June 5 2010|11.27 AM UTC

Stan Reybern

You’re Fired: 11 Horrific Layoff Stories

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Layoffs are rarely pleasant even under the best circumstances. After all, it’s pretty tough to put a positive spin on the sudden loss of your job. However, given the already bad undertones of a layoff, the way in which it is handled can make all the difference. Some employers (especially during recessions) add insult to injury by delivering news of layoffs in hurtful, embarrassing, or completely unexpected ways, which can create serious frustration for the victims. Here are 11 layoff horror stories from past and present that will make you grateful to still be employed.

“Get Well Soon, & Get a New Job”

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Hearing that you’ve been laid off is tough to stomach even in full health, so you can imagine the indignity of being given the news while bedridden with illness. Gawker.com tells the story of an unnamed person who honorably kept showing up to work despite lack of health insurance or treatment until being “dragged to the emergency room by a friend” for an unavoidable five night stint in the hospital. Rather than being rewarded for this praiseworthy display of workplace dedication, this person actually got canned! Her manager stopped by at home to “check on things”, bringing a bouquet of flowers and a severance check, presumably because of the time spent in the ER rather than at work. The now unemployed woman is said to still be paying off her hospital bill.


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Most of us regard our job status as a private matter between ourselves and our employers, not water-cooler fodder to be discussed publicly. Unfortunately, this seemingly reasonable request is not always honored. TheHighDefinite.com recalls the plight of a woman named Sylvia who was informed of her impending layoff not by telephone, not by e-mail, and not by a private one-on-one conference, but by discovering a Microsoft Word file called “SylviaFired.doc” which had been saved for public viewing on the company’s shared virtual hard drive! Worse yet, the memo was full of spelling and grammar errors, leading Sylvia to spend the last few hours of on-the-clock time fixing them. While Sylvia remembers this as “the most fulfilling project I took on during my time there” it’s an extremely embarrassing way to be given the heave-ho nonetheless.

“Got The News From Reuters”

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Millions of people get all kinds of news from Reuters, from sports to world affairs to finance. What none of us would ever expect to hear from a news wire report, however, is that we had lost our jobs. But as Thomasnet states, one employee of a large bank discovered that his entire division was being eliminated via a Reuters wire. Apparently, an unhappy bank insider leaked the story to the press before the bank had finalized any of its plans and the news spread like wildfire to the entire soon-to-be-scrapped team. Bank management frantically tried to play damage control (calling a closed-door meeting to avoid pandemonium) but the proverbial horses were already out of the barn by then. The bank’s HQ is said to be devising a strategy to deal with lawsuits from employees alleging mental pain and suffering.

“Train Your Replacements & Get The Hell Out”

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A growing number of companies are retaining employees they plan to layoff just long enough for them to train their cheap foreign replacements. Yahoo joined the party in December 2008, reportedly laying off eight to ten people as soon as they had finished training their web search analysis successors in India. What’s worse is the cruel timing of the layoffs. One disgruntled employee lamented the injustice of being kept around “only to get laid off two weeks before Christmas with a rather pathetic and hollow thank-you for having done so much work on the outsourcing.” Other companies (such as media research firm Nielsen) have taken to literally forcing employees to remain until their replacements are trained by withholding severance pay and unemployment benefits eligibility if they leave beforehand.

“You’re Next!”

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Big waves of layoffs are brutal for HR staff, who are often charged with delivering the news to recently laid off (and pissed off) employees. But in some cases, this is only half the battle. A telling example is a man who was asked to create and deliver “exit packages” (containing severance pay, final paperwork, etc.) to those being laid off…and then received his own the day after he finished handing them out to all the others. Talk about squeezing every last drop out of someone before tossing them to the curb! If this didn’t send shivers through what remained of the HR department, we don’t know what will.

“Changed The Locks”

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One of the last things a freshly laid off employee does at the workplace as gather his belongings, usually into a big box that makes their firing obvious to everyone. Apparently, however, some people don’t even get to do that. BerkeleyDaily.com remembers a horror story from the aftermath of the dotcom bust where one man could not even retrieve his possessions. The story quoted a union representative as saying:

“The locks were changed on the building and one of the guys had all his personal belongings impounded in the building. There’s no notice of when and how or if they will be paid.”

Such scenarios are apparently common in financially struggling companies, as are lengthy, protracted court battles over any back compensation you might be owed by the dying enterprise.

“Give a Book, Lose Your Job”

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Managers are constantly encouraging employees to take initiative in their jobs, such as by staying abreast of industry trends or keeping an eye out for new books that could give them an edge. It comes as somewhat of a mixed message, then, that one poster on FiredForNow.com reports being fired after doing exactly that. According to the anonymous commenter, he had told his boss (who was known to enjoy reading industry books) that he had come across a book the boss would like. The boss shot off a cheery “Awesome! I’ll come pick it up – thanks!” via e-mail, and summoned the employee to his office just hours later. Figuring he would save the boss a trip, he brought the book with him and handed it over as soon as he arrived. Amazingly, the boss then dropped the bombshell that the employee was being fired, held out the book and said “I guess you want this back, huh?” Evidently, the old adage to “expect the unexpected” is alive and well in corporate America.

“Fired During Surgery”

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So far we’ve seen firing via public memo, book exchange and get well soon visit, but perhaps none of them top the sheer absurdity of this one. According to the Examiner, a nurse in the Madison, WI area was literally “pulled out of surgery to be told she would be losing her job” at Dean’s West Clinic. Evidently, clinic management had received word from the parent company to lay off 90 employees immediately, which Dean’s West wasted little time enforcing. Amazingly, the sudden, unplanned lack of a nurse for the surgical procedure she was assisting with “did not violate any patient care procedures” according to the Examiner.

