A friend of mine was recently laid off from a contracting gig. It was made clear from the beginning when he was first offered the role that it was a "high risk" position in the sense that both the role and the project itself were on shaky ground and there was a high chance that the engagement might not last for more than a few months. He weighed his options and decided to give the role a try anyway (The long term rewards if the project did work out were worth it).

Last week (after 4 months) it was decided that they would not continue with him (which he was sort of expecting since the project hadn't been doing well), but they didn't give him a few days notice or even a few hours notice. Instead the person he reported to and an HR rep just walked up to his desk and asked him to leave on the spot, the didn't even let him touch his laptop. They did say that his dismissal had nothing to do with his performance or anything, he was doing his job well, but the company had changed strategy.

So why couldn't they be nice about it? Even when people are laid off or dismissed for performance reasons, they are at least given to the end of the day to leave.

Being asked to get out there and then and being escorted out like that made look like he had done something wrong when in fact the dismissal had nothing to do with his performance.

To make things worse, he works in a highly specialized field with only a small number of companies in his city. People would have noticed the abrupt departure and rumors are bound to spread that something bad had occurred, thus negatively effecting his future career prospects.

Is there anything he do about this? How can he repair the damage to his reputation? Is there anything he can ask for from his ex-employer to mitigate this?

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    can you add a location? based on it there might be different laws – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica May 18 '18 at 1:35
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    "Even when people are laid off or dismissed for performance reasons, they are at least given to the end of the day to leave." Actually, they very rarely are - especially if they are in a position to sabotage a project - you may get so-called garden leave and severance pay, depending on laws and contracts. – HorusKol May 18 '18 at 5:04
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    If all the answers are going to say "this is typical" then this question really needs a location tag, because it sounds insane to me. – Erik May 18 '18 at 5:22
  • Did this "contract" not have a term with notice conditions? basically what sort of contract is this a real self employed one 1066 or the disguised employment w2 one – Neuromancer May 19 '18 at 20:14
  • @Neuromancer it was a 1099 that would have converted to W2 if they managed to succeed in their project. – Alex Kinman May 20 '18 at 0:58

The situation seems typical to me. The first time I saw someone fired I asked the manager why he handed the person being fired a two week severance check and immediately escorted them out the door. He noted that there were two problems.

  • First if the employee was required to work for then there would likely be a lot of grousing from the fired employee which would cause discontent among the other employees left.

  • The second reason is overt sabotage. To "get even" the fired employee could sabotage any number of things. We worked with chemicals so it wasn't necessarily just monetary damage that could be done but also that the fired employee could cause another employee to be injured.

The last thing here are the manger's comments. To be professional the comments should have been delivered in private (which you didn't address) and the manager shouldn't make any comments about the cause to the remaining team members. Trying to "explain" the reasoning to the remaining team ultimately is trying to justify the firing. That just digs a hole for management.

Note that this also protects the fired employee. Since he wasn't given any opportunity to sabotage things, then whatever goes wrong in the next month can't be blamed on him.

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    Another reason for severing a contractor from all company access immediately on termination is to protect the contractor from accusations of revenge-motivated sabotage. This is not so much to be nice to the contractor, but more to preserve the forensic quality of evidence needed for the post-mortem study of the failed project. – A. I. Breveleri May 18 '18 at 2:11

It's not unusual, especially in the IT business, that when you are laid off, you will be removed from the offices and more importantly from your computer on the spot. The reason is that people in your friend's position may be able to cause huge damage to a company in a short time, and the company cannot know if the person that they hired isn't the rare psycho who will cause damage.

As a contractor, your friend may also have had zero notice. In permanent position, especially in Europe, there will often be a notice period. That doesn't mean they don't remove you on the spot, it just means you have a paid holiday until your notice ends.

And in the end, they were nice about it. As you said, he was told that it had nothing to do with his performance, just that the company changed strategy.

What you say about rumors is really nonsense. Everyone in that industry knows that some jobs disappear, and new ones turn up. What happened is not unusual.

  • As I mentioned to @DarkCygnus we've laid off contractors on my team. They didn't get severance or a big goodby lunch - but they did get a few days notice and were allowed to pack up their stuff at their own leisure. – Alex Kinman May 17 '18 at 23:37
  • @AlexKinman what is your plan for the next time when one of this people sabotages your product in the days he still has full access to all resources after being laid off? – Josef says Reinstate Monica May 18 '18 at 10:43
  • They were given notice but in those cases presumably wasn’t required. As a contractor, you can be fired, at any point per the terms of your contract. – Donald May 20 '18 at 14:35

Is there anything he do about this? How can he repair the damage to his reputation? Is there anything he can ask for from his ex-employer to mitigate this?

I don't think this is something that can lead to rumors or negatively affect his career.

You don't specify it, but it seems that your friend was under an at-will employment relationship. In this sort of work relationships there is usually no Notice Period whatsoever, and you are subject to be terminated right there as your friend was.

Also, leaving the laptop there is not something too unusual, as it surely was company property. They probably did that to minimize the chances of your friend taking any information from it if he remained with it.

It's a shame that they didn't do this in a more polite and smooth manner, but surely as they said this had nothing to do with his performance, so no need to worry about repercussions. Your friend should update his CV and start job-hunting immediately.

  • Yes - he was on at-will employment arrangement. But I still don't understand the whole please get up and leave now thing. My own team let go of an "at-will" contractor last year because she was no longer needed. We gave her few days notice and bought her coffee on the day she left (even though in her case she was underperforming and didn't get along with some team members). The way my friend was escorted our of the building made it seem like they didn't trust him or he had broken some rules or something. – Alex Kinman May 17 '18 at 23:28
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    @AlexKinman Different companies/industries have very different norms about this. In some places, the way your friend was fired is the norm, for security reasons. It's rough, but it's also common enough that people are unlikely to assume he did anything wrong. – Geoffrey Brent May 18 '18 at 2:25
  • Not sure if at will applies the same to a contactor you normally sig a contract that say I will work for n months or what have you? – Neuromancer May 19 '18 at 20:15

"why couldn't they be nice about it?"

From your description, it sounds like they were professional about it. He's out. The company is protecting itself from sabotage (unlikely) and any final email to colleagues and clients (quite likely). Your friends reputation is not damaged in any way; if he feels it was, then he's more than welcome to post a question about it.

I feel that the person most upset about this termination is you. But sorry - it's business, that's all.

  • Everybody keeps saying this is "normal" - I've seen my fair share of people laid off (and been laid off once myself) - it was never "get out now", at worst it was "this is your last day", more frequently "this is your last week". If I ever see someone being escorted out of the office I assume it was because they were thought to be a threat. – Alex Kinman May 18 '18 at 2:29
  • In IT, this is pretty much the standard way of doing it. – PeteCon May 18 '18 at 15:08

I don't have specific advice but I can tell you what I did under similar circumstances (and it is a sucky situation to be in): when I took on a high risk (also very high paying) contract I made it my point to be as upfront and honest with upper management and build a good rapport. Because of this they were nice enough to give me a quiet heads-up 4 weeks prior to the contracts early termination. It still adversely affected my career and I had to take on a more junior role that paid almost half of the previous pay to make up for the 3 month stint on my resume. Maybe your buddy might need to take a step back and take on an easier to get into role to make up for this.

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