You’re Fired! By Text Message?


You're fired!

You're Fired! By Text?

Texting. The New Pink Slip?
Last week a friend of mine, let’s call her Sheila, had a small gig for a few days at a skin care salon. The business owner was looking desperately for someone to handle the phone and appointment book at the salon and Sheila was seeking full time employment.  It seemed like a marriage made in heaven.

Admittedly, front office work hasn’t been the focus of her career to date. Sheila, otherwise known as a “big idea” person, is heavy into strategy and business development. This salon job was a hyper-detail-multi-tasking balancing act a lot like the Chinese Jugglers on the Ed Sullivan Show back in the 1960’s. So, while the learning curve was fairly steep,  Sheila proceeded through the week thinking everyone wanted her to succeed after a long dry period of failure to find the “right person”. Ultimately, though, it didn’t work out and by the third day, Sheila would be asked to move along…for reasons we now refer to in the civilized world as “a bad fit”.  OK, well, these things happen.

Unfortunately, the surrounding details of this dismissal are the truly sad ones. As the story goes, at the end of the week, Sheila went to her boss, the business owner, and asked how the owner felt the few days went with Sheila at the front desk. She, herself, knew there were things to learn and some corrections to make. The boss confirmed that suspicion and added that these moments of uncertainty are part of a new job with a lot of moving parts. Seeking clarification, Sheila then asked the boss for specifics. Her job responsibilities, as first explained, were very different from what she was now told.  Leaving with this handful of helpful criticisms, Sheila expressed her appreciation for the feedback and promised to incorporate these changes from then on.

On her way home, Sheila suspected that there was more going on than may have been relayed by her boss. Her plans for the following week, made long before she knew she would be working from 10 to 7, Tuesday through Saturday, would have to be postponed or canceled. My friend was quick to text (the boss’s device of choice) her boss that this job was her most important priority.  She was prepared, she explained, to cancel these long-standing plans to show up as expected the following week.

What came back was a shock. “Don’t bother,” texted the boss. “I’ve already got someone to replace you.”

Sheila was dumbstruck. Sure, there were signs that adjustments were in order but “don’t come back,” was not what she expected. After all, isn’t it natural to take time to learn a new job? Even the boss, herself, proclaimed there was a lot to know and it all took time to learn. What was going on? Why? and Why by text message?

When I told this story to a  psychologist friend of mine, she explained the passive aggressive nature of the boss’s behavior. It turned out that money was missing from Sheila’s weekly check. When she caught it, the boss covered the omission telling Sheila that she hadn’t actually spent a full first day at the salon. Not true. Plus, Sheila’s salary was meant to be calculated weekly, not hourly. The way it was explained by my psychologist friend was that the boss was unsatisfied to a much greater extent than she was willing to say, so she shorted the paycheck instead.

Then, as the story goes, once the salon owner was asked for specifics, she simply dismissed Sheila. Apparently, something she couldn’t or wouldn’t do an hour earlier when Sheila was standing right in front of her.  Sheila was on borrowed time and would be replaced in a matter of days with someone new. True, she might have gotten a few more days pay out of the situation had Sheila said nothing, but that icky feeling everybody  knows something about you but YOU, isn’t conducive to a sense of comfort, let alone security, in any situation.

If You Are In A Similar Situation, What Can You do?
(1) Assume nothing and (2) preserve your integrity! The fact is that every boss is covering his or her own ass whether they are a business owner or not. We are all on probation and a need-to-know basis for at least two weeks (and sometimes even two months), unless the boss is your father, and even then…Regardless of the other person’s ineptness, you can still walk away knowing YOU did the next right thing. My psychologist friend advises that you want to leave every situation in a way that allows a future encounter to be civilized, at the very least. We never know when and how we may have to or want to see or speak to that person again. In a longer-term engagement that could end abruptly, we may still want a reference from the employer or business owner. We may have colleagues or friends in common who the story could get back to.

It’s important to be a lady or a gentleman no matter how off the hook bosses or anybody, for that matter, act. We, first and foremost, want to walk away from any situation with assurance that we handled it in the most civilized and courteous way. My psychologist friend suggested we go so far as to thank the boss for the time and energy he or she put into the test run. At first, this may sound outrageous but in life, lots of things seem ridiculous at first, but we’re glad we conducted ourselves with integrity when the new day dawns.

As for the text message element of this story, our human communications have, after all, been reduced to a tweet of 140 characters or less. Wedding announcements, births, deaths, divorces, child custody battles, TV show cancellations, even civil wars are now a matter of how many people are following you, not how honestly or well you handle yourself. So what do we expect when someone has bad news to deliver about a job? We are all hiding behind technology at this point. Either because we are multi-tasking and someone gets the short-shrift (remember the Seinfeld cell phone face off?) or we don’t feel like putting the time in to be cordial or politically correct. Or worst of all, we just don’t care anymore. What would The Donald say?

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8 thoughts on “You’re Fired! By Text Message?

  1. Sounds like Sheila should go to the Labor Board regarding the short pay issue. Revenge can be sweet. Also, depending upon whether she’s in an employment at will state, Sheila could be terminated at any time for any or no reason. She could also quit on same terms.

  2. I am a human resources consultant. There are a few issues already with this story. First and foremost, she is supposed to be paid at an hourly rate. She is a non-exempt employee and needs to paid accordingly. Also, just because it is an At-will state doesn’t mean an employer can just fire you for any reason, especially not through text. The burden of proof falls on the employer. There are also mandatory items (depending on the state) that should be provided when terminating someone (i.e., final paycheck, notice of change in relationship, etc.). She definitely has a case.

  3. Nancy, thanks for the comment a while back. I wanted to circle back and find out if you would like to “guest blog” here on human resources issues.
    It would be great for both of us!
    Let me know
    thanks!
    Elaine

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