my company says it’s “best practice” to do layoffs over email

A reader writes:

I work in a tech sector, and this week my fully-remote company announced that they were laying off an entire department. I’m a manager, so I knew about this 24 hours before it happened, but what they did was send out a mass email to the department that was being laid off, letting them know that their computers would be shut down in 30 minutes.

A lot of people asked why they chose to lay off over a dozen employees — many of whom had worked here five or more years — without so much as a Zoom call. While upper management hemmed and hawed and tried to deflect, their reasoning boiled down to:

1. Not wanting to make our HR person “sit through twelve awkward firing meetings”
2. Email layoffs being “best practices” in many cases
3. Wanting to avoid “potential conflict with upset employees” (but the laid-off employees made their thoughts well-known in the all-employee Slack channel, so this one didn’t even work?)

I’ve known for a while that this company is deeply dysfunctional, but this round of layoffs struck me as especially callous and toxic. I know there’s no good way to lay off an employee, but certainly this is one of the worst?

They told you laying people off by email was a “best practice”?


If your company bothered looking into best practices around layoffs, they’d find that “do it with a real conversation, not an email” is the recommended best practice.

Laying people off over email is cowardly, and it’s also bad management. When you’re ending someone’s livelihood — something that can be devastating to an employee — you owe them a real conversation. If the size of the group makes that impractical (12 people is nowhere near that number), you at least owe them a group meeting where you explain what’s happening and why, rather than an impersonal mass email.

Doing it by email is also really impractical! Lots of people go more than 30 minutes without checking their email. Many people go hours. What if someone doesn’t see the email and then is mystified about why their computer is suddenly shutting down? They’re going to be contacting IT and then … what, IT gets to deliver the news to them? Given how tightly controlled the messaging is with most layoffs (for legal and PR reasons), letting a blindsided IT person stumble through that message is a terrible idea — not to mention cruel to both of them. (I once worked for someone who fired an employee via voicemail — which the person didn’t hear, and so they showed up for work the next day and the confused receptionist ended up blurting it out. It was horrible for everyone.)

There can be some exceptions to this. With really large layoffs, some companies will do a pre-announcement (layoffs are coming tomorrow, we’ll notify the affected people at 9 am) and then message those people at the pre-determined time when they know to be checking. Even that, frankly, is pretty horrible — it makes people feel like faceless cogs who didn’t get the dignity of a face-to-face conversation after working for the company for, in many cases, years. But with really enormous layoffs, it’s become more common.

But this was 12 people. Twelve. Your HR person couldn’t manage to sit through 12 meetings? And they actually were willing to say that as a reason?

And the whole “wanting to avoid potential conflict with upset employees”? If you’re laying people off, some people are going to be upset; that’s how this goes. Hiding from that reality is crappy — and likely to make people more upset than if they were shown some basic respect and courtesy. Of course managers don’t need to take abuse from upset people, but most people being laid off don’t get abusive. They might show some emotion and they might want to know why — and handling that respectfully is part of the responsibility of employing people. Trying to hide from that obligation behind an email is, again, cowardly.

Everything about the way your company did this is them basically announcing, “We’re prioritizing our own mild discomfort ahead of the people who are losing their source of income.”

Even if we take basic human empathy out of this (which we shouldn’t) and look at it from a strictly business perspective, smart companies know that they have multiple audiences when they’re doing layoffs: (1) the people being laid off (who should be treated with as much dignity and respect as possible — not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because treating people disrespectfully significantly increases the odds that they’ll start looking into whether they have any legal recourse against you for anything that happened during their employment), (2) remaining employees, who will pay a lot of attention to how their laid-off coworkers are treated, assume they could be treated similarly in the future, and calculate their loyalty and good will to the company accordingly, and (3) everyone else, including people they might want to hire in the future. Your company failed on all of these counts.

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{ 307 comments… read them below }

  1. Spreadsheet Hero*

    Freaking yikes. Wasn’t there an entire George Clooney movie about how the correct way to lay someone off is in person?

    1. Bossypants*

      Up in the Air. The focus was on the personal touch, not on the impersonal zoom call layoffs.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        That movie gave me the chill, especially the employee who looked them right in the eye and said she was going home to jump off the roof of the house she had just bought and thanks to them could no longer afford.

        1. Spreadsheet Hero*

          For me it was, “No, I’ve got a nice spot under a bridge all picked out.” That line has stayed with me since 2009.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I don’t know of a Clooney movie, but Cheers had an episode about this. Norm turned out to be really good at making the former employee feel better about it.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        That’s right! And so the company made him their hatchet man and none of his coworkers would talk to him or go near him because they assumed every friendly “hi” was the opener to being laid off.

        1. Kit*

          For a darker angle, there’s always Greg on Succession: “HR says I’m the right guy for the job, because it looks like I care, but I don’t.”

    3. Smithy*

      As someone who works in a “soft skills” sector – I find that while there very often is a best practice that can even be backed up by data and research (and not just the years of experience by industry professionals) – that some in leadership find that easier to dismiss compared to the data/research of hard skill sectors. Particularly when those are the opinions of your own leadership or leadership “celebrities”.

      While the easy example is someone like Elon Musk talking about work streams like customer service, I’ve had so many examples at work of someone asking “what would be the harm if we did it this way?” And yes, my job is not one where “harm” translates to a loss life or significant harm to people or animals. But even if I lay out “well if we do that, we risk this external partner not wanting to work with us anymore and losing us money in the process”. I’ve gone through outlining the risks, presenting more moderate risk options in case my preferred approach was deemed too low risk/conservative. All to watch senior leadership take the high-risk approach, watch it have the predictable bad outcome, and then talk about soft-skills jobs as being unpredictable, unknowable, etc.

      1. Venus*

        Or the worst-case “Soft-skilled Person said this would happen, so they must have influenced things and made it go wrong”.

    4. debbietrash*

      Glad I’m not the only one who immediately thought “this was a literal movie plot from the 2008 recession”.

    5. gmg22*

      Also recommend the novel that “Up in the Air” was based on. The protagonist played by Clooney in the film is employed solely to fly around the country every week doing “transition counseling” (ie laying people off and giving them info about how to find their next job) — essentially he’s brought in as a consultant for companies that can’t or won’t do this work in-house, kind of like a more slick version of the Bobs from “Office Space.” It’s an entertaining but also thought-provoking satire of corporate “road warrior” culture.

      1. saskia*

        Working at a jargon-y, corporate-y start-up… I think about Up In The Air verrrrrrrryyy often. I love that book.

    6. Heffalump*

      A friend of mine had seen something like that at her law firm. What struck her was that some third-party company was called in to do the layoffs, and they decided who stayed and who went. You’d think that call would be made by managers who actually knew the employees

      1. Ama*

        Ah, but that would require management that is prepared to own their decisions, whereas with a third party if it turns out they fire all the wrong people they can hide behind “it was a third party, they did it wrong!” (They always try to claim it’s so “personal relationships” between managers and their employees don’t cause bias but IMHO unless the third party is going to shadow everyone in the company for six months and see what they really do their lack of knowledge about how the company works is going to outweigh any bias the managers may have.)

        There are absolutely several senior manager types in corporations around the world trying to figure out if they can use AI to pick who is getting laid off right this second.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          One of my teammates wasn’t doing well at a few metrics, so the company let her go against the strong recommendation of her direct manager. Immediately, the metrics for the rest of the team tanked.

          What any of us on the team could have told upper management is that she was doing the majority of the mentoring, training and working with other teams. From there on out, our team never worked as smoothly. I imagine having a consultant do layoffs would accomplish the same thing.

        2. Deejay*

          Being fired by an AI gives a double meaning to the phrase “You are Terminated”.

          They can’t be bargained with. They can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are gone.

          But enough about corporate bosses. What will the AIs be like?

          1. SarahKay*

            LOL. Interestingly XKCD thinks the same as you – check out # 1968 Robot Future.

        3. Mongrel*

          Personally I have little doubt that the consultants are handed a list and told to work backwards.

      2. AnotherOne*

        I have a friend who was recently laid off. And all that it made clear was how little senior management understood about what some employees did and how- on a practical level- decisions they make play out.

  2. Veryanon*

    Yikes and double yikes. Any HR person worth their salt would absolutely know that the best way to terminate someone’s employment is in person. This isn’t always feasible for many reasons, so at the very least it should be done with some kind of personal contact (a phone call, a video call, whatever). Sending out emails is just cowardly.

    1. Audiophile*

      In-person is practical if you’re job or company is operating in person. That said, please don’t drag a remote employee in to lay them off or terminate them in person.

      As someone laid off during the middle of the workday after I’d done the “important” parts of my job (read: things no one else wanted to do), I’ve never forgotten. If you know you plan to lay someone off, do it towards the end of the workday/workweek.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Ugh this reminds me of my first job how my manager asked me to share ownership of some spreadsheets I had made to simplify part of my job and then laid me off immediately after they had access.

        I should have sensed something was up when they had never cared about those documents before and then all of a sudden had to have them.

        It was also the middle of the day. It was fun packing my desk in front of everyone else, trying not to fall apart.

        1. Audiophile*

          I had a boss in my first professional job do this exact same thing. Had me do the important stuff, asked for information she’d never asked for before, and then called me into a meeting. If I recall correctly, it was a Thursday, so that’s something, but it was first thing in the morning – 10:30ish.

          Oh man, this also reminds me of when I was laid off a few years back. I was managing a huge project because my department head had left and assigned me the task of seeing this through. I was on a call with outside project consultants, the in-house IT manager, and the interim department head. The consultants asked who should own a key task and the department head said it should be me, but IT disagreed. I knew at that point something was up since the IT manager said, “If she’s not here, it should be accessible to other people.”

          Well, a few minutes after the call wrapped, I was laid off. It felt pretty crappy knowing IT knew (even if there were valid reasons for that) and didn’t have the tact to not hint at it during that call. Again, that was a layoff on a Monday and in the middle of the afternoon. So, yeah don’t do it on a Monday or in the morning/middle of the day.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Afternoon before rush hour definitely. And Thursday is better than Friday — then they have time to file for unemployment or do any similarly associated errands/make phone calls while offices are actually open. Then they have the weekend to take care of personal stuff.

      3. Aitch Arr*

        IME the conversations are best done on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning.
        The employee then has the rest of the workweek to file for UI, call medical providers, etc.

        1. Audiophile*

          In most states, laying someone off in the middle of the week is not going to help them when it comes to filing UI. They would not qualify because they’ll have worked about half the hours for the week, and then they’d still be required to wait a week before filing.

          The only time it was beneficial to me was when I was laid off on a Monday or Friday since those are the beginning and end of the workweek where DOL is concerned, thus making it easier to file.

      4. Veryanon*

        No, I’ve never done that. It’s just not fair to the employee you’re terminating. I always ask the manager if the employee has a way to get home (this comes up more often than you would think) and if not, we make arrangements for an Uber. I also am not a fan of forcing the person to pack up all their stuff in front of everyone, so I have a manager go to their desk to get whatever they need immediately (purse, keys, medications, etc.) and then we pack up and ship whatever else is there. After hours, so the entire group isn’t staring at us while we pack up their desk. Being fired sucks, so I’ve tried my best over the years to make the process as respectful as possible.

        1. SarahKay*

          It might be kinder to give them the option. I would hate having someone else pack up my stuff, to the extent that it’d probably be infuriating me long after I’d got over the layoff.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            We’ve found the same thing – some people want to exit as quickly as possible without seeing anyone and would appreciate someone else retrieving or boxing up their their stuff; others don’t want people handling their personal items or would like to say goodbye to some of their coworkers. Giving the choice offers as much control and dignity as possible in a crappy situation.

            I’ve only seen this go badly once where someone made an enormous scene and was yelling and cursing at people on the way out. And I know that we didn’t offer the option to one guy who was terminated for such egregious conduct that they elected for a phone call termination outside of business hours and a non-negotiable offer to courier over everything in his desk (which turned out to include an enormous pocketknife that violated staff handbook restrictions and pornography).

    2. Miette*

      Willing to bet the HR person here is not worth any salt, and concocted this “best” practice as a way to weasel out of doing their job.

    3. Hush42*

      I have only ever had to let one person go and it was during 2020. It wasn’t performance related we just decided that we didn’t need the *very* part time employee since the workload dropped during that period. Since it was the height of COVID I called her to let her know.
      The manager with whom I shared an office had a similar employee on his team and also needed to lay him off the same day. His part time employee and my part time employee happened to be siblings. To lay him off he texted him to let him know. I pointed out that that was pretty unprofessional and you should never lay someone off over text. His response was “well I don’t have his personal e-mail so I can’t send him an e-mail.” It didn’t even occur to him that if he could text him he could (and should) *call* him. He never did agree that what he did was wrong. To add insult to injury (not the we could have known) the poor guy who got laid off over text also got dumped via text that same week.

    4. stratospherica*

      Seriously. Assuming it’s the HR person who decided to make the announcement that way, it’s ridiculous that they would prioritise their comfort over showing the people being laid off some basic respect.

      I’d argue that the discomfort associated with laying people off is the point too – it’s supposed to be an uncomfortable conversation because it’s a terrible situation that should never be approached callously.

  3. No Tribble At All*

    Thirty minutes??? Only thirty minutes warning?????? Are these people cartoon villains????

    1. Phony Genius*

      Actually, I was surprised it was that long. You can do a lot of damage to a company with 30 minutes of computer access.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        It gave everyone time to blast the company on Slack. And good on them for doing it.
        This is BS.
        I’ve been through this a huge university, at a small company and somewhere in between.
        I’ve never been treated like a threat or a bother.
        I’ve been treated like a person being laid off. It’s part of doing business.
        No, I wasn’t cool with it, or happy about it.
        I was stressed to death.
        I was shaky sometimes; near tears.
        But I was treated with respect.

        1. Jay (no, the other one)*

          My kid was laid off in March by a small start-up that was really badly run from finance to HR to pretty much everything else. And THEY managed to give her weeks of notice and severance and not only the assurance of an excellent reference but also direct leads to new jobs. Even people who don’t know how to run a company or follow payroll laws managed to figure this out. FFS.

        2. 2 Cents*

          My last company, I gave notice, which they decided to shorten (and pay me for — yay, mini vacation!), but they gave me 5 minutes warning before they locked me out of my computer. I’d been there 6 years, but also, I gave notice. I’d moved everything off of there months/weeks before LOL

      2. Antilles*

        True, though that actually argues for *not* doing the layoffs via email.
        If you have people in a meeting when the layoffs get announced, you can effectively give zero minutes of computer access by cutting off their access while they’re in the conference room (in-person) or on the Zoom call (remote) rather than leaving the 30 minutes between email receipt and cutting access.

      3. Fikly*

        I got fired via Google Meet, and they cut off my work email in the middle of the call, which promptly kicked me out of the meet. They then called my cell phone and accused me of leaving the call mid-sentence because I was angry at them.

        What happened from that point I’m not allowed to talk about.

      4. Love to WFH*

        99.99% of people won’t do any sabotage. I’ve only heard of one case of it, over a long career, but a company does need to plan for the worst case.

        Software engineers working on code _probably_ can’t do much damage, since source control systems keep version history. People in Operations / DevOps sorts of roles can do serious sabotage — they also know that they’d never get another job if they did it. Access to things like a corporate Twitter account or posting content on the website are also dangerous.

        I wouldn’t expect any “advance notice” of being laid off. How do you _use_ that? You need the actual information about severance, when medical insurance expires, etc.

        Remote layoffs are a different challenge than in-person ones. I witnessed on recently. One of the first people to be laid off left a message in the largest Slack channel saying good-bye.
        Those of us who thought to check could tell who else was being laid off by the looking at meeting schedules — a short meeting with a top executive meant that someone was being laid off. The entire process of layoff conversations took a few hours.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          The only sabotage I’ve known about was a guy working at a local city, long before everything was on computers. He was given 2 weeks notice, and spent that 2 weeks quietly destroying documents, plat drawings. Years later, when I worked there, missing documents still caused problems. But everything that could be computerized was, with backups, so when I was laid off with no official notice ahead of time, I couldn’t’ve caused damage even if I wanted to. Which I didn’t.

          (I did have notice, because someone put the layoff list on an unprotected shared drive, and someone else was snooping and then told me. I used the unofficial warning to wrap up my projects, document my work, and leave things in good shape.)

        2. Veryanon*

          This is true, but in the .01% of cases where it happens, it can be catastrophic.

        3. Hush42*

          This wasn’t exactly sabotage but it *was* very petty. I used to collect meter readings (page counts) from my companies clients because our service contracts on Printers and MFPs (Copiers) are priced on a per page basis. We once had a client call in and swear up and down that there was no way they could have made as many pages as we billed them for (and their history would agree) but all the data indicated that they had. They called back the next day to let us know that they had an employee who they had laid off come back into the office the night after the lay off and just run hundreds of random prints off their MFP. They weren’t stealing data, they just knew that the company got billed per page and ran their bill up as revenge for the layoff.

        4. Deejay*

          A former employer of mine laid someone off and left him alone with his computer for a few minutes. They ended up having to reinstall Windows on that machine, but no more damage than that was done.
          When my time came to be laid off from a programming role there a few months later, they had learned their lesson enough to do the “walk you to the door” thing.
          But they’d forgotten that I was usually the first person into the office in the morning. So therefore I had office keys and knew the alarm code. If I’d felt malicious I could have just come back in that night. I did get some small amusement from seeing their “oops” expression as I said
          “Oh, one last thing. You might want these” and handed the keys over.

    2. Dovasary Balitang*

      If the work the department was dealing with was proprietary, the 30 minutes between layoff and system lock out makes some sense. That fact doesn’t really get to the crux of the issue, which is that this company handled the layoffs very insensitively and seemed bizarrely afraid of their own employees.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        No, it really doesn’t. All this means is that company knew they were going to do something shitty, they did something shitty, and they wanted to give the affected employees as little time as possible to be shitty in return.

        I guess the company really doesn’t care what state any this work is in when they let go of people. That says a lot. And as stated above, you can still do a lot of damage in 30 minutes.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I don’t know whether this is a new thing or not, but when I was laid off in January I was given a nebulous cut-off time. All I knew was that it was coming soon and I had no control over it. I ended up with about 90 minutes, but that was a bit of a fluke– basically, I had the call, then HR sent me a separation letter and notified IT. It was up to IT when to cut me off. I spent a frantic 30 minutes getting in touch with colleagues, no time to alert clients. Then it was just… over. I was one of the lucky ones, getting as much time as I did.

      Both of these methods are completely, totally crappy.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        That works when people are in-person. With Teams/Zoom, what happened to Fikly above would happen if the IT access is cut during the meeting.

        The SOP at my company is that we give IT a heads up about when a conversation is happening and then immediately after the conversation takes please, we IM them and they run the term script. It’s only about 5 minutes, though truth be told, employees still take that 5 minutes to blast :(

    4. Nina*

      This is insane to me, but I’m in a country where if the company wants you gone, they have to either keep you on or keep paying you for the notice period in your contract (usually, but not always, company and employee have to give each other the same amount of notice of terminating the contract).

  4. Daniel*

    How big is this company, is it in the US, and do you know if the laid-off employees got severance? Could the WARN Act be in play here?

  5. Phony Genius*

    How long do you think it will be before we see a letter here titled “I was laid off by AI”?

    1. ecnaseener*

      Like, a chatbot AI writes the layoff notice, or an AI actually makes the decision of who to lay off?

      1. metadata minion*

        I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some companies are *already* using algorithms to determine who to lay off.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Yeah, where do you draw the line between “people making decisions with the help of algorithms” and “AI making decisions”? How much thought does a human need to put into the model itself and into whether to accept its recommendations?
          It’s really an emotional difference rather than a practical one, when you’re talking about layoffs rather than firing for cause.

          1. Curious*

            I’m sorry, Dave …. this mission is too important for me to allow you to jeapordise it …

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I think a lot of companies already use metrics to decide who to fire (though maybe not a completely automated algorithm). A place I worked at fired one of my teammates based on poor productivity, and only after realized how many important tasks she had been handling when she left and the entire team’s productivity tanked.

          1. ID-10-T user error*

            My husband was laid off back in 2008 from one of the major insurance companies. Their metrics were by job title. Unfortunately (for them) he worked in a department with three people all the same level, so they laid off an entire division unexpectedly. The frantic calls were comical (and insulting) as they tried desperately to salvage this error in the only IT department running their biggest money making project, one guy was eventually wooed back (my husband stood firm he was done – he was laid off via pager while we were on vacation)

        3. Pescadero*

          It would be pretty weird if they weren’t using algorithms, as the alternative is basically just randomly choosing people to lay off.

          I mean… a recipe for pancakes is an algorithm.

      2. Antilles*

        I expect both.
        Given that OP’s company is too cowardly to even pick up the phone for a 15-minute meeting, I’ll bet they’d be all over having ChatGPT write the layoff notice and handle the ‘discussions’.
        As for the AI making the decisions on layoffs, there’s enough places that decide based on various (shaky) metrics that it seems pretty likely to be the next step.

      3. Phony Genius*

        My question was meant for any of the above. I’ll even throw in a scenario where AI decides whether there should be layoffs in the first place.

  6. ZSD*

    I may have told this story before, but a distant relative of mine found out he no longer worked for the company he loved when he got to work and found that the locks to his lab had been changed.

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      If we’re talking bad firing stories, I have one from my mom.

      She was offered to take over her co-worker’s position (the office was merging several positions, and his was one that would be rolled into others), but she politely declined, knowing that it would be more work without a substantial raise. The next day, two unrelated men came up to her desk while she was working, told her she was fired, and to collect her things. They supervised her while she packed up her desk in front of everyone (open office), demanded her keys, and escorted her out so she could not sabotage anything.

      Did I mention, this was a part-time graphic design position at a church that she had attended for almost 30 years?

      The pastor wound up apologizing from the pulpit, but it was a bit too late.

      1. Venus*

        I can understand the immediate escort if someone has the ability to modify or delete important financial or program information, but it is unreasonable for most situations.

        1. 2 Cents*

          PT graphic designer at a church where she was a parishioner for 30 years? This was overkill, then reversing and driving over again a dozen times to make sure it was really and truly dead. The pastor should’ve been ashamed.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Depending on how the church was organized, it may not have been the pastor’s decision, and they might not even have known about it until after the fact. Or the church might have been the pastor’s personal fiefdom, monitoring the smallest detail. These things vary wildly.

            1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

              He knew. It was his decision to consolidate the office – it had grown from volunteers to “we should pay these folks” to “we should pay professionals and remove the volunteers so we can be more corporate and organized.”

              The corporate spin was particularly gross because my parents both volunteered in addition to the paid work mom did. They decided to find another church, as did the rest of the equally-treated office staff.

          2. Observer*

            The pastor should have been ashamed.

            But the ability to do damage is there – all she needed to do was wipe every graphics file off her computer and that would cause some pretty significant issues.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        If we are talking about best practices, it is not great for a church to employ members. I’m not really one to talk, as my church’s secretary is a longtime member, but this at least was a concern discussed at the time. As it turns out, she is terrific, but this is hard to predict ahead of time, and the potential for badness is vast.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, I had an interview once at a church (not mine) and he hiring manager said they actually preferred NOT to hire members, as leaving could cause complications even if it was voluntary. Didn’t get the job but I thought that was probably a good idea.

          Then there’s the evangelical college in OldCity that did prefer to hire members even though they advertised jobs to the general public. They got around it by specifying that if you worked there, you had to abide by their rules even in your off-work hours. That’s no longer on their website AFAIK but they may be only hiring members now, which may not be illegal for a religious institution.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Yeah, in the US we have laws that guarantee equal opportunity and protection, then throw them all out the window for religious institutions.

            I think that if a religious org is going to violate the constitution, they should have to publicly explain how their decisions are based on the deeply-held beliefs of the religion. I’d have loved to hear the scriptural basis for firing a woman just because she had cancer.

        2. Eater of Hotdish*

          I wish that were doable here, but in a town as small as the one where I serve, virtually everybody is (a) either a member of one of the congregations or (b) related to someone who is! We had a non-member admin quit right after I started because her mother-in-law is one of the commanders-in-chief of our church kitchen ladies.

          I love what I do, but some days, being a Desert Mother sounds really appealing.

      3. noncommittal pseudonym*

        When I was laid off from a small non-profit, several others were laid off as well, one of whom had worked there for over 20 years. I was laid off in the morning. She actually ran a large, complex event that had been advertised for months and only found out she was laid off after finishing the event, coming back into her office, and trying to get into her email. Only then did HR contact her and tell her she was laid off. As an aside, for a non-profit of 50 employees

        1. noncommittal pseudonym*

          hit enter too soon.

          Out of 50 employees, close to 50-50 male-female, they laid off 6 women and the only openly gay man working there. Oddly enough, all of the women they laid off were also unmarried. I still regret not filing a lawsuit – I was discouraged from doing so at the time.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            That sucks and I’m sorry you had to deal with that (probably illegal) nonsense.

        2. learnedthehardway*

          At least she got to claim the successful running of the event on her resume?? Still – yeesh. Horrible treatment of an employee.

    2. Nea*

      Wasn’t it Google where some people discovered they’d been laid off when they came to work in the morning and their access badges didn’t work anymore?

      1. Elsewise*

        Twitter, I think, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Google did something similar. Tech industry can be brutal.

        1. Grilledcheeser*

          Happened many a time here in Seattle during the dot com era. Arrive at work in the morning, doors are chained shut. Guess what!

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Not to be confused with Facebook, where no one’s badge worked one day because Instagram was down. If that seems like utter nonsense, congratulations, you have more sense than whoever put that security system together.

      2. Amaryllis*

        I had a friend who went out for lunch and it took a little longer than normal because the restaurant was busy. When he got back to the office the owner was waiting for him and told him to clean out his desk and leave. Friend thought he had been fired for being late from lunch, when actually the owner just realized he couldn’t keep the business afloat any longer and cut the day short. Everyone had been told during lunch or when they got back to the office!

      3. Was laid off by Google*

        Google sent us an email in the middle of the night to our personal email address. Our system access was cut off then also.
        Some people who hadn’t read their personal emails went to the office and found out when their badge didn’t work.

    3. Shiba Dad*

      A similar thing happened a few years ago at a local restaurant that was part of a small chain. The day after Mothers’ Day employees showed up for work and were locked out. They eventually found out that their restaurant was closed. Really crappy way to do business.

      1. Nesta*

        This happened in my area as well. The restaurant was a popular wedding venue with a wedding booked for the coming weekend, and when employees arrived one morning the place was closed and the locks were changed. There had been no notice to the employees or the up-coming booked events that the business was being closed!

        1. Panhandlerann*

          A bridal wear store in my area suddenly shut down several years ago. Folks who’d bought gowns there that were being altered had no way to get the gowns out of the store. I think finally some arrangement was made that they could get in, find their gowns, and take possession of them.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            I think I remember this! Or it’s happened in more than one spot. Took MONTHS to get things sorted for most people.

      2. Ally McBeal*

        I once worked for a company that owned & operated a handful of bars around my city, which also has a sizeable celebrity population. One day I was getting work done in the office of one of the bars before an all-staff meeting when I heard the servers & bartenders buzzing about how a C-list celebrity was on the patio with the owner, so maybe they were working out final details for a brand deal (the celebrity had developed some niche energy drink or something along those lines) that they were going to announce at the staff meeting.

        Then the celebrity left and the staff was told that the upcoming weekend would be their last because the bar was closing down. The owner was a terrible person to begin with and apparently had no sense of optics.

      3. On Fire*

        In my town it was a pharmacy. No notice. Employees arrived at work one morning to discover the sign on the door. Luckily other pharmacies in town pitched in to get patient prescriptions filled in next-to-no-time.

    4. Cat Tree*

      There’s a legend about my current large company from the Great Recession (before I started working there). Apparently there was a huge miscommunication or maybe one person just made a bad mistake. A large group of people figured out they were being laid off because their badge access had been cut off too early and they couldn’t get in the building. Eventually HR realized it and brought them in to explain benefits, severance, etc. But that was really messed up for the people going through it.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Many years ago I managed a chain convenience store/gas station. Corporate shut it down. The standard procedure was not to tell anyone on site about it ahead of time. A whole team of specialists would swoop in one morning. I was completely unsurprised, partly because I could read a P & L statement, but in the short term because the credit card reader went offline a couple of days previous, with no urgency about getting it back up. My district manager was there the day of. He was disturbed when I told him I knew this was coming, because the assumption was that the outgoing store manager would rob the company blind if he knew what was coming. He was astonished when the inventory came up clean. He offered me an assistant manager position in a different store, with the expectation of managing one in the future. I was more than ready to move on at that point. I had trusted his predecessor, who had hired me in the first place. This guy? Not so much. And corporate? Even less.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          That sounds seems fair, since it’s very obvious that guy and corporate didn’t have any faith in your integrity!

    5. saskia*

      A local coffee shop/sandwich place/bakery near me just closed after 25 YEARS. Late at night, the owner texted the employees to say the shop was closing, then abruptly shuttered the store that morning. Nobody knew it was coming, huge shock.

      I also know someone who worked in a different bakery. She ran back of house, which means coming in at 2-3am every night. She realized she was fired because they changed the locks on the bakery! Then all other keyholders had to wait until the GM showed up and gave out new keys.

      It seems common that businesses are really bad at firing people and/or delivering bad news. None of these stories are outliers… technology just gives us new ways to be crappy to each other and avoid “being uncomfortable.”

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        This is kind of like a local pizza restaurant in my Midwest city, except by the time the employees knew the business was closed down, the owner had absconded to Florida. Je made one post basically blaming the staff because no one wanted to work Christmas Eve, then when people called him out he deleted all the social media accounts, everything. It was like it never existed.

      2. Miss Muffet*

        We had a similar thing happen at a restaurant nearby. Apparently it’s common practice for restaurants to close without notifications because employees will steal stuff!

    6. Here's my story....*

      Years ago I had an inconsequential part-time job to my personal career trajectory that required me manually sign-in on a piece of paper. It was manual labor, no supervisory duties – think moving boxes or stuffing envelopes for example. For this job, moving up the ranks was not an option I was interested in.

      A large shipment was coming in boxes/envelopes was due to come in 3 days. I came into work and proceeded to sign in my name along with my other workmates. After signing in the supervisor told us we were no longer needed but please come back one last time to work on the large shipment coming in 3 days hence. I left as did my workmates. I never looked back and nothing has happened to me as a result of it that I know of. I did get my final paycheck.

      Everything is coloured by our personal experiences, but sometimes I think the concern about former supervisors is overwrought.

      1. Jess B*

        Wow, I would have burst out laughing at the manager’s request that we return to help with the big delivery! What an outrageous request to make to staff, literally as you are firing them!

    7. AnonyDay*

      I worked for a law firm several years ago that laid off a number of the support staff (it was know that morning that lay offs were happening). One of the secretaries could not log on to her computer and called IT who told her she was cut off because she was on the list of people laid off that morning. The partner she worked for was in a meeting and there had been no other communication so she ended up sitting at her desk waiting, not sure what to do.
      When the partner’s meeting finished, she went to speak to him to find out what to do (was there paperwork, etc). It turned out she was not on the list and never had been. IT had f*ed up. I can only imagine how stressed she was during that hour. It does not make up for what happened, but the partner was livid. I believe he sent the woman home for the rest of the day to recover (to be clear, paid and not as vacation time) and completely flipped out at HR and IT.

    8. Charter school layoff*

      I used to work at a library that had a partnership with a local charter school. The school didn’t have a library, so we set up an arrangement where one of the teachers would collect a list of resources their staff needed for teaching and they would borrow those books from us and bring them back when the study unit was over.

      One Monday morning, our teacher liaison came in, completely panicking. She had shown up to work that morning and everything was locked and barricaded, and there was a sign stating that the school was now closed. They hadn’t notified any of the staff or the students’ families in advance. The teacher tried to get in contact with the administration to get the library’s books back, but her calls were getting directed to a voicemail box that was full, so she couldn’t even leave a message. My boss had to call the library director to get permission to not charge replacement fees for several hundred dollars worth of books, because we didn’t want this poor teacher to be on the hook for it when she’d just unexpectedly lost her job.

    9. nm*

      My partners workplace recently had HR conduct layoffs right at the start of the workday and shut off their computer credentials immediately. Without notifying the managers of the people being laid off.

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        WHAT??? Without notifying the managers? How did they ever make up the list then??
        Holy cow!!

    10. periwinkle*

      I once worked for a tiny biotech startup that was purchased by a multinational pharm corp but still run mostly independently. Or so they said. There were warning signs during our weekly meetings, and then one Monday the CEO talked about the state of the company in such terms that I cleared out my files and desk immediately afterwards. The scientists weren’t nearly so cynical but it turns out I read the situation correctly. Friday morning: “Why aren’t our access cards working? Oh, there’s a sign on the door…” But even in this case, we were directed to a nearby hotel’s conference room where the execs and HR person were there to answer questions and provide benefits info.

      Meanwhile, I now work at another MegaHugeCo where big layoffs recently hit once again. People got a one-month heads-up that their positions were slated for layoffs, then the official notice, and then two more months to wrap up and/or seek a new internal position. My company is a dumpster fire in other ways, but they at least do layoffs with respect.

    11. Sister Michael*

      I’m not sure this counts as “fired” given the timing, but…
      Several years ago, my cousin A got a job working in a store that sold wedding dresses (you can probably figure out which one.) Before she was set to start, we all got together at the annual family reunion and heard about this job she was excited to start. We were at the age where all of us got married within the span of a couple years, so a lot of the talk that day was about our upcoming weddings. As the talk turned to buying a dress, cousin B’s fiance mentioned that a particular chain had gone out of business very abruptly and was in the news for refusing to complete orders or even release partially-completed orders so that brides could have their dresses tailored elsewhere.

      Guess where cousin A’s new job was going to be? To my knowledge, she never actually received notice that the whole business had gone under- all the information she ever got about her no-longer-extant job came from B’s fiance at the family reunion.

    12. LZ*

      During my time in environmental consulting, I was out on a week-long trip to visit various gas plants across Alberta. Much of my driving was in areas with no cell coverage, so when I stopped at planned points on my route (with cell service) I would call my designated safety contact and check in. One morning my safety contact was abruptly let go while I was in transit, although she told my boss re: her role as my safety contact he did not let me know or designate a different contact for me. When I called to check in 4 hours later she was kind enough to answer her phone and let me know that I was going to have to “ask Chad what to do next because he was the one who had fired her”. This is only one example of his jack-buttery, FYI.

      1. Observer*

        If this guy survived that kind of misbehavior, the he wasn’t the only problem there.

    13. Industry Behemoth*

      I know of someone whose employer was acquired, and he couldn’t find out from the new company where to report for work. So he showed up at their local office the day after the acquisition, and then they had no trouble telling him, oh we don’t have a job for you.

  7. Chairman of the Bored*

    The last big company I worked for did layoffs by having an in-person meeting where an HR rep read your layoff notice verbatim and referred you to a website for any questions. This was all done with a company lawyer sitting there as a witness and to prevent the HR rep from saying anything that wasn’t on the script.

    Really, that may as well have just been an email.

    1. Ama*

      I did kind of wonder if the reasoning behind this (despite the company’s messaging blaming it on the HR rep being uncomfortable) was that senior management didn’t trust the HR rep to stay on message if they took the meetings alone and didn’t want to commit to sitting in on the meetings themselves.

  8. Immortal for a limited time*

    I once worked for a medium-sized western office of a large defense contractor. They flew a VP out from headquarters in D.C. to discuss a merger/acquisition that was in progress. He mentioned the folks who had already been laid off, referring to them as something like “dead wood” — not knowing that those people were IN THE ROOM, their layoff dates being a week or two in the future so that they could get job-hunting assistance and another paycheck. That went over like a fart in church.

    1. RVA Cat*

      ““They’re hypocrite c***suckers. And the f***n’ lyin’ instruments and tactics they use to f*** people up the *ss can be turned against them.” – Al Swearingen.

    2. pally*


      A former co-worker of mine was part of the first round of layoffs at a large start-up company.

      She called to tell me about this. In fact, she was very proud that she was part of the FIRST round of layoffs. To her, that meant she was clearly the cream of the crop at said company (I bit my tongue). Her reasoning: the highest paid (i.e., most valued employees) are always the first to go.

      I learned from someone in QA who survived the layoff, that later in the day when the first round of layoffs occurred, the CEO gathered the remaining employees (about 125) to explain to them what was going on. He began with, “Now that we have rid ourselves of the chaff, we can move on to doing great things!”.

      A few weeks later, more layoffs occurred.

      And a short time later, the company folded. Funding had dried up.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve told this story before, but at Non-Profit Job we had these all-team company meetings every so often. One day the CEO, who ruled by fear and liked to threaten the Development department so we’d hustle donors harder, said that things were tight and he was afraid he was going to have to make some cuts. In front of the entire company in the all-team meeting, he said, “Unfortunately, Sybil’s job is a casualty. Sybil, your last day will be this Friday.”

      No one told Sybil this before the meeting. 0_0

      Her face turned bright red. Everyone felt terrible. At that point, I could have cheerfully committed a felony with a chair. What a turd that guy was. (Sybil and I are still FB friends, btw.)

  9. learnedthehardway*

    That is just SO INCREDIBLY DISRESPECTFUL to employees.

    I’m not sure it is “worst practice”, but it is VERY far from anything approaching “good practice”, let alone “best practice”.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      It’s worst practice for being a human being. Management, executives, owners have a responsibility to treat people with respect. These people held up their part of the social and economic contract. But the people in charge are too cowardly to hold up their end.

  10. KayDeeAye*

    ‘Everything about the way your company did this is them basically announcing, “We’re prioritizing our own mild discomfort ahead of the people who are losing their source of income.”’

    Ding ding ding! Alison nailed it. Of course it’s not pleasant to lay off anybody, but surely even 10 seconds thought should have informed them that being laid off is devastating, and “devastation” trumps “discomfort.”

    Cowards – selfish, thoughtless cowards.

    1. Ama*

      The longer I read AaM the more I have come to believe that the difference between a good manager and a bad manager is not that a good manager never has negative thoughts about an employee, thinks “this sucks for me” when an employee resigns, or feels uncomfortable having certain conversations — it’s that a good manager keeps those negative thoughts from interfering with handling situations professionally and treating their employees like human beings who can make their own decisions.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yes yes yes. And a good manager does not complain about the sucky parts of their job — or the other employees — to their reports.

  11. ThatGirl*

    I’ve seen layoffs happen in so many ways, but none as callous as this.

    Two companies ago, they required everyone to come to a meeting where they announced outsourcing and that about 20 people were losing their jobs, but had HR present to talk through things with everyone and then pack up desks.

    Last company, I personally got laid off via Zoom meeting with myself, HR and the VP of marketing. VP read his little schtick and then HR stayed on to go through details.

    A year or so after I left, they had more layoffs, and this time it was brutal – they sent an email on a Friday saying to work from home on Monday, layoffs would be on Monday and that they would call each and every person between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. So all of those people had to be anxious all weekend and a good chunk of Monday waiting to hear what would happen. But it was still individualized!

    1. perstreperous*

      A colleague’s partner was laid off in exactly the same way until Monday at 8am. Then about 20 people were invited into a Teams meeting with cameras and microphones muted; they were made redundant collectively. The management actually said during the call that the mute was so that they [the management] could not hear or see any reactions!!

    2. M*

      I’m not too picky about getting a special personalized message in situations like this (I would want the opportunity to say my farewells but may actually prefer to process an email in private vs a meeting) but ruining everyone’s weekend like that is awful.

    3. Eva*

      That last one feels like a great way to loose your best employees. If I had to wait the weekend I’d be nervous, update my resume and start applying for jobs (as most applications are online you are not limited to working days anymore). So even people who stay might be getting interview invites after the lay offs, and they might like the sound of the new job better. Especially because lay off often make even the survivors nervous about a company’s future.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Wellll that company has been on a long downward slide for years, but yeah, I definitely would have started panic-applying immediately.

  12. Eldritch Office Worker*

    As HR I would rather sit through 30 meetings than know I did this to people. Are you serious? Also knowing how people react is really valuable for a lot of reasons, and being available for 15 minutes to answer questions and just treat someone like a human can mitigate a lot of poor reactions. I’m not saying anyone is going to be happy but they might not get pushed over the edge to do something like trashing the office or blowing up social media or…whatever imaginations can conjur.

    The only reason behind this is to avoid discomfort on the part of the people doing the layoffs, but it’s essential that people be uncomfortable in these situations. Once you start to distance and dehumanize, things only get worse from there.

    1. TootsNYC*

      to answer questions and just treat someone like a human can mitigate a lot of poor reactions.
      I said this in another comment:
      When the publishing company I worked for had broad cost-cutting layoffs, they absolutely treated people like human beings.
      They told them on Monday, paid them through Friday, expressed regret, offered the use of their desk through Friday for them to get personal files and belongings sorted out, asked them to wrap up or hand off projects, etc.

      One guy got really angry on Monday and stormed out. Everyone else went back to their desks and left early, but came in on Tuesday for part of the day, etc., and cleaned up, handed off, said goodbye, etc.

      It was a weird mood for a week, but EVERYONE, even the “survivors,” was able to keep equilibrium because the company had treated its parting employees as the talented and trusted professionals they were.

      1. TootsNYC*

        There was no sabotage–and by having that meeting, the HR folks were able both to prevent it and to assess the risks.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Right. That one guy getting angry – which he totally has the right to do! something bad happened to him! – does not mitigate the good grace of the other employees feeling like they were treated like human beings.

        Emotions aside, for just a moment, people understand layoffs happen and sometimes it’s the only choice. No one enjoys it, but intellectually most people understand.

        Emotions back in the game, your company is much better off having 2o people out in the world with mildly disappointed feelings and 5 people with burning resentment than 25 people with burning resentment. People network, people talk, you cannot keep what happened under wraps but you can control how much ammunition they have against you.

        Also how you handle ANY layoff, firing, disciplinary action – ANYTHING, is going to resonate with your current employees. Do it like OP’s company? People lose all trust and loyalty. Do it like yours? Yeah it still sucks and they’ll still be shaken up but they can trust that if they are ever in a bad situation they can expect to be treated with dignity.

        There’s just no business case for doing it the way it’s outlined in the letter besides “it’s awkward and we don’t wanna”.

        1. TootsNYC*

          the thing that struck me during that time was how much better the mood was for the SURVIVORS!

          Layoffs are hard on the remaining staff. If they feel that their esteemed colleagues were treated humanely, they won’t feel resentment on their behalf, and they won’t be left feeling that their company will treat THEM callously.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      If I was HR I would be blazing mad about this, because how on earth could I do my job effectively from that point on? Wouldn’t the remaining employees have some trust issues, to put it mildly, around coming to me with anything, or believing a word I said?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes. And I have a hard time believing HR signed off on that messaging. I know bad HR exists but you’re just shooting yourself in the foot for everything else you ever need to do, it’s so illogical.

    3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I did computer training once for sales people in the financial industry, and as a rep of the training team I also attended the regional manager meetings. And I got to hear management refer to people being laid off as “terms”. As in, terminated people. They weren’t even people anymore, they were just terms. (And I understood that distancing themselves made things psychologically easier, but for me, it was just one more stick in the bonfire of hating sales organizations.)

  13. NinaUK*

    Jeez. I was recently laid-off due to my team not existing anymore, and they did it over many meetings and with a lot of advance (so I could plan myself). And I can say that it didn’t really go well (I could argue that my lay-off was unfair dismissal, here in the UK), to the point I got a larger settlement. Can you imagine if that had happened over e-mail? Lawsuit for sure.
    Choosing to lay-off an entire team by e-mail definitely might add fuel to a fire if there are any other previous issues. It is not even poor management, it’s a liability.

  14. RJ*

    When I was laid off in February 2020, I was called into a meeting in the HR director’s office with the director and our CEO. By the time it was over and I returned to my office to get my things, I had been cutoff from email and computer access. It was over and done with. Meanwhile, my coward of a CFO was on another floor with his new hire (he hired someone to take over the job of someone doing our financial accounting and then put this person in charge of project accounting, my old job) and never spoke to me again.

    Bad layoff histories linger and at my company many people left after they saw co-workers experiencing stories like mine. Even if your company is fully remote, it can be done humanely.

  15. Liz the Snackbrarian*

    Whoever came up with this craptastic idea needs to be nominated for worst boss of 2023.

  16. TootsNYC*

    it was an entire department. They could deliver the message in a group meeting.

    That happened to me once; we were told we MUST attend a meeting at 9am on a Monday. There was a HUGE snowstorm–24″ or something–and the only person who didn’t make it was the person who lived on a hill in NJ. And she called in.

    They told us they were moving our department to the other coast in 3 months, they’d pay a stay-on bonus, and we had to apply if we wanted to do our jobs on the other coast.

    One conversation, one set of questions, etc.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yes. An old employer laid off ~200 people at one time, in simultaneous group meetings at 3 different sites.

      It sucked to be in the early time zone because we were trying to figure out what was wrong with our computers for 90 minutes while the later time zone came on work, but it was still much better thought out than emails.

  17. mlem*

    I would’ve thought this was about my company, except last week’s layoff was almost six times bigger and we haven’t been given *any* kind of C-suite justification about its being done by email. ‘Tis the season, I guess.

  18. ijustworkhere*

    Alison said it so well. I’ve been in HR for 20 years. I’ve had to lay off people. Yes, it’s hard. And yes, I have always done it in person. Some cry. Some get angry. Some, surprisingly, are relieved. (they get severance). I’ve had one or two where I had to get security involved, but most have just needed to express themselves.

    It’s part of my job to be a decent human being to somebody who is experiencing one of the most stressful events of their life.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’ll just say that during my layoff, the HR rep who delivered the news (whom I had never met) was terrific. She definitely had a list of things she needed to cover, but she was kind and careful and invited questions.

      My manager, who had previously been a peer, was a coward who refused to speak to me because he was so upset. He could have taken several lessons from that HR rep.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “It’s part of my job to be a decent human being to somebody who is experiencing one of the most stressful events of their life.”

      Ding ding ding!

      I always cry after I fire someone. Every time. Even the ones I thought should go. But not in the room, and I’ve never avoided doing it. That moment is not about me.

    3. Deejay*

      I used to work with a guy who had been struggling with the decision to leave his job, move to the other side of the country with his family and start a business.
      When he was told he was being laid off, he surprised his boss by grinning and thanking him for making the decision easy.

  19. Chairman of the Bored*

    What’s the advantage to the employee of having more time between the layoff notification and the point where their computer shuts down?

