. This could be used as a specific training example where new information should modify the previously agreed process.

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

      Even if the situation between Ezra and Fergus is “resolved”, Iris is right… Ezra’s actions could impact negatively the company, not Twitter outrage level, but word of mouth level. Sadly, being this a HR misstep is not possible to tell everyone all the details, and OP needs to know that somewhere, someone heard the story of The Employee Who was Fired After Their Parent Passed Away and will have a negative opinion of the company.

      1. Elsajeni*

        I think that’s true, but I also think it would still be true if the story were “they acted sympathetic when my mom died, sent me home on bereavement leave, and then fired me the day I got back,” you know? It really sucks and you don’t want to be inhuman, but also, once you’ve made up your mind to fire someone, how long are you willing to defer that decision because of bad timing?

  11. Clefairy*

    Wow. Great update, I’m happy everything turned out for the best.

    This may be an unpopular opinion, but I do feel a TEENSY bit bad for Ezra in this situation. To be clear, he was definitely in the wrong, and I feel 1000x worse for Fergus. BUT, especially if he was newer to this or has never navigated a termination in tandem to a big life event before, I can understand why he might have panicked and proceeded, thinking his hands were kind of tied at that point. I so, so wish Fergus had been able to inform Ezra of the fact that his mother passed away BEFORE the meeting, so Ezra could have chatted with HR first and gotten some better direction there. BUT that didn’t happen, and in the moment, he chose just about the absolute worst thing he could have :/ I’m sure this was a big learning moment for him, and if he ever steps into a leadership role again, I’m sure this will be forefront on his mind for many terminations to come…

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, he made the wrong choice in the moment but he was dealing with what was a difficult and stressful situation, for what sounds like the first time, and he had something unexpected which he dealt with the wrong way.

      FWIW, while Iris was right both that it was the wrong call, and that it is something which would adversely affect the company’s reputation, I think she made a very similar mistake in that she reacted wrongly in the moment, ‘berating’ Ezra and reacting in anger, and that she then sought to micro manage him in unhelpful and likely counter-productive ways. I would be curious to know whether she has learned anything from it – and indeed whether anyone discussed with her that her actins were less than ideal.

      1. Smithy*

        I’m not entirely sure that I take Iris’ response at being displeased and upset by the situation as a true “reaction in anger” or an equally wrong response in the moment.

        The OP doesn’t describe Iris as shouting but rather using harsh language in questioning whether Ezra had core qualities that would make him fit for management. Her questioning his demotion out of management was not said directly to Ezra, but rather discussed with his manager – saying someone lacks “humanity” is hardly an example of abusive angry language in my book.

        And presuming that the management training is online – sending an email reminder and pinging during training….I can respect that being irritating. But, I’m also not wildly surprised. After making a big mistake, a little micromanaging is pretty common. Especially noting that so often online trainings are taken with multiple screens up. All of which to say, from the account of events – her displeasure and anger read as professionally appropriate to me.

        1. Allegra*

          “ saying someone lacks “humanity” is hardly an example of abusive angry language in my book.”
          Really? I don’t see any situation where telling an employee that they “lack humanity” isn’t cruel and uncalled-for, especially when they already know they did wrong in the moment, as Ezra did from both the original post and this one.

          1. Smithy*

            I’ve had a few managers I wish had been told they had a “lack of humanity that made them unfit for management” – but perhaps that’s just more indicative of the saltier kind of language I’ve heard during my professional career.

          2. Sometimes supervisor*

            Agreed! I think it’s a really cruel choice of words. I think I want to give Iris the benefit of the doubt that it was just poor phrasing in the heat of the moment – I know I’ve definitely said some things I haven’t meant and would like to take back because I’ve been angry and embarrassed! But I’m also a little bit sad to see this update doesn’t say she apologised for what she said – just that she eventually cooled down (maybe it’s implied in the cooling down part but it is a horrible thing to say to somebody, especially when they know they screwed up and already feel terrible about it).

      2. Pennilyn Lot*

        I think it’s really interesting that people see Ezra’s emotional response to the situation and feel that it should allow him grace, and see Iris’s emotional response to the situation and feel that she deserves condemnation and no grace.

        1. Anonforthis*

          I think she went too far in a personal attack, myself. That’s where she crosses the line for me. Ezra didn’t insult Fergus.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I assume she was reacting out of embarrassment and anger for having been put in that situation. In her position, I would have been very concerned about the potential hit to my professional reputation.

        2. Your Local Password Resetter*

          I didn’t see Iris apologize or acknowledge she messed up though. It’s also a lot more personal than what Ezra did.
          If Ezra doubled down on his mistake, I would have no sympathy for him. But he was genuinly remorseful and even offered to take a demotion over this.

        3. Bagpuss*

          I think the difference is that Ezra recognised that he made a serious mistake, Iris reacted emotionally in thee we moment but apparently didn’t then address afterwards how appropriate or otherwise that was. Also, it appeared from the original letter that Ezra was a new and inexperienced manager whereas Iris was an HR professional- I would expect her to have better insight.
          For me, the issue isn’t that Ezra deserves grace for an emotional response and Iris doesn’t, it’s that Ezra made a wrong choice under stress, acknowledged it and tried to address it, Iris made a wrong choice under stress and responded with a pretty personal attack and, based on the letter, no subsequent consideration of her own actions or how she could address her own misstep.

