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You've got mail -- you're fired

Firing employees by e-mail is bad form, management experts say

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The e-mail message to RadioShack Corp. employees said: "The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated."

Get a pink slip at work, and you know you're being laid off.

But in a technology-dependent workplace, is e-mail or text messaging the newest management tactic to deliver the same old news: You're fired?

RadioShack became water cooler talk in recent weeks when it notified about 400 workers at its headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, by e-mail that they were being let go as part of planned job cuts. The company said it told workers in a series of meetings that notices would be delivered electronically. Employees met with senior managers after receiving the e-mail.

Spokeswoman Wendy Dominguez says company officials thought long and hard about the best way to notify employees, taking into account the open cubicle space where conversations could be easily overheard.

"We realize that to some people notification by e-mail may seem cold and impersonal. To those who feel that way, we are truly sorry and sincerely regret any impression that we intended to treat anyone with a lack of respect," she says. "We believed that individual, personal e-mail notification was the most private means of letting affected employees know they were to meet with their senior leaders."

But human resources and management experts say to be fired by e-mail is bad form.

"They're not computers," says Eileen Levitt, president of The HR Team in Columbia. "If you're going to lay them off, you should have the guts to sit them down and tell them their services are no longer required."

Does that principle apply even though workers do more business over e-mail and other mobile devices? Isn't firing someone via e-mail or text message the next logical step?

"I don't believe it is," says Ruth Haag, a management consultant and author of Hiring and Firing. "I believe it needs to be a face-to-face thing."

Even in the RadioShack situation where employees were told that they would receive electronic layoff notices, Haag offers this response: "When you're doing something rude, it doesn't matter that you told them ahead of time that you're going to do something rude."

But RadioShack isn't the only company resorting to electronic notification.

A sales worker at Blue Banana, a chain body-piercing studio in Cardiff, Wales, was told in a cellular telephone text message that she was fired, according to the Associated Press.

Katy Tanner had a migraine headache and took a sick day last month. When she turned her phone on, she got this memo: "We've received your sales figures, and they're not really up to the level we need. As a result, we will not require your services any more. Thank you for your time with us."

Ian Bisbie, a Blue Banana director, told the South Wales Echo that the company usually does not fire employees by text message but failed to reach Tanner by phone, according to the Associated Press.

Bisbie said the company is also keeping up with modern times.

"We are a youth business and our staff are all part of the youth culture that uses [text] messaging as a major means of communication," Bisbie told the newspaper.

Paul Lyons, a management professor at Frostburg State University, says such electronic firing tactics could be regarded as efficient. It avoids confrontations and situations where angry employees might try to sabotage office computers.

In the long run, however, Lyons says there are consequences such as a bad reputation.

"What if you need some of those folks back?" Lyons says. "They're customers, too."

Is laying off workers by e-mail or text message acceptable? Do you have a horror story? Send your stories, tips and questions to working@baltsun.com with your name and contact information.

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