The worst ways to get fired
On January 29, hundreds of journalists were laid off from Patch, AOL’s Local News Enterprise, in a conference call.
Patch CEO Leigh Zarelli Lewis reportedly told the assembled journalists (apparently 80%-90% of the staff):
“Patch is being restructured in connection with the creation of the joint venture with Hale Global. Hale Global has decided which Patch employees will receive an offer of employment to move forward in accordance with their vision for Patch and which will not. Unfortunately, your role has been eliminated and you will no longer have a role at Patch and today will be your last day of employment with the company.” (Listen to the call here.)
She signed off with “Thank you again and best of luck.”
It was a controversial move, and many seem to feel it was the wrong way to go about things — Fortune magazine has called the move tactless and insensitive – likely in part because of the common wisdom that terminations should always be done face to face. I don’t agree. While it’s true that the person doing the firing should be required to look their target in the face whenever appropriate, being let go over the phone is preferable in some circumstances, particularly if it will save the one being terminated a trip – if there’s no desk to clean out, if they work from home, if they work in a separate office from the terminator. It’s especially cruel to make someone travel to you to be terminated.
Also, the mass firing seems preferable to the more common alternative of being made to wait around the office, knowing cuts are happening, wondering if you’re the next to the gallows. Personally, I would prefer to be let go with a group. There’s comfort in numbers.
Regardless, there are far worse ways to be fired. Here are five of them.
By email, after over 20 years of service: In 2011, 38 warrant officers in the British military, each with more than 20 years of service and one who was on the front lines in Afghanistan at the time, were sacked via email. The soldiers each received a message saying their contracts would be terminated in 12 months and urging them to “start planning your resettlement.” Defense secretary Liam Fox was reportedly “furious” over the incident.
By text: Firing by text is cold. And there are almost no circumstances under which it would be acceptable. Except this one, because the firer seems so well intentioned. When Alabama restaurant Demos shut down in 2012, the owner let his entire staff know by text. He said, “We timed it right so they would have a total of four weeks’ worth of pay coming, and that gives them the opportunity to look for jobs without being burdened of coming in for work as well as allow for the safety of our employees.” He said he was concerned about recent shootings in the area. Also, the guy just lost his business, so we can cut him some slack.
On a conference call when you’re the only one getting the axe: AOL CEO Tim Armstrong did that to creative director Abel Lenz in 2012 during a Patch conference call,, because Lenz was recording the meeting. Armstrong later offered one of those half apologies, saying, “I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz… Internal meetings of a confidential nature should not be filmed or recorded so that our employees can feel free to discuss all topics openly. Abel had been told previously not to record a confidential meeting, and he repeated that behavior on Friday, which drove my actions.”
On Facebook: According to New Zealand’s Dominion Post, two women, Taryne Cullen, 20, and Brooke Adams, 19, were axed by a Wellington Pita Pit via Facebook. Cullen says she was away for a knee operation, and when she tried to return, the restaurant was under new management. When she didn’t see her name on the roster she contacted the owners and was allegedly told “you don’t have a job anymore.”
By intercom: Oh, the olden days, when we used intercoms to communicate and everyone around you could hear what was going on. According to one woman I know, her boss used to regularly fire people by intercom. It had the bonus if being both efficient and humiliating, all with the simple press of one button.
By accident? Lastly, we have to give a head nod to the HR department at UK insurance company Aviva, who accidentally fired the entire staff in an email in 2012,. Over 1,300 employees received a message telling them they were fired, adding, “I am required to remind you of your contractual obligations to the company you are leaving. You have an obligation to retain any confidential information pertaining to Aviva Investors operations, systems and clients.” And, of course, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and wish you all the best for the future.” A few minutes later they received a second email saying they weren’t in fact fired and apologizing for the error. Except for the intended recipient of the email, who was in fact fired.