        4. Bamcheeks*

          I don’t think anyone, including Ezra, is arguing that he didn’t make a mistake. The question is whether that mistake is so egregious that it disqualifies him from his management role or whether it is something he can learn and grow from.

          I also don’t see anyone saying that Iris should be fired or that she lacks the humanity to be an HR professional, just that her reaction WAS out of line and she should apologise and think about how to handle a difficult and unexpected situation better in future.

          I think they both screwed up, they should both take responsibility for screwing up, and they should both reflect on how to deal better with unexpected situations in the future.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            ” she lacks the humanity to be an HR professional”

            There are many comments saying that, both here and on the original post.

          2. Matt*

            From the outcome though it doesn’t sound like Iris ever took responsibility for anything, and her continuing to Micromange Ezra further illustrates that.

    2. Tuesday*

      I have sympathy for Ezra. It was the wrong decision, but I can see how he could have been flustered and gone through with the meeting. At that point, Fergus likely knew the purpose of the meeting, and having Ezra reschedule so that the upcoming firing would be looming in the future wouldn’t have been much less stressful anyway. But totally agree this wasn’t the way to go.

    3. BRR*

      I could see a scenario where I feel more than a teensy bit bad for Ezra. I’ve worked at places where the rules were VERY rigid. I could see myself in this situation wanting to delay the termination but thinking my employer would never allow that. Where my response to Iris would be “Oh I can make these judgement calls, since when was that possible?” I’d like to think that in the moment though I’d at least delay the meeting and check with HR/my manager. And we obviously don’t know if that’s the case.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I think I’ve only worked one place where Ezra would have had the discretion to adjust the final date, and that was a Mom & Pop shop. Everywhere else I’ve been, Fergus would have been handled delicately, but none of the actual facts would have been changed due to his misfortune.

        1. Stitch*

          Where I work, the paperwork would already have been processed by HR at that point. We wouldn’t have been able to revoke it.

          1. Kimmy Schmidt*

            Same at my workplace. I’m in academia where it’s notoriously difficult to fire someone, but if it’s at that point, it’s irreversible. We’re also very bureaucratic (tAx PaYEr DOlLaRs), and I gotta admit that I probably would have done the same thing as Ezra.

          2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            Typically, the paperwork is prepared but NOT processed until the guy or gal is out the door.

          3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            Oh Stitch – two more things –

            – at one place I worked, they were due to terminate an employee, but in the meeting, he revealed that earlier that morning he had been diagnosed with liver cancer, which eventually took his life.

            – “We wouldn’t have been able to revoke it.” Horsefeathers, a phone call can and should be able to stop it.

            1. Melody*

              … They literally wrote that they wouldn’t have been able to revoke it, so a phone call couldn’t have stopped it. Why are you convinced that you know this person’s workplace better than them?

            2. Librarian of SHIELD*

              This. I know that in a lot of companies the direct supervisor doesn’t have the authority to stop a termination that’s already in progress. But SOMEONE in the organization has that power. You can find them and ask them for help.

              1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                A+++++ There is always a way to stop it, or even reverse it, if someone has the mind to do it.

              2. Not Quite.*

                You both have not worked in big insurance, that I can say. Because even the CEO isn’t stopping this if it happened at my office once everything is processed.

                1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                  Excuse me – but I HAVE worked in “big insurance”. And have seen firing decisions reversed before they were carried out. I have also seen bad employee reviews expunged when an egregious error had been made, even though it was “impossible to fix”.

              3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                I might add – the LEGAL department of companies have been known to halt terminations in progress… seen that happen, too.

            3. Stitch*

              No, we literally can’t. There are regulatory controls on my job and we have to report who does and doesn’t have authority to do things. Once that authority is yanked, getting it reinstated takes time.

      2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

        Yeah, I don’t see that Ezra was “in the wrong” about the firing so much as not knowing exactly how to proceed with the firing upon finding out Fergus had a death in the family. Because it sounds like this firing was already well under way and not some spur of the moment situation. At many places this really would mean it was your last day because the fired employee would’ve already been locked out of the systems.

        Glad it worked out in the end.

      3. Sometimes supervisor*

        Agreed. At ex-company, HR rarely liked to get involved but, if they did, it was like a steamroller. You got them involved, you were on their territory now, you followed their policies, you played by their rules…

        If I had been in Ezra’s situation at ex-company, I definitely could see myself panicking and going through with the firing because I would have had no idea how HR would have reacted had I slammed the brakes on it – I definitely would have been dreading a demeaning lecture or my own firing had I dared to go off-script.

        At risk of verging into fanfic/projecting territory here, but when I read about Iris’s reaction in the original letter (described as LIVID, berating Ezra, telling him he lacks humanity) and her subsequent micromanaging, I think I can see why Ezra may have felt he had no choice but to go through with the termination. This isn’t to say Iris is wrong that Ezra seriously mis-stepped here – more that if I were Ezra and I had a question about what I should do, I wouldn’t find Iris approachable enough to ask about it.

    4. Littorally*

      Agreed. Especially given that there was PIP and a lot of formality in play, and that this is a fairly unusual situation, I could see Ezra not knowing if he could put a pause on the termination process without causing problems with the wrap-up of the PIP process or similar. Particularly if this company is bureaucratic or he has a history with highly bureaucratic workplaces where failing to follow a set process exactly will result in the whole process being invalidated in some way.

      It was a bad judgment call, but I don’t think it makes him a bad manager, just a manager who didn’t know what he could do.

      1. Stitch*

        It would have been really irrevocable at my workplace. Like IT already be disabling his account. And then, what reactivate it? The person getting fired would know what happened.

        1. Littorally*

          Right, yeah. And in my industry, terminations have to be reported to our regulatory body, which is all handled through a specific team at my firm, not by a person’s boss. I wouldn’t know, as a manager, if the termination has already been reported, if it gets reported X days after a person’s last day, whether we can keep them on gardening leave after the termination is reported, if reporting “ah no we’re actually keeping him on for a bit, his last day is now X” is a routine report to our regulator or if it’s fifteen thousand hues of red tape…. etc.

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Had that happen to me once… my account was revoked. I thought I was fired. A fellow employee became alarmed, called our manager, and my access came back.

          I found out later – I *was* fired, by my director, but the company president vetoed my termination.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Whaa-aaaa-t??? Didn’t Ezra postpone his meeting with Fergus once already? Who said he couldn’t do it again upon the death of Fergus’ mother?

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

      I feel bad for Ezra too. It seems clear to me that he has (or at least perceives that he has) no support or backup from the management above him – I bet this isn’t the first time he’s been left to figure something out like this.

      e.g…. Why was his manager (OP) seemingly not involved in backing him up with the PIP, he had been coached by HR about it but nothing indicates his manager had taken any real action. Ezra wasn’t aware that he could (and should) do what’s right ahead of “do what’s in the paperwork at all costs” but why was he not aware of this before. Is he being sent on ‘remedial’ management training and received none at all to begin with?… etc.

      For what it’s worth Fergus must have realised that that’s where the meeting was heading (or at least that that was a likely outcome) and also realised on the Monday that the meeting had originally been for the previous week so the wheels were in motion before the illness and death. I’m not sure it’s better to be dealing with the death whilst also dealing with the uncertainty of “will I be fired” as opposed to having the firing, unpleasant though it is, at least done rather than uncertain.

  12. ENFP in Texas*

    “given a week off for bereavement and his last day was extended almost 10 days to ensure that his last day was in the next calendar month which, in turn, extended his benefits through the end of that subsequent month”

    I think that is a really generous way to try to make amends, because it helps Fergus by providing one less thing to worry about in the immediate term.

    1. Hmmm*

      The thing is… is it normal to terminate someone and then keep them around for a couple weeks? The only time I was terminated they said “Tomorrow is your last day.” and I said, “No. I am leaving now.” There’s no way I would stay for even a day after knowing I’d been terminated. (But my situation was my boss was a toxic person.)

      1. Your Local Password Resetter*

        Kind of, yeah? Especially when you don’t keep them around for their work, but to minimize the impact on them. And Fergus had way too much to deal with as is, no need to start throwing money back in people’s faces.

      2. That’ll happen*

        My guess is that they didn’t have come him back in, but changed his last day in the system and paid him for an additional 2 weeks so his benefits could be extended.

        1. That’ll Happen*

          Or as I reread it, maybe they didn’t pay him but they just made the change to his end date to maintain benefits. It wouldn’t make sense to have him come back in.

      3. Alyssa*

        The letter mentions giving him a week of bereavement leave. I’m thinking he was paid for that week, and then his leaving date was extended to the beginning of the following months so he could have benefits for that month. It’s not clear on whether he was actually coming into the office in the interim.

  13. Person of No Consequence*

    My goodness, while I’m glad that they made some moves to make things right with Fergus, Iris wasn’t wrong either. That’s a shocking lack of judgment, to say nothing of basic humanity. I’d seriously question if that person was right for a people management role at that point. The LW isn’t innocent here either, Ezra basically got a stern talking-to and that’s about it. You can’t treat people this way, even employees you’ve got to let go of for ironclad reasons. Sometimes being a leader means you have to make unpleasant decisions that people aren’t going to like, but you don’t have to be callous or inhumane about it. And you need to foster that with the leaders under you.

    1. Anon for this*

      I’m unsure whether to sympathize with Ezra or not. Firing someone the day after their mother died was definitely the wrong thing to do, but I’ve worked at, and heard of, places where HR has the final authority to fire people and do not tolerate any form of backtalk, or independent action, from managers. So I could definitely see Ezra being incredibly apologetic and firing the employee anyway because he perceived his hands as being tied by HR. That’s less an Ezra is a complete failure as a manager thing, and more of a we didn’t adequately communicate to Ezra that our HR are not petty gods thing.

