“Hello there!” (The absolute worst way to terminate an employee.)

by Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP
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you're firedThe Internet is abuzz about an incredibly tacky, laughably inappropriate mass email that Microsoft sent to nearly thirteen thousand employees informing them, somewhere deep in the self-serving “it’s not you, it’s me” message, that they were all being terminated. This one act, by a seemingly sophisticated employer, highlights how difficult it is to terminate employees and why it is so important to do it right.

For starters, the Microsoft email opens with a “Hello there” greeting. That is hardly an appropriate tone to convey the seriousness and gravity of the message about to be delivered. To the contrary, it is insincere, insensitive and bound to add to the hostility of any employee who is about to find out what that “Hello there” is actually introducing.

IMPORTANT EMPLOYER LESSON #1: When an employee termination, or even mass lay off, is necessary, it is imperative to understand that there is nothing about it that is light or fun for the subject employee. The loss of a job is one of the top causes of depression and suicide. It is typically devastating, even if it is for cause and expected by the employee. And all too often it is entirely unexpected. To minimize employee damage, and employer-directed backlash, be mindful of tone and formality when delivering the termination message.

The other huge mistake in the Microsoft email is that it goes on for more than ten paragraphs about the company’s vision, its marketing goals, its corporate expansion and a host of other “here’s what I need” explanations before it gets to the point, that “what I need is not you.” That is not only cruel and insensitive, but completely the wrong approach to a situation that is all about the employee and not the company.

IMPORTANT EMPLOYER LESSON #2: It is important to be honest about the true reasons for an employee’s termination, but measured when delivering the message. If it is a for cause termination, do not attempt to spare feelings by lying and saying it is due to a lack of work or a lay-off. When the employee’s replacement is quickly promoted or hired, the terminated employee will find out and assume you were lying for a self-serving or illegal reason, such as unlawful discrimination or retaliation. This can lead to an inspired righteous lawsuit. If the termination really was due to lack of work or other legitimate business reason, tell the employee the specifics but make it brief. Again, a termination is about the employee not about the employer.

The Internet is free. Even an out-of-work former employee can afford to use it. If the termination was unreasonable, dishonest, undignified and/or cruel, the employee will likely use all available social networks to expose the employer and publicly harm it. Often, the former employee will also look for a reason to sue it.

Communicating the termination, as unpleasant as it always is, gives the employer the opportunity to prevent damage to the company. Communicate thoughtfully.

By the way, if you care to read the entire “terminated” email Microsoft sent, you can find it here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP | Attorney Advertising

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