    As soon as I get that layoff notification I’m done working anyway, why would I care if my IT stuff stops working 30 minutes or 30 days later?

    1. ThatGirl*

      When I got laid off in late 2020 I was remote anyway, so we were all given access through the EOD to save personal files or do anything else we needed to do. I actually appreciated it.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The chance to retrieve personal items from their work computers. We all know we shouldn’t store personal items on company devices, but most people do.

      They may also want to email their contacts and teammates and say goodbye. Whether or not that’s a good idea in general is debatable, but it’s definitely a bad idea if you treat them this way in the process.

      1. Saddy Hour*

        Some items blur the line, too — I got a certification through the course of my job, so all my training and notes were on my work email OneNote. But the cert is still valid outside of that company and I needed that info for job-searching. It’s not something I thought to back up to my personal files, especially since I was still adding to my notes with real work examples, but losing that would have impacted the rest of my career.

    3. JustMyImagination*

      Some people might want to say a more personal goodbye to other employees they’re close with. If the layoff was announced via email, important documents about last paycheck, continuing benefits, COBRA, etc were likely attached and people may need time to move those to a personal device or print them.

    4. Mill Miker*

      I’m assuming the 30 minutes was deemed the minimum amount of time to ensure everyone actually noticed and then read the email. If you just send the notice and then immediately cut off computer access, you might as well not bother sending the notice.

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Purely from a practical standpoint, print the last payroll statement and double check any PTO amount if that’s paid out (my org stopped mailing printed statements so it’s all online, but gone once I’m no longer able to login), print a copy of the employee handbook to make sure all the procedures are followed (don’t just rely on HR or IT or Security to help), look up the contact info or documentation for any benefits providers, make copies of anything useful as a portfolio item when job searching if the industry does stuff like that, print out any performance evaluations or documentation that you don’t already have copies of — things that prove your employment, performance and terms of separation.

      I also like to leave my things in proper order for the next guy — I clean up my desktop of extraneous files, delete/logout of any apps for streaming music/podcasts/news/social etc., properly name and organize folders…

      1. Elizabeth West*

        For future reference if anyone needs the info, often you can ask HR to send copies of pay statements. I did that after I got fired from Exjob — there were a couple I hadn’t downloaded yet and I needed them for my records. They emailed them to me.

        I highly recommend making it a habit to download them every payday just to be safe though.

      2. Observer*

        Purely from a practical standpoint, print the last payroll statement and double check any PTO amount if that’s paid out

        Many payroll providers will email your paystubs to your personal address. Which means that if you get walked out the door for any reason, you still have your payroll records.

        That’s not the main reason to do it that way, but it is extremely useful for this kind of scenario.

    6. Goddess47*

      When I was working, there had been numerous problems with a faculty member (non-tenured) that resulted in firing them three-quarters of the way through the semester. No one thought to warn IT or cut off their computer access and the faculty member proceeded to delete all the course materials, homework, and grades for the six (!) courses they were teaching. No one realized until the help desk calls came from students (a couple of days later) asking where their course materials were.

      A lot of it was recovered on the overnight backups but some of it was hosted off-site (part of the original problem) and not recoverable.

      Lesson learned and all future firings/layoffs included a discussion with IT before the deed.

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        Disgusting behaviour by that faculty member, taking out his anger at being fired on his students.

        1. Observer*

          Well, it sounds like this should have not been a surprise – this person clearly was not being a decent teacher and was mishandling stuff to start with.

  20. JenLP*

    I’ve seen an email layoff done well before, but it was paired with face-to-face meetings and an abundance of transparency. Stripe, a payment processing company, laid off 14% of their team. They sent a company-wide email (that was posted to their website) stating that layoffs were happening and quickly followed up with individual emails to the folks being laid off. Later they had meetings to discuss any questions and what the steps were for the go forward

    Having been through similarly large layoffs, the anxiety of waiting for HR to stop by and ask you to come to their office is awful. Nothing got done on those days and we all knew they were happening. The Stripe email seemed like a relatively humane way to balance the need for face-to-face meetings and alleviate that stress/anxiety.

    What this company did was horrid and absolutely not a great business practice.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        If i was getting all the severance, healthcare, bonus, etc included in that layoff, I wouldn’t care if they emailed, texted, What’s App’d ,TikTok’d, or telegrammed me the news

    1. TootsNYC*

      Having been through similarly large layoffs, the anxiety of waiting for HR to stop by and ask you to come to their office is awful.

      True. But also, that walk down the hall is the mental time to prepare yourself.

      A friend once called me for advice because some of her subordinates were being laid off. She was made aware the night before but couldn’t tell them; her role was to escort them to a conference room to meet the VP who would make the official statement.

      She said she felt horrible not being able to give them a heads-up or a hint. I told her, “that walk to the conference room is the heads-up. When you say, ‘could you come with me to the conference room to meet the division VP,’ that’s the first hint. When they ask why, and your response is, ‘I’m not really at liberty to say; he’ll explain it,’ that’s the other hint.”

      1. LW23*

        Yes. My hint was an early-early-morning phone call. I knew from the area code that it was from the other site, where my boss was. Since we conducted all normal business via email, a phone call was bad news; either I was being laid off, or someone had died.

    2. Aquamarine*

      Yeah, I can actually see this working out better than a lot of the alternatives. I think the key is the follow-up meetings.

      Getting the news out quickly seems kinder than making people wait to see if they’re on the list, and it gives people a chance to process things first before having to face people and talk about it.

      1. JenLP*

        I also liked that they included the severance package information because you can process things and come up with questions – making the meeting more productive in the long run. But again, that meeting is crucial to this working

    3. metadata minion*

      In some ways, I think I’d actually prefer an email with followup meeting over just an in-person layoff, since that lets me get over the initial shock in relative privacy, while still treating me like a human being. But this sort of thing is so individual.

  21. disappearing coach*

    I was laid off back in October. It was a virtual call with my grandboss and HR who led the meeting. I do coaching and so I had a group of clients I was currently working with. I was obviously upset as I’d been told for the past nine months how valuable I was to the company even being awarded the “Most Valuable Member of Our Team” award for 2nd quarter. I had expressed to my boss that I didn’t have a lot of work to do and was told “don’t worry about it, you’re fine.” (reader, I was NOT fine.) The call came at 4, I had access to my computer and email until 4:30. They confirmed my address and then mailed me my severance package – which I received 2 days later – why they didn’t already have my address boggled me, but anyway. The real kicker was the week before I’d gone to a conference where I was a conference speaker to not only sell the current product I was working on (and been improving for the past 9 months) but did another workshop that was standing room only to LAUNCH A NEW PRODUCT. So when my co-workers followed up on the conference leads (after I was let go) they had to say “we aren’t engaging in that solution at this time” … even though we’d literally launched it 7 days before. They didn’t decide AFTER that conference to eliminate my job and my entire solution package, so why did I even go there and launch that product they had zero intention of following up on? Oh and when I asked ‘What happens to my current customers?’ my grandboss said “Well, that’s our problem now isn’t it?” … how did he deal with that “problem” … by saying nothing for over two weeks (clients eventually got an email or had their engagement cancelled). My biggest client found out I was gone because they called my boss asking about my personal welfare because they couldn’t believe I wasn’t responding to emails and calls. It still frustrates me with how it was done … even though I think it’s better that I don’t work there anymore and am grateful for the months of pay I had while looking for a new job.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Your previous former client is a good egg — glad they tried to follow up on you personally! Although I can’t believe your company let you go present your new shiny Thingamajig and then a week later said “jk we laid off the entire Thingamajig team”. The right hand knows not what the left hand doeth, and so on.

    2. Parenthesis Guy*

      They want to confirm your address to make sure that nothing changed. It would embarrassing if they sent a check to the wrong location because they wrote it down wrong or you moved and then couldn’t fix the issue instead of just asking one extra time. If what you have doesn’t match with their records, then they have a question.

      1. saskia*

        Yup. I have a small team, I constantly (or at least it seems constantly to me) tell them to let me know if they move or change addresses, but people just forget, so we still see W-2s going to the wrong place at tax time.

      2. Llama Llama*

        I work in Payroll and it’s way to often that addresses change without telling anyone.

  22. debbietrash*

    The callousness of this layoff reminds me of the mass layoffs that took place in the final season of Succession — someone’s underling just hopped on a mass Zoom call and said, “You no longer have a job here. Bye!”

  23. TootsNYC*

    this “shut off your computer in 30 minutes” is especially hostile.
    I know there’s often the recommendation to watch over people while they pack up their desk so they don’t sabotage, etc.

    But the most drama-free layoffs I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been through several as both casualty and survivor) was when they announced ahead of time that the company’s economic situation meant they were going to have to lay people off.

    They started on a Monday and told people, “We’re so sorry that your position is one we have to eliminate. The economics have worked out that way, and we are so disappointed to lose you, because we admire you and your work so much. We know that it’s MUCH more disappointing to you, of course.
    “Your official last day of work is Friday. If you want, you can leave now; we’d understand. But we’re hoping you’ll use that time to wrap up any projects, hand off any files, etc.. This will also give you time to clean our your email, gather your personal files off your computer, and get the giveaway-shelf finds out from under your desk. It’ll give you time to say goodbye to your colleague.
    “Of course, we expect that you’ll behave professionally during that time–because we know the kind of professional you are. If it turns out to be too difficult, you can end your week at any time, or we’ll ask you to end it. You’ll still be paid through Friday.
    “Again, thank you for all you’ve done at the company; we’re proud to have been able to work with you, and we hope that someday we’ll have a chance to work together. And we’re genuinely sorry that we’ve had to make this decision. In the meanwhile, be sure to let us know if you need a recommendation.”

    It was THE most drama-free layoff I’ve ever been through. I could tell that all the survivors felt so much less fear and anger, from seeing their colleagues be treated as the valued professionals they were.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. Treat people like people and they’ll act like people. Treat people as disposable and untrustworthy and they owe you nothing.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes. I’m i the UK and here, unless someone is being sacked for gross misconduct, it’s normal for people to work their notice even if they are being dismissed, and the same if they are made redundant (laid off) which is a process involving meetings and consultations so not quick. There ae some roles where people are dealing with very sensitive information where they might be put on gardening leave and cut off from access to the company’s computer systems, but normally, people are treated as responsible adults and the idea of just cutting off all access within minutes when people are laid off is pretty strange.

      Although maybe it goes with having stronger workers rights and formal processes about things like redundancies, so there’s assumed to be less incentive for employees to want to burn the place down on their way out?

      1. allathian*

        Yeah the situation’s similar in Finland.

        Most employees here are covered by a collective agreement of some kind. Those also apply to non-unionized employees as long as the employer is unionized. Most collective agreements stipulate that employers have to help laid-off employees find new jobs during their notice period (1-3 months for most jobs depending on seniority and tenure). At the very least, employees can interview on company time during the notice period, and if an employee gets a new job during their notice period, they can start immediately without worrying about completing their notice period.

    3. Ama*

      The only person I know who actively sabotaged her computer on her way out the door did it before they could officially fire her, so a policy locking her out of her computer wouldn’t have stopped that anyway.

      (She knew an audit was going to turn up many questionable and unapproved expenses and she tried to erase her hard drive and shred a bunch of paper files –to this day I’m not sure if she thought it would actually hide evidence of what she’d done or if she just wanted to screw things up for our employer.)

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      I LOVE that message and way of presenting it. And I know I would have responded well to it.

      When I was last laid off (boss had just been laid off, I was figuring out how to handle her work, then I got called to the office while they turned off my computer), I went home, cried, and then spent a couple of days writing notes on my current progress and emailed it to work. Yes, I know. But I cared about my customers* who were left high and dry, even if the company didn’t.

      Also, as a geek, they seem to think that I can do some sort of damage. But our systems have protection and backups – I really couldn’t do more than cause a mild inconvenience, and I wouldn’t.

      *I heard that one customer called and literally yelled at my replacement boss for laying me off without letting them know, for leaving them stranded.

  24. English Rose*

    So the HR person wouldn’t have to sit through awkward firing meetings?? No, I’m speechless!

  25. Ialwaysforgetmyname*

    I personally had to lay off 10 people in a very short period. It was brutal for me but I never questioned doing it because I’m the HR manager so of course it was my job and as tough as it was on me it was much harder on them.

    That HR person (or the person above them who made that call) sucks.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s so egregious that I honestly wonder if HR was involved. “We don’t want to make our HR person do this” sounds more like scapegoating to try to sound like halfway decent people, to my ears. Having difficult conversations is a central tenet of working in HR.

      1. Parenthesis Guy*

        Some places don’t prioritize HR and therefore don’t have a particularly useful department. Their HR people may not have been good enough to have that conversation.

  26. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Doing this with kindness and empathy also can pay off. I will always keep a good thought for the boss who told me to work from home on the he knew the layoffs were coming down. Saved me driving 2 hours to the office to find out I was being laid off.

  27. Well...*

    I’ve seen this “best practice for huge groups” being applied to a very small group cr*p happen before, and it makes me mad every time.

    I once was part of a group that badly mishandled a fellowship competition. The subcommittee that evaluated the applicants modeled an internal fellowship with a small number of local applicants (as in, our own colleagues) after a huge fellowship organization. This lead to feedback in the form of notes from multiple independent reviewers that was 1) extremely harsh 2) mixed and contradictory and 3) insulting to our own colleagues (aka, your PhD institute wasn’t very prestigious so you get a low ranking on background, meaning we don’t trust you can use the funds or even do good research… but we are also the place that hired you).

    I was so mad when I found out what happened. Spreading insulting reviews around our own department isn’t great. Also we were a small committee with a super small amount of money to give out. We had nowhere near the institutional power of huge grant organizations that can be less politically savvy in how much they reject applicants. If we give people reviews on their backgrounds that range from (1-5)/5, we’re going to look like we have no idea what we’re doing and we’re not using funds responsibly. Also, this large funding agency has thousands of applications to read, and we had like 10. We could have written comprehensive feedback for O(10) people.

  28. Just Another HR Pro*

    I feel like this is a thing in IT companies. I worked for an IT company very early on in my career – i wasn’t even in HR at the time. I had no idea layoffs were coming, and they were issued over the phone – BY A THIRD PARTY! “A la Up in the Air”. Then my manager was just nowhere to be found. It was awful and impersonal and in no way empathetic at all. About the only good thing to come out of that experience was the way I handle layoffs. I will travel to issue one or two if it means they get notified in person because they deserve that respect.

    laying off any other way then in person, over zoom (with video) or over the phone – both in cases where travel isn’t feasible – is the only way these should be done in my professional opinion.

    1. Elsewise*

      I feel like if I was minding my own business at work and a third party called me to say I was laid off and my manager was nowhere to be found, I would assume it wasn’t legitimate until someone relevant at my actual company confirmed it. I’d just… stay. Maybe even call IT if my computer access got shut off to see if we’d been hacked. Not even maliciously, it just genuinely wouldn’t occur to me that the company could be that hands-off. I’d assume it was a scam.

      1. Ama*

        Honestly I would, too — my current employer has had so many phishing scams (phone, text, and email) where people pretend to be our CEO that unless I actually talked to the CEO or my boss myself I would just assume it was fake.

      2. metadata minion*

        Same here! I’d be doubly suspicious since I actually have a union contract that specifies how layoffs are supposed to go, but even without that it would just be so *weird*.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Agree. As toxic as OldExjob was, at least they handled the layoffs with some professionalism.

  29. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I know a company, from a while back, that did this to an entire department – announced their redundancies over an email. There were, understandably, a LOT of unhappy people that day.

    Funnily enough, that firm is still in business today but they constantly have jobs advertised and complain about them not attracting any qualified applicants. Weird that – when you lay off an entire branch of IT the word tends to travel fast among the technical community!

    It’s been 10 years and their reputation is still in the bog. So lesson to employers: people talk and that person you treat like crud today could very well stop you from ever hiring a competant person again.

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      Exactly! It’s a small, small world and people have very long memories.

  30. NeedRain47*

    I don’t disagree that in person is better, but how do you prevent having the first couple people you meet with from going around telling people they’ve just been laid off and creating a panic?

    1. ThatGirl*

      This has ALWAYS happened, anywhere I’ve worked – you can’t really stop it. If it is an entire department, you can meet with everyone at once to announce it. But any time I’ve seen people laid off one by one, people always start talking. It’s inevitable. The best thing leadership can do is let people know when it’s over and that everyone else is ostensibly safe.

      1. pally*

        I was in an office doing a bunch of filing as a co-worker would pop in every 15-20 minutes to tell me the name of the latest person who’d been laid off. I think close to a dozen ended up being laid off that day.
        We both survived the layoff but there were some tense moments there.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      By telling people layoffs are going to happen ahead of time. Tell people what to expect. “We have to layoff x amount of people. This is why. This is when it will be happening. We’ll follow up with everyone else in x timeframe to discuss the strategy moving forward.”

      There’s no point in keeping it a secret. People are going to find out. It will absolutely be a tense day or two (I’d suggest telling people no more than 48 hours in advance), there’s no way to avoid panic to the point of “no one is going to have big feelings about this” – they should, they’re human. But if they’re not blindsided by it most people can handle that.

    3. Liz the Snackbrarian*

      I mean in theory I guess a person could say “We ask that you please hold off on discussing until all personnel conversations are completed at 12 PM” or something but I think that be ineffective and be crappy. Panic is going to be a natural part of layoffs and people need to vent.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Short answer? You can’t, not really.

      You can ask them to keep it quiet until you’ve had a chance to speak to everyone else but you can’t enforce it.

      Well…actually not true. I was fired once (unfairly I might add) and in order to keep it quiet from the rest of the team until my mother could come pick me up I was confined to a meeting room alone. To ‘avoid drama in the department’.

      21+ years ago and that memory still aches. Treat staff like adults, don’t give them detention.

    5. metadata minion*

      Unless you’re worried about a literal riot (in which case your business has way bigger problems of one sort or another), having everyone be anxious and sad and unproductive the day of a mass layoff is kind of the cost of doing business, I think. Even if they had a group meeting or successfully convinced people not to talk about it until everyone was notified, if I learned that an entire department had been laid off, I’d be kind of panicky about the financial health of my employer anyway.

  31. BellyButton*

    Not only all of what Alison mentioned, but all these PEOPLE have questions they need the answers to. How much is their severance? When will their insurance end? Will the company cover COBRA? When will they receive their last paycheck? How to return equipment? So many things they have a right to be able to ask and not have a generic email sent out.

    Can we get some common courtesy and empathy, here? Sheesh.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Oh man I was so appalled by the delivery that I completely forgot about the logistics part of the equation!

      There is so much more that goes on in a lay off than just delivering the news itself, I wonder if in the end HR had to have 12 awkward meetings anyway just to sort out the details.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. Plus I wonder how many of the 12 computers were returned and if so, in how many pieces…?

      2. BellyButton*

        Right?! I can only imagine how much worse the conversations are when the people call you to ask these questions after being treated like that.

  32. pally*

    I’m hoping at least twelve new Glassdoor reviews appear over the next few days detailing everything about this company’s “best practices”.

  33. No Tribble At All*

    Okay my next question is — did they email the department email distribution, or did they at least bcc everyone? Were there personalized emails? Was there anyone left on that list-serv that just hadn’t moved departments? The only thing worse than a mass email layoff is accidentally getting that email when you’re not in that department anymore?

  34. AnonLayOff*

    Here is my worst layoff story: We had a new VP of the department who was moved around from department to department every couple of years. He was a jerk and part of the good ‘ol boy network. He had worked there 2 weeks when he brought about a dozen people into a conference room. He went around the table telling each person why they were not needed and how useless they or their position was, then a security person escorted the employee to their desk to collect their belongings and out of the building. As we were all escorted out we waited on the PUBLIC sidewalk for everyone to make it out, so we could go get a drink together. He came down FUMING that we dared to wait on the downtown street by the doors to HIS building. He was yelling, red faced, spittle flying. I stared him straight in the face and told him to “f-off, call the police if you don’t like it.” I lit a cigarette and blew the smoke right in his smug privileged face.

  35. MAOM7*

    Absolutely wrong of them to do this. What cowards. So, story time…

    Six months into the pandemic (I work at a very large tier 1 research university), I received a meeting invite for a mandatory meeting with no topic, the request coming from someone I did not know. It was short notice (less than 24 hours) and we were told we were required to have cameras on. So of course I logged into the meeting, where more than 700 people (!!) were in attendance. There were so many people, that I couldn’t hear or see the person speaking. The person started talking, and it turned out we were all going to be partially furloughed (20% reduction in pay) for the next 8 months or until the university knew where the pandemic was going. I watched several people burst into tears, I immediately shut my camera off, and the looks on the remaining faces…my god it was a massacre!! I immediately went to my manager, who was department director of a staff of about 14. Only three of us were getting the furlough, including him (it was only for the higher earners in the department and I’ve been there a long time so fell into that category). I held nothing back. This was completely wrong. I took my complaint to the vice chancellor a few days later, who I had a decent relationship with. My boss could have easily met with the two of us who were getting furloughed. And I’m guessing that every other department that had people in that zoom meeting also could have met with their impacted staff individually. I have one on ones with my boss every other week. This SHOULD have been handled better. I still work there, for reasons (I’m close to retirement and will get a hefty pension), but I have never forgotten, and I do not trust anyone above my level, at all, to do the right thing at this point. Why should I?

    1. Elsewise*

      Goddamn. I worked at a smaller university when furloughs and reductions in pay hit around the same time. We had an email to all staff from the head of finance explaining what was happening and telling us that our managers would discuss individual situations with us. Then we each had a 1:1 with our direct supervisors where they presented us with a formal letter from HR explaining what level of reduction we were getting and why (I was spared because I was being required to go into the office and also covering a coworker’s maternity leave, but most of my colleagues went down to 4 days a week.) There was a lot that wasn’t great about that place, but at least they didn’t handle things THAT badly.

      1. Not like a regular teacher*

        Early in the pandemic I was laid off from a tier one research university by certified letter, weeks after being assured in writing that my position was safe.

    2. Observer*

      and we were told we were required to have cameras on.

      The whole mess is disgusting. But *THIS* is . . . it creeps me out. It feels like someone WANTED to see everyone getting upset! Which is even worse that what this employer did.

      So, congrats, University for making a terrible employer look a little less terrible?

      Just depressing, to be honest.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      700 people with cameras on!? how could anyone see a single person?

  36. FrivYeti*

    I once took two weeks’ vacation over the Christmas break (technically it was one week of my vacation time and one week of ‘everyone is out of the office between Christmas and New Years’.) Chatted with management, mentioned I was heading home to see my family over the break.

    Got laid off while I was in the airport that evening. Since I was being laid off the vacation wasn’t paid any more.

  37. Michelle Smith*

    Imagine finding out you lost your job while you’re working because of a pop-up notification from Microsoft Outlooking previewing the incoming email message. That would devastate me. Yes, layoffs do happen but at least *try* to be humane about it, yeah?

  38. A Simple Narwhal*

    “Not wanting to make our HR person ‘sit through twelve awkward firing meetings’”

    Oh boo hoo.

    I’m not saying it’s not hard or stressful or a whole host of other negative things to lay someone off. But the one swinging the axe is not the aggrieved party and the person on the other side of the table has it infinitely worse.

    I still remember getting laid off early in my career and my manager was clearly in distress as she gave me the news. It sucked and I was upset, but what made it even worse was that she kept overexplaining how it wasn’t her decision, she didn’t want this, over and over again, just hovering and repeating herself as I packed up my desk. I got the distinct feeling that she was fishing for me to tell her that it was ok, to reassure her that it wasn’t her fault. I remember being appalled that she wanted me to comfort her when I had just lost my job.