      1. Person of No Consequence*

        See, this is the judgement part. Where you end the meeting prematurely, for whatever legitimate reason you can think of, wave off HR, talk to your boss and HR and figure out how to proceed. Moreover, the employee signaled earlier that their loved one was gravely ill; that should have raised a little red flag and triggered a quick conversation with Ezra’s leadership. I get that this is hindsight armchair quarterbacking, but Ezra made a choice to proceed here, when other options might have been available. That’s no exercising good judgment.

        1. Lady Danbury*

          Judgment also requires knowing where you actually have flexibility to make a judgment call and where you have to go by the books. It’s obvious that Ezra didn’t know that this was a judgment call situation or that he had other options. Do I think he made the wrong decision? Absolutely!!! But that doesn’t automatically mean that he’s automatically has bad judgment as a leader. Part of leadership development is developing the experience and instincts that lead to good judgement.

          1. Littorally*


            My general impression of PIPs is that they’re low on individual judgment and flexibility and high on a prescribed process that must be followed to a T.

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            But what was stopping Ezra from intercepting Iris on her way into the room and asking if there was any wiggle room in the procedure?

          3. New Senior Mgr*

            That he didn’t know that this was a judgment call is a problem in and of itself. It speaks volumes.

        2. Chicanery*

          I agree that he had a lapse in judgment, even if I suspect he might have made a better decision had he been provided with better training and more information about what his options were. Saying he lacks basic humanity, though? That’s too far. Not realizing there were other options isn’t the same as being inhuman.

        3. Matt*

          In the original letter Ezra did tell HR that the employee’s mother was ill and that’s why he innitially delayed the meeting, and according to the letter writer, HR was upset with him over him doing that. To then make this all on Ezra when he innitially didn’t want to do it and it was because of HR pushing him, especially factoring in that he is new to this, I think this is mostly an oversight of HR, and not Ezra.

  14. Nobby Nobbs*

    “You are always empowered to do the right thing” is an underrated message at all levels of operations, I think. So many of us are conditioned to be obedient past the point of morality or safety that trusting your gut and taking a moment to think about how much sense your instructions actually make in the moment ought to be explicitly addressed as part of job training.

    1. Cranky Lady*

      Agreed. When I read the original email, I felt like Ezra made a huge mistake. I still think he made a mistake but wonder where in the corporate culture they highlight that caring and empathy comes before policy.

  15. Lady Danbury*

    Excellent update! This seems like the best case scenario to come out of a truly awful situation. I’m glad that Ezra is growing as a manager and that Iris has mostly chilled out. I suspect that she was overly aggressive with Ezra because was an active participant in the termination without knowing about Fergus’ mom. Most importantly, I’m glad that Fergus was further compensated and that he was able to take it all in stride.

  16. JelloStapler*

    That was such a kind way to take care of the whole person for Fergus and separate the person from their performance.

  17. WellRed*

    I feel like Ezra went wrong before Ferguson showed up to the mtg. If someone needs to leave work to be with a gravely I’ll family member, maybe hold off for a few days before making any sort of move. I hope Iris isn’t as overbearing as she’s coming across In both letters.

    1. NeutralJanet*

      I mean, I’d argue that delaying the meeting from Thursday to Monday is giving the employee a few days—it’s possible that Ezra should have given the employee longer than that, since he knew that Fergus’s mother was gravely ill, but four days is not an unreasonable delay, in general.

      1. WellRed*

        But in the intervening time, his mom died so the timing was bad all around. Four days doesn’t make that better. I guess I would have waited to check in with Fergus to see how she was doing. If he had, he would have learned mom died and then done a quick course correct.

  18. Kyrielle*

    I feel like Iris and Ezra both screwed up here in various ways. Ezra seems to have learned from his; I hope Iris has learned from hers. (I am glad she didn’t continue to push Ezra’s demotion, at least – because he is learning and doing better.)

    OP, I do think making sure Ezra’s engaged in training / reaching out to him / keeping a close eye on him re HR topics for a time makes sense though. Very uncomfortable for Ezra, yes, but necessary to making sure that this is a horrible misstep he has learned from and not a sign of a character issue.

    I’m glad that Fergus was given some extra help and that he was so calm about it all, but I’m really sorry for him that he had to go through all of that at once, and in that order/way.

    1. Page 1*

      I’d be keeping an extremely close eye on Ezra. But then again, I would have suspended him from people management duties.

