How to Fire Someone

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Two leaks this week have shed some light onto how people actually get fired or laid off. The first was a document provided to Bloomberg News on how Deutsche Bank fired traders caught in scandals over the phone. The calls started with a thank you, but promptly moved onto the dismissal:

“Thank you for making yourself available for this call today,” reads the first line of a two-page draft script obtained by Bloomberg News that was used to fire at least one trader caught up in the Libor scandal.

The niceties quickly fall away.

“We have decided that your employment agreement should be terminated with immediate effect by reason of your gross misconduct, which in the opinion of the bank is serious enough to prejudice the business and reputation of the bank,” the speaker would continue. “Your dismissal will be effective immediately and you will not be entitled to any period of notice or payment in lieu of notice.”

Secondly, Gawker has a letter from Whole Foods detailing the options for employees getting laid off—including a severance package and reapplying to an equal, higher, or lower position (where the company would give you half your severance to make up the difference in pay). The high-end supermarket announced Monday that it is restructuring—cutting 1.6 percent of its workforce—in order to lower prices.

Those two items reminded me of a piece that Saki Knafo did for us earlier this year, about whether it's possible to lay someone off nicely. He profiled HopeLab, a tech company that tried to make layoffs a bit less painful:

One former employee I interviewed sounded truly appreciative of the tacos provided at her going-away fete. (“Delicious,” she reported.) But more than that, she was grateful for the company’s willingness to talk through its decision with her both before and after the layoff, an approach that provided her with many opportunities for “closure and appreciation.” Another employee, an administrative assistant who lost her job at HopeLab during the recession, said that Murchison followed up with her every few months after letting her go, and even coached her for job interviews.

Making sure that laid off employees land on their feet is definitely part of the equation, because layoffs—which are sometimes unavoidable—are terrible: One study found that it had lasting psychological effects on employees, some of whom had trust issues even 17 years after the fact. Experts have suggested that transparency during layoffs, as well as voluntary redundancy—whereby companies going through downsizing ask their employees to resign)—are psychologically less harmful than being laid off.

Ever fired someone face to face? Tell us about it: