Tag you're fired: Big businesses behaving badly
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You're no doubt aware of Radio Shack's sensitive handling of its recent downsizing, a k a mass firings. It e-mailed 400 employees with the good news. This grace note inspired Jeanne Sahadi of CNN Money.com to review some bad corporate behavior, which is not hard to come by these days. Besides using e-mail, companies have fired people by FedEx, text message, voice mail and conference call.
One company made the exercise fun by herding employees into an auditorium and giving them one of two color-coded packets. Those with the same color packets sat together. The two groups were then escorted out through different room exits. One led back to the office, which meant they still had jobs. The other led to the street, giving the unlucky a jump on a trip to the unemployment office.
Another company deliberately left a new organizational chart on the copy machines. This subtle approach rendered some employees among the disappeared, while putting others in new positions.
Then there's the company that provided money-saving tips to laid-off employees. Examples: "Don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash" and "Bicycle to work." Work?
Low E.Q. or just jerks?
Workplace stress expert Al Siebert, director of something called the Resiliency Center, says laying off employees by remote methods indicates a low emotional intelligence. Or it could simply indicate that such employers are heartless bastards. Some are skilled at treating fired employees like criminals. It not only traumatizes, but research shows that workers who go through a ham-handed layoff take longer to find new work. And it could inspire remaining employees to quit because they don't want to be around when the ax falls again. Stop me, if you can relate.
Cynthia Shapiro wrote the book on it. It's called: "Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know." Her advice, according to CNN: View your company as if it's a fearful giant that won't hesitate to swat you down if you tweak its fears. Also: Beware HR. Shapiro's years as a human-resource executive led her to conclude: "HR is not there to help employees anymore. HR is there to support management." Being a top performer may provide some protection, but not if you don't get along with your boss. And being among the highly paid can be an added incentive for them to can you.
You're also at greater risk if you've:
First announced that you're pregnant or need medical leave to someone other than your boss. If she hears about it from someone else, she could lay you off and claim she didn't know your situation.
Taken a medical leave or filed for workers' compensation recently.
Filed a complaint against the company or your boss.
Some horror stories
"Before you go to work, read the morning paper. I was a chef at a four-star hotel in San Antonio. One morning before work I was reading the "Foodie News" in the paper. One item was about a chef who was taking my place! I confronted the general manager, who confirmed what I had read. Now that's World Class Service!"
Dr. D., Orlando, Fla.
"I didn't get it, but the guy next to me did. When we came back from lunch, his security pass wouldn't work, so I let him through the gate. When we passed the boss's office, he went in and said, 'I need a new pass. Mine's failed.' The boss said, 'Your pass hasn't failed. You don't work here.' and took the card out of his hand."
Al Robinson, Toronto, Ont.
"My daughter's company scheduled an employee day during work hours with food, drink and an autograph session with the NASCAR driver the company sponsored. When it was over and the employees returned to their desks, a fair number found layoff notices. Guess the company thought they would feel better about the layoff if they enjoyed themselves first."
Gregg Crow, Marietta, Ga.
"My former boss in the U.K. would let people know they were fired by having me disable their e-mail. I had to tell anyone who asked why to pick up a redundancy letter. Eventually, after I could no longer stand the looks and comments from my co-workers, I was fired for disabling the e-mail of every senior manager, many of whom helped our boss come up with his spineless way of avoiding confrontation."
A.J., Anchorage, Alaska
"About 15 years ago I worked for a wholesale club. I was working late one night, and the fax machine was in my office. Corporate HQ sent a newspaper display ad to our GM for placement. The ad was for my job. "
Adam, Mystic, Conn.
"In May, I was the victim of a mass layoff. Security guards were brought in. They sat us down in the conference room and played a recording of the CEO telling us that they were shutting down all the branches in the country and resorting to four call centers. We had five minutes to gather our belongings and leave the office. Nothing like getting laid off by a recording!"
Erjohn Amzovski, Philadelphia
"I was on the road and tried to e-mail a project to my boss. The send failed, reporting that the server didn't recognize me. I sent the project from a personal account with the message 'something's wrong with my e-mail.' The boss replied quickly, 'E-mail's fine, you've been laid off.' "
E. Weeks, San Diego
"I was hired by a company on the East Coast and had to move, at my own expense, from the West Coast. In my offer letter, it stated that the company would pay to relocate me back to the West Coast if they had to let me go within 14 months. This provision was just part of their normal hiring package. After 12 months I had my yearly performance review. My manager gave me a very positive review along with a substantial raise. As the meeting was wrapping up, he proceeded to give me a 60-day layoff notice. Not only that, the date of my layoff was exactly one day after the 14 months, so the company would not have to pay for my relocation. There's nothing like getting a good raise and a layoff notice at the same meeting."
"I was called into the boss's office and told that 'company was going in a different direction' and let go. Two days later I received a letter in the mail stating that since I hadn't shown up for work that the they could only assume that I quit."
Greg, Rochester N.Y.
"I had been working for an association for three weeks. Came in on Monday and they had turned all computer systems off, then papered the windows to the conference rooms. If your phone rang at your desk, you knew you were gone. No one wanted to answer the phone."
KMK, Springfield, Va.
"My husband was 'downsized' in the airport lobby by the middle manager who flew in. Then he was requested to go back to his office, collect all his files, computer, etc. and deliver them back to the airport for the boss. Another time he was terminated after driving 14 hours to headquarters to attend a regional meeting. They didn't even pay for the gas and lodging-- told him to deduct it from his taxes as a business expense."
Cherry, Grand Rapids, Mich.
"Christmas Day 1988 a senior vice president called me and demanded I leave a family celebration for an 'emergency meeting' in the Chicago area. I drove four hours to hear the vice president tell me how impressed he had always been with my following directions and inform me that the company was firing me because they had elected to go with a contract sales firm to cover my territory. As an additional bonus he explained that I would not be getting ANY severance pay, nor would the firm pay for the mileage to the meeting to fire me. I then had a four hour road trip back to an awaiting family that was convinced that I must have received a major promotion to have been called away. Not a good day."
Guy Washington, Indianapolis
I worked for a large film-making company in upstate New York. When it decided to send production operations to Mexico and China, it was a huge media event, and local news crews would hover just outside the company's property to get laid-off workers' comments. So the company called in entire work groups, handed each employee an envelope, and told them to go home and only then open the envelope to find out if they still were employed, and then escorted off the company's property. It did not take long for the employees to figure out that if you were handed a fat envelope you no longer had gainful employment. To keep the employees guessing, the management started stuffing bubble wrap in the envelopes so that they were all the same size.
Steve, Rochester, N.Y.
"My cousin used to work for an investment firm. When they slashed their work force, they chose the efficient route: The employee found out when their manager and an armed guard arrived at their desk without any warning. Their manager then tossed them a cardboard box and told them to pack up and leave. Then they were escorted out. The only thing missing were the leg and arm chains!"
Joel, Mission, Kan.
"I got the boot on a Sunday after spending an 80-hour week wrapping up a critical project. I was in San Francisco, preparing to fly back to Boston. When I tried to book a flight, I was told that the card was cancelled. I called my boss and asked what was up. He didn't expect the call. He said that HR was supposed to call me on Friday. I asked my now ex-boss to purchase a return flight in my name. He refused. I ended up buying a ticket with my own money. My ex-employer refused to reimburse me because I had been terminated on Friday."
First Published September 8, 2006 12:00 am