You've got mail -- you're fired

On the Job

The e-mail message to RadioShack Corp. employees said: "The work forcereduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately yourposition 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 messagingthe newest management tactic to deliver the same old news: You're fired?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But RadioShack isn't the only company resorting to electronicnotification.

A sales worker at Blue Banana, a chain body-piercing studio inCardiff, Wales, was told in a cellular telephone text message that she wasfired, 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 salesfigures, and they're not really up to the level we need. As a result, wewill not require your services any more. Thank you for your time with us."

Ian Bisbie, a Blue Banana director, told the South Wales Echo thatthe company usually does not fire employees by text message but failed toreach 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 youthculture 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. Itavoids confrontations and situations where angry employees might try tosabotage office computers.

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

"What if you need some of those folks back?" Lyons says. "They'recustomers, 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 with your name and contact information.

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