Hatchet Man

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
Please weigh in on a disagreement between my fellow supervisor and
me. I need to lay off an employee. Is it better to do it when his other
co-workers aren’t there so he doesn’t have the shame of packing up
his belongings and leaving in front of them? Or is that less optimal
because it deprives him the opportunity to say goodbye to his
Hatchet Man

Dear Hatchet Man:
Let’s distinguish between lay-off and firing. Even though a lot of what I
will say below relates to both, when you fire someone, for cause, like
being a thief or malingerer, you generally owe them less emotionally
and care less about their feelings and co-worker relations. You might
still do it nicely. And should certainly do it ”by the book.” But the fact
that you no longer like or trust the soon-to- be-ex employee mitigates
the need for social niceties.

Generally the rules for termination are pretty simple. Don’t do it on a
Friday, when the person might feel they have no recourse for a next
action, and are trapped at home with an anxious family. Take away
computer access, keys, and entrée to company records like clients lists
so you don’t encounter sabotage or enable a potential competitor.
Don’t do the deed in front of co-workers because of the shame and the
possibility of emotional acting out. If you haven’t seen the George
Clooney movie Up in the Air, rent it soon to see how badly some of
those scenes can go.

If this is a genuine lay-off, not a firing, ask for a late afternoon
meeting with the employee. Start with variations on: This is hard
because I genuinely like you. But the company is cutting back and
you’re on the layoff list. You’ll be eligible to file for unemployment. I’m
glad to serve as a reference for you. We’re all going to miss you.
Make sure the meeting lasts until other employees are gone. Then
escort the employee to his desk to clear things out and collect keys, etc.


Last thing will be to ask for a personal email address from the
now-ex employee. Say you’d like to include him in an email you’ll send
to staff explaining the circumstances. Then he and they can say their
goodbyes without tears or drama.