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You're Fired! (Part 1—What to Expect When You're Getting Axed)

Vivia Chen

May 6, 2013

Donald-trump-YouRfired[1]How sweet. Corporate Counsel and The Wall Street Journal are offering advice about the "right" way to fire employees. Now that the economy is better, management can finally fire people with a clear conscience. What a wonderful public service this is!

As your faithful career sherpa, I am always on high alert about what management has up its sleeves. So let's take a peek at the advice offered to employers. To battle the enemy, you need to understand its tactics.

Corporate Counsel suggests that employers deliver the "you're fired" message by following these steps:

1. Give notice to the employee that it is an action for termination.

2. List reasons for the action ("be specific, but not too specific").

3. List prior warnings: Give dates and subject matter.

4. Tell employee of the benefits that he is entitled to.

5. Tell employee whether there was a review of the decision.

6. Be specific about the date of the worker's last day.

7. Mention the exit interview: Give time, place, and date.

The list is succinct and cold. It's kind of like notifying death row inmates about an impending execution. That "review of the decision" sounds like a reminder that your appeals have been exhausted, while that "benefits" reference sounds like an allusion to the last meal.

Last year, The Wall Street Journal's career column offered similar tips, though it couched them in a more "humane" way. (First rule, says the WSJ, is not to do it à la Donald Trump.) It stresses that managers should minimize trauma and be mindful of people's dignity during the process. Here are the WSJ's tips to employers:

1. Do your own dirty work. "The main bearer of bad news should be the employee's direct manager."

2. Get it witnessed by a third party. "Having another manager or HR representative present helps to avoid a game of he-said, she-said if the employee retaliates with legal action. A third party also can ensure that the conversation remains on topic and professional."

3. Make it quick. "Many HR experts suggest capping the meeting at 15 or 20 minutes."

4. Never apologize. "Saying you're sorry suggests that the manager is disappointed with the decision, which could leave the employee wondering whether the firing really was fair."

5. Don't forget to criticize. To lessen the suggestions of "nefarious motives, such as gender or age discrimination" for the firing, "rehash some of the missteps an employee has made." 

Both the WSJ and CC are essentially describing ways to set up the poor, hapless employee. Both advocate methods that will rattle the employee, such as reiterating past criticisms (even when they are quite minor) and bringing in another company official (which will make the employee feel outnumbered). The idea, I suppose, is to make the employee think twice about suing the employer for wrongful termination.

Needless to say, the employer always has some rationale to fire you. Just check out those "goals" that you were required to list on your last performance review—like how you would bill at least 2,500 hours, develop $5 million in new business, and get named to Above the Law's hottie list. (Speaking of job expectations, I was just informed that I have to complete my "goals" for the upcoming year.)

Yes, you are probably a cooked goose. So what can you do if get fired? Stay tuned: Tomorrow I will tackle that very issue.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.



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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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