“Hyatt Housekeepers Laid Off For Minimum Wage Replacements”

One unhappy reality of business is cost-cutting, especially during tough times. The Daily Kos reports in September 2009 that Hyatt Hotels has laid off its benefited housekeeping staff (who earn $15+ per hour with health insurance) in order to bring in an outsourced firm willing to work for $8 with no benefits at all. While the Kos has somewhat exaggerated the situation in its typical fashion, it’s certainly horrific to abruptly lose your income and health insurance benefits in the middle of a recession with full knowledge that you probably wont be getting hired at anything close to your old salary.

“Duck Duck Goose Layoffs”

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As we’ve seen in many of these stories, the handling of the layoff is often harsher than the layoff itself. David Drach’s story reminds us just how true this is. Working as a network administrator for ex-dotcom company DoDots, Drach observed with shock as the company called he and his co-workers into various conference rooms for mysterious and abrupt “meetings.” The events that transpired are described thusly by Drach:

“They walked by and tapped people on the shoulders and told them to go home for today and come back tomorrow. They laid everybody else off,” he said. “They may as well have gotten people together in the circle and started playing duck-duck-goose.”

Talk about humiliation! While Drach found a new job rather easily, he still remains shaken by his layoff at DoDot, noting that “even after I got laid off, two of my friends stayed back to help the moving company. I got to go back to the scene of the crime after the fact. You can just see the shock still in their eyes.”.

“Fired During a Fire Drill”

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Milwaukee Unemployment Examiner writer Christine Wodke received word about a truly appalling “wave” of layoffs in April 2009 – no pun intended. According to a reader e-mail, a “large office campus” was evacuated during a fire drill, causing hundreds of employees to empty out of the multi-building complex and into a public outdoor area. What happened next is almost difficult for a sane person to comprehend. While the employees gathered in their assigned areas and waited to be signaled back indoors, the person in charge of the drill spoke the following words over a loudspeaker:

“Due to the ongoing recession and bad business climate, the company is laying off 50% of its staff. So when the announcement finishes I ask all of you to move back to the building. If your employee card does not give you access to the building , it means you have been laid off and will not be allowed inside the building. All of your belongings will be sent to you.”

The rationale for this impromptu (to say the least) layoff method? The desire to not “clog our e-mail system with layoff notices and farewell messages”, as well as “avoiding any fighting inside the office and security issues” for the staff, according to the Examiner.

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

lookin' in from outside December 5, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I once worked for a company that was reorganizing but letting people go from its corporate structure, while making new hires in its new “divisions”. Horror stories — here are three =

1) A long-time employee was asked to come in on a Sunday — her director would be there. He asked her to put together 34 layoff “packages”, put them on the table because there’s going to be a layoff on Monday. “When you’re done, get a cup of coffee, I want to chat with you about the future.” She did what she was told, went to sit with him and he said to go out there and put together one more package –” FOR YOURSELF.”

2) Layoffs were ALWAYS done on Fridays there. And it was usually preceded by your system access being revoked. We knew a layoff was coming. I came back from the bathroom, and couldn’t log on. “User xxxx is not authorized to use this system.” OK, I’m fired. I start cleaning out my desk. I call my wife — “I got the ax”. One of my co-workers is in shock, calls around, etc., and around an hour later my manager comes by and tells me “it was a mistake, you should be able to get on now.” I later learned that I **had** been let go, by my director, but a higher-up (VP) vetoed my termination.

3) I finally gave my resignation. I had been passed over for a promotion (technical manager) in deference to an accountant, and then was asked to train her for the position. When I resigned, the next day my manager asked me if I had committed to the new position because “we’d like to talk tomorrow.” – Translation = counter-offer ahead. I said it would be fine, but bring something to the table, and not “gee whiz or maybe next year.” The next day, I sat down. The counter-offer was, my layoff date was six months away, and if I waited the full six months, they’d give me 15 weeks severance instead of the 12 I would have normally received. Whoo-hoo!

I have another horror story about another place I worked — where I was accused of screwing up a project, and was actually written up for it, but, I was 2200 miles away and on vacation at the time of the screw-up. That’s another story for another day.


Julianne April 23, 2011 at 11:07 pm

I am middle aged (ish) now, but i got laid off from my very first job when I was in my teen because the boss’s wife didn’t like me. I was very mousey and I didn’t really understand at the time that she saw me as some sort of competition. Nothing could have been farther from the truth because the boss was a monster LOL. But it took me years for my confidence to recover.


SB_Australia September 22, 2012 at 1:45 am

I have not actually been fired but I would have been fired from my last job had I not quit.

I was the receptionist but I was frequently asked to perform duties that were not only not in my job description but outside of my field of expertise. This lead to mistakes being made – big ones that cost the company a lot of money to rectify. Luckily for me I had sent an email to the manager asking him if he was sure he wanted me to do this task because I don’t know what I’m doing & it’s important that it gets done properly. He responded (by email) “Yes. I don’t have the time so do the best you can & leave the finished paperwork on my desk.” I did & instead of checking it before he sent it off to the ATO he just sent it…oops!

I knew I was going to get in the shit when emails & phone calls started coming in from the accountant & the ATO so I started looking for a new job. I found one & resigned.

I heard that my manager was reprimanded for delegating that task to me & then after they basically made him grovel & capitulate they told him his services were no longer required & his final two weeks pay & annual leave had been put into his account.


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