  19. Meow*

    I missed this letter the first time around, and in looking at the comments now I’m shocked at how many people blamed Iris, there was one thread over 150 comments long with most agreeing this is Iris’s fault for not somehow being aware his mom was sick and may have died prior to the meeting. Most HR staff support many departments, managers and employees and it’s almost impossible, unless the company is very small, for any individual HR person to know the personal details of every employee – and honestly, do you really want them to? There was also a lot of criticism for Iris joining the meeting 1-2 minutes late because it’s “ambushing” them. I know we’d all like to believe that all employees who are about to be terminated would act professionally and wouldn’t refuse to join a call with HR, but I’ve seen it happen multiple times because people want to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, or they think they can quickly send a resignation letter and avoid a termination, or just simply delay it somehow. Luckily the software my company uses tells me as soon as someone has joined the call so I can enter within seconds of them entering, so there isn’t much space for additional conversation to happen, but not all software does this – I know zoom doesn’t for example. I also ask the manager not to add me to the calendar invite, especially if the invite is a several hours or a day or two out, as this can cause significant anxiety for an employee as they wait for the meeting time to occur. To be clear, I don’t think Iris reacted appropriately – it’s not her place to tell the manager he isn’t fit to be a manager or check up on him, escalating to his manager was sufficient. But I think based on her behavior it’s fair to assume Iris is trying to do the right thing by employees and if she had been aware in advance she would’ve taken different action. I just can’t fathom how anyone could blame Iris for not stopping a manger, who WAS aware of the death, when she was not. HR cannot possibly police every action a manager takes and shouldn’t take responsibility for it either.

    1. Casper Lives*

      Nah, from the employee side it appears Iris ambushed the meeting, only cares about damage control (how often was Ezra told he could choose to move the termination timeline? I’m betting 0 times), berated and told Fergus he “lacked humanity,” and finally wanted to demote Ezra immediately without process.

      I’m sure my perspective is colored by working in a large corporation. Lower managers and employees are NOT allowed to change the “process.” If a manager wants to have HR listed on an email invite, I assume you tell them they don’t have the power to flex on that. Then if anything goes wrong, the untrained managers are blamed like here.

      Rinse and repeat. My HR rep told us we should be grateful there’s bonding leave (non birthing parental leave) when it was slashed from 8 weeks to 4 weeks and th company is being generous providing anything. She told us 3 weeks is enough sick time to accrue so no one needs short term disability (yes the company got rid of it).

      There’s nothing in here to indicate how the company or HR interacts with their employees ahead of the firing. I’m skeptical HR is in the right here.

      1. Meow*

        So, just to be clear, you’re assuming Iris and I are both jerks because 1. we work in HR and 2. your individual HR rep said something terrible one time. Sounds like a professional and balanced approach. Good luck in your career.

        1. Casper Lives*

          No, I’m telling you that the approach where HR comes in late to the meeting looks bad from the employee side. I didn’t use the word “jerk” but if that’s how you feel, I can’t stop you. Enjoy employees looking over their shoulder with every manager meeting.

          You didn’t address where I asked if the manager was empowered to add you as HR to the email invite. That’s a small bit of power, much less than changing a termination timeline? Would you allow it?

          My company’s HR reps (multiple, clearly ingrained in the culture) has said several bad things. That was one example. The HRs at other companies my friends and family worked for have also treated employees badly.

          See 900 employees fired over Zoom at Better.com. My mother’s company repeatedly letting go older employees and losing the age discrimination lawsuits repeatedly, but not caring because the money comes out if a different bucket. Me being fired from one company as I’m about to request FMLA for mental health reasons and have already discussed some of my symptoms with work. Etc etc etc.

          I’ve got a pragmatic approach fueled by years of real world work experience. I’m scrupulously professional with HR and document very.single.thing.

          1. Meow*

            I’m not going to engage with someone who is clearly biased and not interested in discussing in good faith. Thanks anyway.

            1. Casper Lives*

              I’m in good faith. We’re both biased. There would be little to discuss if we agreed.

              I agree it’s best to stop this conversation as it’s unproductive.

    2. Matt*

      I wouldn’t blame Iris initially, but her response was completely out of line. It is NEVER acceptable to berate an employee, nor to say something as accusing an employee of not having any “humanity.” It’s even worse when you consider that it sounds like Iris was aware that Ezra was a new manager. I don’t think the comments were in line with reality enough here. She should have been fired. IT’s unacceptable for an HR person to behave the way she did, and she should have known better. If I were in Ezra’s shoes I would have filed a serious complaint against her, and had she not been fired, would have quit or started looking for a new job.

      1. Meow*

        Totally agree with you that her reaction was inappropriate and OP should’ve absolutely raised that to Iris’s manager. However, I don’t agree whatsoever that she should’ve been fired unless she was particularly senior or it was a pattern of behavior. Assuming that’s not the case firing would’ve been an overreaction. Everyone in this situation should’ve assumed positive intent and been coached appropriately – why are we going to demotion or termination for anyone unless again, this is a pattern?

        1. Matt*

          Well seeing how Iris continued to be involved with Ezra leads me to think that this is a pattern. HR was already invovled with managing Ezra in the firing, the OP said HR gave Ezra a hard time for postponing it on account of Fergus’s ill mother, then to do a complete turnaround and berate him for not delaying the firing upon the announcement that Fergus’s mother had passed away, that is literal gaslighting. Then Iris continued to “micromanage” Ezra. This is clearly not someone of sound mind or someone who should be in any management or authority position. I think most people were caught up in what Ezra did, but I’m sorry, this seems to me to be largely a problem of Iris’s making, or the HR department in general.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            Could you please point to the original, February letter, where the OP said that HR “gave Ezra a hard time for postponing [the Thursday meeting]”?

            (hint: it’s not there.)