    Sucking up the temporary discomfort of letting someone go face to face is the bare minimum of effort and respect your management owed that team.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Which is why HR needs to do these – managers need to be present, and sit there and shut up.

    2. Observer*

      I’m not saying it’s not hard or stressful or a whole host of other negative things to lay someone off.

      Yes, it is. And it needs to be. Because people who can’t be uncomfortable doing layoffs, even truly necessary ones, are bad bosses.

  39. Johnny*

    I’ve done lots of layoffs.

    I’ve always braced myself for the absolute worst, because if it happens, I think it’s important to not get rattled and find oneself engaging in a defensive way. I want to be as empathetic as possible because it’s a lousy day for that person.

    But it’s never happened. In fact, a couple times the person in question has apologized that I had to deal with it, as they know it’s not easy.

    Avoiding these conversations is pure cowardice.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Fringe cases are interesting and dramatic for the very reason that they’re fringe, and uncommon. Most of the time people are in shock for the duration of a layoff meeting. They say very little. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but it should be. These things shouldn’t be done lightly.

      I’ve had people get angry at me. I had one guy just salute me and walk off, which sticks out as odd. The worst one I had was someone having a full blown panic attack – but I’m REALLY glad they didn’t have to have that reaction alone at their desk and we could ride it out as long as they needed in a private space.

      None of those experiences was worse than losing my job would have been. HR can be difficult – it’s emotionally exhausting, it’s frustrating at times, but it’s my job. And being part of those conversations is a manager’s job. There’s really no excuse.

  40. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I agree with Alison on her point about the ethics and human empathy, however on business practice, I’m sure they have calculated it and found that it is indeed a “best practice” as long as:

    X + Y < Z

    X = some (maybe many) employees will claim they were disrespectfully treated no matter how the company goes about it and will trash the company and/or file a lawsuit whether it has merit or not. Companies calculate how much money they stand to lose (or settle) and decide it's worth it.

    Y = any kind of layoff garners bad external press and could warn potential new hires/investors/customers away no matter how perfectly they go about it (I wouldn't take a job at a place having layoffs). We like to think that empathy or ethics will stop other people from working for, buying from, or using services from an Evil Company, but the reality is that other people are pretty self-focused — it's not their problem, or it will be different for them, or it's inconvenient/expensive to stand on ethics. Again, the company calculates that with real dollars and cents — 1% loss? less? maybe no change?

    Z = The profit/revenue. They've calculated the cost of doing business and most likely still make more money than they might lose. Best Practice! s/

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just to clarify — I know the sort of thing you mean, but if you research recommended best practices on layoffs, especially small ones like this one, no one recommends doing it this way. It’s just not a recommended best practice like this company is claiming, period. (And it really doesn’t cost more money to do it the right way. If anything, it’s going to cost more money to do it the wrong way because of the drama clean-up afterwards.)

    2. metadata minion*

      I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which the email layoff would save them money, unless they have some incredibly weird setup where their HR department are contractors who bill by the hour.

    3. Observer*

      I agree with Alison on her point about the ethics and human empathy, however on business practice, I’m sure they have calculated it and found that it is indeed a “best practice” as long as:

      X + Y < Z

      You are giving them WAY too much benefit. Because your X and Y are not the only risks they are taking. One of them is lawsuits. And those can be quite costly, even if you win.

      That’s on top of what Alison @metadata minon said.

      Also, given how stupid their excuses are (not wanting to make the HR person uncomfortable? Seriously?!) I don’t think that they actually did do a real cost benefit analysis.

      Look at the letter we had about a company that paid a terrible employee to go away. They had an ironclad case, from what the LW said, but they STILL decided that it was cheaper to pay her severance than deal with the nuisance of tangling with a lawyer. *Each* time you mistreat someone, you take a risk of something like that. When it’s a whole group? Your risk of someone siccing a lawyer on you, or going to some regulatory agency goes up. What’s more your risk that someone ELSE who gets laid off, fired, or sick and tired of the company will sue or go to a regulator.

  41. 2023 Got Better*

    My firing from my church employer in 2019 went like this: “Your services are no longer required. This was the decision that was made”. Repeated as an answer to every single question I had. They weren’t even going to give me a dime of severance pay until previous senior pastor stepped in. I know why they did, none of it was my fault, it was entirely about the money and benefits I was making, plus the senior pastor didn’t like women, and thought he could make do with volunteers. That never works to run an entire church office.

    Nope, still not over it. B******ds. They did some real damage to me. It should have been handled much differently.

    1. Observer*

      That’s actually not #4. That’s #1. And maybe the ONLY answer. The rest is window dressing.

  42. Delta Delta*

    Anyone else envisioning the Cousin Greg mass zoom layoff call? That seems worse than a mass email.

  43. Heh*

    I guess this is the “AI” way of terming employees? What is unfortunate for them in this instance is there was a human behind the keyboard. I’m sure they’ll catch on soon enough to let a machine do their dirty work.

  44. Simon (he/him)*

    I’m wondering if this was a former employer, lol. Got laid off over email at 5pm on a Tuesday due to “department restructuring.” Apparently none of my coworkers were notified, because I still had people trying to contact me about work tasks for the next couple of days. I ended up having to explain to all of those people that actually, I had been laid off on Tuesday, nice working with you etc etc. It was a big mess and I would have appreciated a phone call at least.

  45. bit o' honey*

    I am working at the same tech company I was laid off from earlier this year. I was completely blindsided when a zoom meeting with the VP of my department turned out to be my layoff. But it was face to face, they gave me a generous severance package, and they were very respectful. I really appreciate that they didn’t just send an email, even though they laid off around 30 or 40 people.

  46. Heffalump*

    In November 2013 I arranged to take a day of PTO on a Friday. The afternoon of that day, my manager called me at home and said, “I hate to do this over the phone, but your job is being eliminated.” At least he recognized that it was irregular and was apologetic about it. The other folks who were laid off that day got one-on-one conversations with their managers. I arranged a time to come get my personal effects out of my cube the following Monday, and that was that.

  47. Aitch Arr*

    “Best practice” my ass.

    Extra Salty Because She Did Do 12+ Layoff Meetings A Few Weeks Ago Because It’s Part Of My Fscking Job

  48. Ampersand*

    The company my husband works for did several rounds of layoffs via email—it was an early morning all staff meeting where they said people being laid off would get email notification in 15 minutes, and anyone who didn’t get an email wasn’t being laid off. They apparently thought this was the way to go, whereas I thought it was a terrible thing to do to people and their families. From my point of view, it’s stressful waiting for 15 minutes to hear whether your spouse is losing their job! And multiple times at that. He’s still employed, but I’ve become very wary of his all staff meetings. Oddly (thankfully?) his company is otherwise great.

  49. Blue Moon*

    I’ve been laid off once, during the pandemic. My team lead (who was not my manager but had some authority over my work) texted me at 9 pm on a Wednesday to ask for the login info for something I managed. I gave him the info and said, “If you need me to make changes right now I can.” He texted back, “No I got it :)” Reading between the lines, I asked him if I still had a job. He said, “[Manager’s name] is going to have me take over [my work]. You should call [HR manager] in the morning.” And that was it. I wasn’t even officially told I was laid off. I had to figure it out myself.

  50. Llama Llama*

    I really hope the IT department gets 12 tickets to research this and then the HR person is assigned the ticket and has to call each one of these poor people anyway because they could not manage going to 12 meeetings

  51. Observer*

    OP, start looking for a new job. Your company is not just “dysfunctional”, although they are, but also run by people who are just not decent people, at least when it comes to employees or people they think are “lower” than them.

    But also:

    the people being laid off (who should be treated with as much dignity and respect as possible — not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because treating people disrespectfully significantly increases the odds that they’ll start looking into whether they have any legal recourse against you for anything that happened during their employment),

    Alison is 100% correct. Which says that your HR is also deeply incompetent. Either one (badness or incompetence) is bad for employees. The combination is disaster.

  52. PoliticPuppy*

    In category number #3, let’s not forget clients and customers, who may not be happy about the way you handled your layoffs, and if they hear about it (which they very well could if it’s a small or niche industry, or if they still have reasonably extensive contact with the former employees), then you could easily lose their business.

    1. Fish*

      I think someone posted in another AAM thread about something similar to this. A company played hardball to enforce a former employee’s non-compete agreement. They won the battle, but lost the war when several clients went elsewhere because of the way ex-employee was treated.

  53. Goldenrod*

    Hahahha, I love that “it would be unfair to the HR person” is one of the arguments. If I were about to be fired, pretty much the LAST thing I would care about is the HR person’s feelings.

    Also: THIS is huge: “remaining employees…will pay a lot of attention to how their laid-off coworkers are treated, assume they could be treated similarly in the future, and calculate their loyalty and good will to the company accordingly.”

    I worked somewhere that seemed to go out of their way to treat an employee badly when they fired her. She may not have been the best at her job – but she was always friendly, and kind, and was in no way going to be violent or steal anything on her way out.

    Our crappy middle manager handled it so badly – after springing the news on her, she sent a mysterious, alarming email to her officemates saying “Get out of the office NOW” (without saying why)….then she escorted the poor employee back to her desk WITH SECURITY as she, in shock, packed up her things.

    One of her co-workers hadn’t received the weird message in time and she was shocked and upset, and started crying. The middle manager yelled at her, “Why are you crying? This has nothing to do with you.” My friend (the co-worker) said, “Yes it does, [fired employee] and I have worked together for years!”

    A total sh*tshow.

  54. Ellis Bell*

    Having never worked for a fully remote company, what’s to stop the people who are being laid off from calling the HR person, or senior managers and getting their questions answered face to face anyway? Plus venting some reasonable anger about their email layoff adding insult to injury? The only time I have been remote was during COVID, and I was able to video call people directly on teams when I really needed to, even though messages were more commonly done. Do people this cowardly just hang up, or block people and go hide beneath their desk?

  55. CatCat*

    Not wanting to make our HR person “sit through twelve awkward firing meetings”

    Sitting through awkward meetings is part of the deal of being the HR person.

  56. TechWorker*

    I’ve lived through multiple layoffs in tech, some of the approaches I’ve experienced.
    In office (Before remote work):
    * Bad: Show up in office, the network is down for everyone, people get called in one by one, they come back, clean out their desk and leave, then a general announcement to everyone that is left.
    * Better: People get an invite late in the day for a meeting the next morning. (Either individual, or a group.) They are informed of the lay-off. General announcement is later made to the rest of the company.
    * Best: Same as above but termination is not immediate. The affected employees are referred to and can look for new positions internally, use company ressources to job hunt, line up references, say goodbye, presence in the office is not mandatory for this period and their severance/legal notice period only starts on their official “last” day.

    My only experience with remote layoffs is being perplexed when I got a one-line email announcing that I was “unaffected”.

  57. And while we’re at it…*

    While we are discussing best practices for layoffs, might I add – not making folks go on camera when they get the unfortunate news and asking them point blank how they FEEL about the news in a large group setting?

    Yes, this happened at my current company.

  58. Big Bird*

    I worked for a bank whose HR department was reorganizing after the arrival of a new “golden boy” EVP. He was rumored to be doing an HR rotation as part of his path to a future presidency. Well, he decided to lay off a rather large number of HR VPs as part of the reorg, and he duly sent the paperwork through showing voluntary resignations. Unfortunately, my very pro-active people saw that the paperwork had an error and decided to help the new EVP by calling the “resigning” employees one-by-one to obtain the missing info. (“Now that you have resigned we need to know….”) Hilarity most assuredly did NOT ensue and the EVPs tenure was rather short. As far as I can tell he has been self-employed for many years now.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Once when I was laid off, I had to sign saying that I was leaving voluntarily in order to get severance (which wasn’t much since I had only been with the company 1.5 years, and probably the 10 years with the company they bought didn’t count). I lawyered up and got both severance (just enough to pay the lawyer) and my non-compete nullified.