          2. Meow*

            You’re fabricating – there’s nothing in the letter that indicates Iris gave him a hard time about postponing or was even aware that the employee’s mother was seriously ill/dying.

  20. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    Am I the only one who thinks having HR join a termination meeting after it starts is cruel? Iris doesn’t want people to see HR waiting for them, but in my opinion not seeing HR, thinking you’re in the clear, and then having them walk in is 100 times worse.

    1. anonymous73*

      I agree. 2 companies ago we had several rounds of layoffs. Our department was located in a different building from HQ, so every time w saw the HR lady, we were like “oh shit, who’s next.” But I feel like you can at last (somewhat) mentally prepare yourself if you have a sense of what’s about to happen.

    2. Anan*

      The reasoning for this makes some amount of sense to me — it sounds like they let the manager deliver the message, and then HR comes in to provide the details. I do think this is what tied Ezra’s hands, though. If Ezra had started to try to back out and delay the firing, it still would have been obvious what was happening when HR showed up. Unless there was a way to block HR from the call or get someone else to tackle them before they enter the room, this person is going to know they’re getting fired today. Getting the message from your direct manager in that first couple of minutes would be better than getting it by implication in a moment of shock when HR shows up. There are plenty of circumstances I can see where this would not actually have been an error in judgement on Ezra’s part, except the part where he didn’t clue the HR person in as soon as she did join the meeting.

  21. Analyst Editor*

    This is orthogonal to the actual matter… but is it the place of HR to micro-manage another manager at all? They can take their concerns to that person’s manager; but IM-ing him to ask if he’s engaged? What? “Are you paying attention? There will be a special quiz for you at the end!”
    But then he was really tactless, so maybe it’s deserved in a moral sense.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      HR’s ultimate responsibility is to protect the company from unnecessary liability exposure AND also, bad employee and bad public relations.

      It appeared that Fergus’ termination was as a result of a well-documented PIP plan, and failure to get through it.

      But what if it were something else? Age discrimination? Untrue facts. Carrying out a firing under such circumstances could lead to other things, complications, that HR would like to avoid.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I don’t like that everyone is calling this micromanaging, which it’s probably more correct to say “coaching.” The mistake Ezra made here was not a small one. It makes complete sense that HR would be keeping a closer eye on him for a few months to make sure the coaching and training he was receiving was actually sinking in. That’s not malicious, it’s what HR is *supposed* to do.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        It was a “coaching” moment – and also remember, Ezra, as a manager, can’t get his face ripped off for making what turned out to be a palpably poor lack of judgement. But Ezra’s management has to back him up, at least on the surface.

        So Iris sends him up for counseling/training – not that much of a punishment but it demonstrates that Ezra should use better judgement and discretion in the future in handling such matters.

        And they DID apologize to Fergus. That, too, is enlightning.

        1. Analyst Editor*

          I think the coaching makes more sense if the mandatory training was directly related to this firing vs. if it was entirely unrelated. E.g. if it was a training on discipline and termination procedures (relevant) vs. on time-sheet approval procedures (not relevant).

      2. Analyst Editor*

        I still think coaching is a role of manager, not HR. HR is a shared corporate service, and not the company’s raison d’etre – and they exist in an advisory/independent observer capacity, not in the chain of command. Again, it’s a little outside the issue here, because I don’t know what role all the players were in AND yes, Ezra was egregious, and some in the comments are opining that the LW – his manager – did not do enough to coach or supervise him – but as a general matter, my bias is that it is not the part of HR to directly coach an employee of their own initiative.

        1. Smithy*

          Everywhere I’ve worked, line managers had very little involvement in actual coaching. It was either entirely managed by HR or by external management coaches hired for individuals who made cases to have them.

          I’m sure this varies from industry to industry and employer to employer – but it just isn’t wild for coaching/training to be under the purview of HR. And two places I’ve worked at, people HR deemed to be problematic or below par managers had regular coaching directly with HR.

      3. Not Quite.*

        It’s the OP that called it micro managing. I think they know better than you what’s happening. How can you decide that it’s not when you don’t know them?

  22. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    AAM often likes to compare work situations to dating situations. I don’t like to do that because the circumstances are different. As Al Davis said when he was general manager of the Oakland Raiders = “You don’t have to take the players home with you at night.” Same with co-workers and managers, but dating situations have you more involved with a relationship = 24 x 7, perhaps.

    OK, Ezra’s situation. But let’s compare it to dating and relationships. Just this once.

    Would you dump your significant other if, say, a parent, or sibling, or child of that other person were dying or seriously ill?

    Of course not. If you have any humanity, you’d wait until an appropriate grieving period completed. Managers are supposed to use JUDGEMENT in their decision process, and this was one of those times when Ezra DIDN’T do that.

    1. Myrin*

      I really don’t love your “if you have any humanity” verbiage here, which is also what didn’t endear Iris to me in the original letter even though she was completely right in all the core problems she identified.

      But really, I do think that your “circumstances [between work and dating] are different” applies here, too – I’m not sure if I would like to encourage people to stay in a relationship that’s run its course because a person close to your partner is dying or seriously ill. Depends on a lot of details for sure and I can see arguments going both ways but I really wouldn’t want to issue a blanket statement of “Of course not”.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        I was thinking of two concrete relationship examples –

        1) My daughter had a beau – unofficially engaged – that she had been dating for two years+. Then she learned = he had cancer. But she told me the relationship was on the rocks. Fine – but don’t end it until you know the circumstances and outcome, and she said she wouldn’t do that anyway. He did recover, and is now alive and well, but the relationship DID end – after surgery and recovery. It was not a shock to him.

        2) A couple we were friends with, were on the brink of divorce. Then, the wife’s mother died – unexpectedly – in a car crash. The husband confided in me, things were on the rocks, he was going to file for divorce BUT – given what’s happened, he’s going to wait a couple months. He did – the divorce was remarkably amicable.

        There was one situation in my dating life where I broke a relationship off, I was only 17, but unaware that her sibling was about to undergo surgery (and didn’t survive)… had I known about that, I would have been around to support her. I still feel badly about that today, 53 years later.

    2. lobsterp0t*

      I mean.

      Maybe? These things are not the same. A significant other hasn’t got the sort of one sided power an employer has.

      And, situation dependent, I don’t know if someone bereaved is always best served by a relationship continuing because they’re bereaved. That’s a large assumption to make and apply to all situations

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Yes, if there’s abuse in a relationship it should be ended. Certainly other considerations can be at play, too, but many normal relationships – don’t walk away when the other person’s distressed. As I said – I did that once, unknowingly. Although there were no “sparks” in the relationship I had (brief), had I known, I would have and should have been there to offer a hand to hold or a shoulder to lean on.

    3. Page 1*


      We all have our bad days, but most elementary school children would have known that going through with Ezra’s course of action regarding Fergus was ill advised. I would have no faith in his judgment, especially as a manager of people.

      If it was Ezra who was gunning for Fergus to be put on the PIP and be fired, I would have serious doubts as to if any of it was necessary, and I’d wonder if Fergus’ “performance issues” came from subpar management on Ezra’s part in the first place.

  23. Strictly Speaking*

    I could easily see myself going through with the termination in Ezra’s situation, especially if I did not have enough information about the company’s degree of flexibility and consideration of well-being.

    My upbringing trained me to default to the explicit rules except where clear ethical obligations overrode those, and to pretty much dismiss personal feelings (especially my own). Unless I were explicitly told I had discretion beforehand, I would probably think: mourning death = personal feelings = irrelevant to the business operations. And since the company did not have a specific legal or ethical obligation to delay firing by a certain amount of time for bereavement etc., I would think “Fergus’s feelings and my feelings do not matter here, I need to follow the procedure no matter how unpleasant or else I’m reneging on my duty.”

    My upbringing was in some ways abusive. But I don’t have a “normal” set of situational intuitions to substitute, so I focus on clarifying and improving the explicit rules instead.

    1. Camille Chaustre McNally*

      I’m pretty sure I would have just cancelled the meeting, but I can imagine some people that I know freezing and just reading the script they’d practiced. Dealing with that kind of thing takes improvisational skills that not everyone has.
      For you, you should maybe consider instituting a policy where if something happens that is outside of the norm, you try to take a step out and think over the circumstances or ask someone about whether to change course or not.

    2. Bug*

      I understand, and I am so very sorry that you went through that.

      But part of a manager’s job is to possess things like empathy and good judgment. If it’s something that you wouldn’t like have happen to you, or to someone you care about, you should know to push back.

      I can’t help but wonder if Fergus would not have been fired, or even on a PIP in the first place, if Ezra were an adequate manager in any sense. The vast majority of firings are not necessary, and many are completely unfair and unwarranted. Considering the extenuating circumstances that Fergus was dealing with, I can’t help but wonder if this is just another case of bad management setting a worker up to fail, whether they meant to or not.

      1. Strictly Speaking*

        “If it’s something that you wouldn’t like have happen to you, or to someone you care about, you should know to push back.”

        This is what I’m getting at: some people (maybe including Ezra) have been trained to dismiss their own sense of what they would “like” and “want” as irrelevant, and make decisions based on ideas of “should” and “must”. And they’ve been trained to accept treatment they dislike and carry on in silence. That makes it much harder for them to guess where other people will draw the line between “that sucks but what can you do” and “this is unacceptable and reflects badly on the company”.

        If I were Fergus, I would have put this in the category of “that sucks but what can you do”. It would not have occurred to me that Ezra/Iris/the company would delay my firing due to my own personal matters such as death in the family. After seeing the strong reactions in the comments here, I’ve learned that normal people would consider this bad enough to protest, but I would not have guessed so before.

        That’s not to say that Ezra should be a manager. Management usually does require appearing (if not being) neurotypical and fitting in with the cultural norms. I’m more defending Ezra’s humanity/empathy.

  24. Bookworm*

    It seems like it was the “best” outcome possible and everyone tried. This probably hammered home to Fergus that this wasn’t the best place for him with both the performance and how this was initially handled, even if it was completely unintentional.