      1. Anon for this*

        When I was laid off, the GM tried to tell me I had to say I voluntarily resigned in my severance paperwork. I was like, “You told the entire company in writing (email) that I was laid off!!”
        Nope nope nope

        He was unceremoniously fired for cause a month later. It was the BEST and quickest bit of corporate karma I’ve ever seen. It was immensely gratifying.

      2. vito*

        When i have gotten laid-off, I always let them know that I was going to have my Sister-in Law (the Lawyer) check the paperwork over. Never actually did it but I thought it put “the fear of God” into some bosses.

  59. kayakwriter*

    At the other end of the spectrum from the fast or premature cutoffs from emails and systems: I was laid off from OldJob eight years ago. Email access was terminated while I was in “the meeting.” But my writing/editing credentials for the company blog? Still valid today. (I periodically check just for the fun of it.) I got a fair severance package so I’ve never been tempted to engage in any really creative writing on their blog…

  60. ResuMAYDAY*

    I provide corporate outplacement services. The worst one I experienced (that my client did to their employees) was send security guards to the department to watch everyone pack their desks, and then walk them out to the parking lot.
    Prior to the layoffs, in the ‘planning’ stage, they took all my recommendations and then formulated the plan without me (which is their prerogative). On the day of, they didn’t have me in the office. I assumed it would be a group meeting. I didn’t learn of how they did it until those employees who didn’t slam the phone down actually explained it to me. Because of that, I had to work so much harder to get many of those employees to engage in services. They didn’t trust me, and I couldn’t blame them.

  61. CLC*

    Even if you can make the case of notifying people by email, there has to be follow up, and you can’t give 30 minutes before shutting them out of system entirely. Imagine if you were out that day or not checking email for an hour. All the issues Alison mentions about IT having to handle it, plus then do you have to wait for them to snail mail a packet or something? Where do you get your information about cobra, severance, etc? Its totally bonkers.

  62. Jamie (he/him)*

    When dotcom fashion company ‘boo’ did this in the UK in 2000, albeit to a few hundred workers rather than ‘just’ 12, their aim was to make it “painless” (for whom?) and cheap.

    The latter certainly failed: the workers made redundant by email were told to continue to the end of the day then leave and that management would be in place to check what they were leaving with at 5pm.

    The email went out at 1pm.

    Almost the entire staff unplugged their fashionable and expensive iMacs (the CRT ones with coloured plastic behind a TV screen) and walked off site immediately.

    I didn’t work for them but was on a tram going through the area and the sight of 100+ people piling on carrying Apple Macs was quite something… and a lesson that apparently hasn’t worked.

    Anyway, LW: when this happens to your company, help the people load up their cars.

  63. RJ*

    Tangential inhumane layoff story: I worked at a place that made companywide layoffs, and then gathered everyone in an afternoon meeting to explain that they were safe. Unfortunately, they’d forgotten that the swing shift had arrived and that some of them actually were being laid off, so after the meeting they had to grab some of them and lay them off after they were told they were safe.

    The next day they announced that they were closing one of our satellite offices, so THOSE people would also lose their jobs if they were unwilling to move to our main office. The CEO wanted to deliver the news “personally” onsite so that’s why they waited until a full day after they’d told everyone they were safe. The CEO was later upset when he offered to take people out for drinks at a nearby bar and no one showed up.

  64. IrishGirl*

    My dad was laid off summer of 2021 while he was on vacation and so was his boos. They were given notice that it was happening effective October 1st and his boss was in France and had to hop on a Teams call to tell my dad the news and that all the documents would follow to be within compliance of the WARN ACT. What is funnier is that they made him train his replacement as they outsourced his job. Then 4 months later hired him on a contractor to train the outsourced labor and manage them as they lost millions of dollars and customers once he was gone. His last day of that gig was June 30th and he is done with them at this point as he turns 70 in Nov.

  65. Trishy*

    At my last job (very small company) the C suites decided to lay off our coworker the day before her maternity leave ended. I had brought some welcome back balloons to her desk and a while later I was told she would not be returning as she had planned the following day. They had sent her a “your services are no longer required” letter via fedex. This was a tiny office and nobody could even give her the courtesy of a phone call. Cowards. I didn’t last much longer there, for that reason and more.

  66. Polly Hedron*

    Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss did it in person like this:
    “Knock knock”
    “Who’s there?”
    “Not you any more.”

    1. Bruce*

      The HR manager in The Norm had a Firing Finger, she would wander around and pick people to let go…

  67. Carol Z*

    As an IT person who has been on the receiving end of a phone call from a just-terminated-but-not-yet-notified employee asking why they can’t access anything … please don’t make me do this ever again.

    1. CeeCee*

      The same thing happened to one of my former colleagues. We were laid off together, but they missed the last minute meeting invite. They could not log in to the account in the morning, so they called my manager. The manager awkwardly told them that they were no longer employed.

      IT person telling others why they can’t access anything…this is so improper!

  68. JuniorB*

    The local region for a midsized bank (offices in over a dozen states) I worked for, sent an email at 8am for an “all hands” conference call at 9am. At 9am a senior exec announced that 4 local branches would be merged into 2 locations, and the employees from the 4 locations would need to post for the jobs. Gladiator-style: branch A and branch B were pitted against each other; as was branch C vs branch D. #1. The regional manager was on the call but never said a word. #2. No one at those 4 branches were given advance notice. They found out on the call, at the same time as everyone else.

  69. Database Developer Dude*

    I’m all done complaining about the job I got laid off from via email in 2013. These stories are horrible.

  70. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

    The boss who inspired my user name laid me off via email a couple months into the pandemic. It was a three sentence email: first, saying I was laid off; second, the perfunctory “thank you for your time” filler; and third, telling me I could call him if I wanted to hear more about it. I obviously didn’t (I had a new baby and was doing so much freelance work I was already considering leaving), then found out later from a former coworker that boss was livid I didn’t call. Apparently, he hated laying people off and preferred to fire them, but knew he had absolutely nothing he could legitimately cite for firing me. He had convinced himself that if I called him I was “challenging” the layoff and thus giving him grounds for firing me… weirdest thing ever, and wow am I glad to be gone.

  71. Wenike*

    As an IT person answering the phones, I’ve had those awkward conversations and even then my statement was: I can’t fix your account, you need to talk to your manager and/or HR. Some people recognized what was going on but still, not a fun position to be in. The other not-fun one was dealing with people who were told that they had their accounts and access through the end of their shift (healthcare, these were people working overnight) and other IT teams disabling the accounts at 8 PM (so about an hour after the people started) – it was related to vaccine status so these people all knew what had happened and were the ones who told me what was going on.

  72. vito*

    I was fired on June 1st from a job I started May 1st (oh well) the shift was from 15:45 – 00:15. It was easy to know what was happening because I showed up early for my shift and the manager kept asking when I was scheduled to clock in. He asked several times about that. Once I clocked in I was brought to his bosses office and was told that HR was “Concerned” about me. (I had issues on both the prior Saturday and Sunday). The funny thing was there were only two people scheduled for the shift I was on…and the other person QUIT the same day. I was not happy about being fired (but probably deserved it). I was happy though I was no longer worked at a place where I wasn’t allowed to use my first name on my name tag (the ASSt Manager had the same first name so he “decided” that I would use my LAST NAME on my name tag…without asking me.) As I was leaving they informed me I could re-apply in 6 months. I think I would rather stand on a corner and beg for money then go back.

  73. Willow*

    I was laid off via email. It was a personalised message from my boss. I vastly prefer that to a meeting or call because I didn’t have to worry about policing my own reaction on top of everything.

  74. Bruce*

    I wonder if watching Up in the Air before doing a big layoff would help managers grow some empathy. I’ve never implemented a big layoff but I’ve had a few very sad conversations as a manager and dodged the bullet myself a couple of times… sometimes it brings out the worst in people.

  75. Bruce*

    My first job had a big layoff in 1984 complicated by some office politics, my boss and I were kept on but our upper boss left… on his way out he told us that he had a new employee starting that day, he’d been ordered to lay him off, and so he resigned himself. Him doing that may have saved my job, though he did not say anything about that at the time. He immediately beat the bushes to find the new guy a job, got him placed and then went on to success elsewhere. I resolved to “keep my head down” as our CEO told us to do “there are bullets flying around” (he was ex Israeli Defense Force, along with a couple of other guys who’d served in the Yom Kippur War before immigrating to the US, they tended to pull out the military talk sometimes). Did OK for a couple of years, reconciled with the people I felt grumpy about, then moved on…

  76. yvve*

    exactly!! i am so confused that everyone else apperently wants to be told in person? Id so much rather have the email– with an option to meet i guess if you want to discuss it, but why would i want to be TOLD in person, thats terrible :/

  77. Paul Pearson*

    Alison rightly points out how lay offs like this shred reputation- I’d also add with customers. My friend was treated appallingly when laid off: now I, my family and friends would never touch their products; even if they were cheap or high quality

  78. Left for a Loop*

    Oof, real late to the party on this one but this basically happened to me. Worked in a satellite office for a big company where we got sent emails at 9 saying to be on the lookout for another email saying if we were being let go or not within the next half hour. I was the only part time person there so I was sure I was getting let go and was luckily already working on becoming full time at my other job.
    BUT! My manager had been pulled into an impromptu meeting an hour before the emails came out and I had to awkwardly wait for her to get out of it for over an hour!
    She had been told about the mass layoffs just before me and was very obviously upset about what happened!

    1. Left for a Loop*

      I forgot the most insane part! We worked with ppi and I was told I could keep working that day AND the next! I didn’t, but I can’t believe they would happily let me have access to all of that still

  79. Owlet101*

    In 2020 I got laid off as well as about 90% of my company. (I worked at a non-profit thrift store that rhymes with chill.) They didn’t send emails. They called everyone into the office and we joined a Zoom call where the president announced our lay offs.

    Email is not the best practice.

  80. BeeKay*

    I once worked for a company that did a big layoff badly. I don’t remember the details (it was nearly forty years ago) but what stuck with me was the comment made to the all-hands meeting of everyone who was left: “Yes, we handled it badly, but this is something we don’t want to get good at.”

    1. BeeKay*

      Also, I’ve been laid off enough that I get PTSD-like symptoms whenever the boss says “Hey, BeeKay, come into my office and close the door.”

  81. Old Admin*

    Talk about bad mass firings.
    The first mass layoff (40 people) I experienced was announced by email, then an unhappy messenger ran around giving us our layoff papers. I talked to the union reps, no help there. A C list politician turned Board member called all of us in to a meeting where he babbled about future opportunities for us, and that some of us would get offers. None of it was true – the employees made faces while he talked.

    The second one (different company, 20 people=50% of the work force) was announced by the CEO in the regular all hands on deck weekly company meeting. When he started talking in a somber voice, I buried my face in my hands – when I raised my head I was unemployed. That was it.

    Great going, both of them.

  82. Merrie*

    I worked for a large chain pharmacy. They decided to lay off several pharmacists in each district and based it purely on seniority. I knew something was up because they were taking ages to release the new schedule and the open shifts kept changing every time I refreshed (I was a floater and was looking for open shifts). Then on the appointed day,the unlucky victims got called to the district office, informed they were laid off, and had to go back to their store to get their stuff and then go home for good.

    At a store where I worked frequently and knew most of the staff, “Mike” and “Heather” were working together that day and Heather got called to the office, leaving Mike to handle the workload by himself. When she came back, she was understandably pretty upset and Mike, not realizing what was going on, said something like “We’re swamped, sign on and help me out” and she was like…. can’t, I just got laid off.

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