    Thanks for the update, OP and sorry you had to deal with all of that.

  25. Anonymous Bosch*

    A long ago supervisor of mine, a woman who tended to be a pretty by the book” person, once got so annoyed with HR she actually said that we could do fine without HR but without us, HR wouldn’t have a job.

    So true. Perhaps people in HR should remember that whether the company manufactures widgets, provides tech support, or is in the financial services business, if their HR department suddenly vanished, they could always outsource payroll (many companies with an HR dept. already do that anyway), managers could take on the additional task of prescreening applicants, their attorneys could assist them in finding a resource for things like ADA and HIPAA compliance (ADA compliance being something HR is known to do badly in many cases), etc.

    1. Egmont Apostrophe*

      The bigger the place I’ve worked, the more HR thought they were little kings and we, the revenue producing members of the company, were there to serve them.

  26. Egmont Apostrophe*

    I wonder how much Ezra thought he had the authority to delay the firing on his own judgement; not much I suspect. It would have been a good time to talk to the hr person alone, but the secret is kind of out once the subject of the meeting sees them in the room.

  27. New Senior Mgr*

    Yeah, Ezra’s decision would have me questioning his judgment for a while. I would have removed him from people management for a period of time that included coaching, training for goodness sake some EI courses. I just can’t even with that. HR should definitely keep an eye on him. Ezra’s actions could have destroyed this company though social media leaks alone.

    1. Not Quite.*

      How? In those social media leaks, they just need to include that Fergus was a poor worker who was on his way out. Instead of maligning Ezra, your focus could be on making sure people know what power they have. I said above that at my company there’s absolutely nothing that would’ve stopped this from going ahead and it’s not uncommon.

  28. Not Quite.*

    I maintain that the person who needs training and lacks behaviour is Iris. She can’t be working in HR and saying the sort of things she says. I don’t trust any management from her to Ezra. Someone else should’ve been in charge of that. Ezra made a very unfortunate mistake, but Iris was actively, acutely nasty.

  29. Not Quite.*

    Also, this ended as most reasonable people would expect it to I think, including Fergus’ reaction.

  30. Prof Space Cadet*

    I’m seeing a lot arguing back and forth in this thread about whether Ezra or Iris have culpability over this situation and I think that’s probably the wrong takeaway. Iris may or may not be acting reasonably (it’s hard to say as an outsider), but I think the important thing is that (1) Ezra knows he screwed up and has a chance to better in the future, (2) Fergus got acknowledgement that his termination was handled poorly and the company acted in good faith to to try to make a bad situation right.

  31. Page 1*

    Yeah, I still bad for Fergus in this. I doubt Ezra was a decent manager to Fergus at any point, right down to the PIP and firing. I think Iris was right in wanting to remove Ezra from a people managing role, to be honest. We all have our bad days, but I would seriously question his judgement after this.

  32. Bug*

    Geez. Poor Fergus.

    I’d love to know what performance issues he was supposedly having, in the midst of dealing with an ill and dying parent, that meant he needed to be fired. But that Ezra, who sounds like a breathtakingly incompetent manager, is allowed to stay. Ezra should have been removed from his management role immediately after this mess.

    Was Fergus actually given adequate training and support here before being fired? Was he given time off? Or was he just shoved onto a PIP that was designed to end with him being fired?

    Because I can’t help but wonder if that’s part of the reason why Iris went into such heavy damage control.

  33. Betty*

    Reading the comments here everyone seems to be criticising Iris more than Ezra, though Iris really did have a legitimate cause to be upset, and Ezra really did do something very cruel, callous, and frankly inhumane.

    Even the manager in this story seems to care more about an IM message during a meeting than about Ezra firing someone hours after their mother passed away, and I just do not understand how this can be the case. Is it a matter of gender? Why does Ezra get a free pass while Iris is held to a higher standard? Does the manager have some sort of relationship with Ezra not mentioned here? How can commentators believe Iris is the bad person here, when she is the only one who actually had any sense of right or wrong? Even the manager seems to care more about Ezra’s feelings and career than Fergus and this whole thing reads as an attempt to shift blame on to the one person who actually cared about doing the right thing.

  34. Still breathing*

    Every situation is different but I have an acquaintance whose elderly mother passed in a different state in September and they were able to take 2 weeks off to take care of the arrangements and try to get dad situated, but unfortunately dad passed in November. They took two more weeks to handle arrangements, empty the house, and hire a realtor to sell it. While gone their entire department was eliminated but when they returned on 11/24 they were told they would be laid off in January. That same day their landlord called to say they had sold the condo they were renting and they had to either buy it or move out on December 24. So they went drinking with a friend and learned they were moving to SC for a professional opportunity who got them an interview at the same prestigious employer and they got the job! The new condo owner honored their lease to 2/28 so on 2/21 they packed up and moved to their newly purchased SC home to take their new job at salary x2.
    TLDR: in 6 months they buried both parents, got fired, and got evicted, before moving a few hundred miles to a new highly paid career and an opportunity to indulge in their water-related hobby daily as a first time homeowner. All at the age of 43.

Comments are closed.