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As title. Just been told we are being laid off, and asked to keep it confidential from anyone outside this room.

They sent us home "to absorb the news".

Is it really the case that we cannot tell partners/spouses and have to keep it to ourselves?

When can I tell my partner? or I have to get clearance to tell?

My partner is at home so I can't turn up late with this.

Edit: there is a severance package but it's likely to be just the one mandated by law, not "enhanced" in any way. We were told on the day and sent home for that day, but have to work for another ~1 month after this. My partner has no connection to this company other than through me, totally different role and industry.

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    You should really add which country this is, because the answer will very much depend on it. – gnasher729 Mar 3 at 8:40
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    Did they indicate when the lay-off would be effective and until when they want you to keep the lay-off secret? – das-g Mar 3 at 13:30
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    Does your partner have any connection to the company, e.g. as an employee, supplier, or customer? – Andrew Morton Mar 4 at 13:17
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    Did they make you sign anything? – ChatterOne Mar 5 at 8:46
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    And what are they going to do if you don't keep it to yourselves? Fire you? – Yunus Nedim Mehel Mar 5 at 15:44

16 Answers 16

368

You're not in the army, in prison or at school - you can tell whoever you like. What are they going to do if you do ?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Mar 5 at 6:59
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    Although it sounds like a rhetorical question (and was probably intended as such), you should take it literally. It is unlikely illegal nor is there anything that can really stop you from sharing this information. Therefore all that's left to consider is if any negative effects of doing so if they find out you shared the information. – NibblyPig Mar 5 at 14:00
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    Poor answer. It's completely reasonable for OP to wonder if talking about it could result in them being fired for cause and lose any severance package (and the time to job search before the layoffs take effect), just as one example of many things. Everyone can always do what they like if it's in the realm of the possible, but that's hardly advice. – Matthew Read Mar 5 at 19:41
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    This definitely holds if they never find out. If there is a reasonable chance they might find out before the severance is complete, do weigh your options. (Normally spouse should be safe as long as she won't share publicly, but colleagues can be tricky). – Dennis Jaheruddin Mar 5 at 21:56
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    the answer implies: "what they gonna do? Fire you? haha" and this is not accurate fro a good answer – Oct18 is day of silence on SE Mar 7 at 5:29
361

In a situation where you're asked to do something uncanny, like be silent about getting laid off, it might be helpful to reflect on why they're asking you to do that. Instead of just obeying and then resenting it, consider their point of view and then use your own discretion to do what you feel is right.

As you know lay-offs are an enormously stressful event and people respond differently to stress. Of course they want to avoid a panic-response and hard-feelings among the other workers. There's a need to control the roll-out of the message and in some orgs an "all-hands meeting" isn't practical, so yeah, they're going to tell the impacted people first and then everyone else.

There are other concerns as well: clients, contracts, vendors, and the market. A layoff, obviously, can be interpreted as a bad sign. For large lay-offs, there's usually a well-crafted press release explaining the situation. Telling the impacted people first is a honorable thing to do. You wouldn't want to read the press release and then wonder if you're going to be laid off or not. By asking the laid-off people to be "silent" they're controlling the roll-out of the message to the industry/public and minimizing damage to the business -- and also doing the honorable thing by letting the laid-off people know first.

So, the best course of action is to be discreet about the lay-off. Of course tell your partner, family and trusted friends. And, if it isn't obvious, indicate that this is supposed to be "secret" for the time being.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Mar 7 at 4:02
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    this should be the top answer. Also I guess OP is looking for a new job, like most of his colleagues. If another company gets 20 applications from a different company they could assume that something is going on. – Swizzler Mar 7 at 17:02
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    I agree with telling your wife. Family and trusted friends however, that's a completely different story. – Mast Mar 8 at 15:26
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    @Mast IMHO the only thing you shouldn't tell to your wife about your work is actual trade secrets. Anything else should be shared immediately. If an employer expects you to not tell your SO that you are being laid off in 2 weeks time they are delusional. – Bakuriu Mar 9 at 8:46
  • @Bakuriu Exactly. – Mast Mar 9 at 8:49
62

The counter-question is always: "What they will do?"

So you tell your partner, and they find it out, and they are going to do what, exactly? Fire you? Sue you? For what?

The "don't tell anyone" basically means "we know this is going to be bad press, we want to control the damage and our PR department should manage the information flow."

It has nothing to do with your partner. In fact, if you were to bring up the question, I'm reasonably sure the person you ask would be surprised.

But even if for some reason beyond human understanding they would try to forbid you, on what grounds would they do that? Which clause of your working contract would you violate? Their general capability of giving you orders because you work there don't extend outside working hours. So it would have to be something more specific, like a trade secret (which it isn't) or other information protected by law (which it isn't).

In most jurisdictions, the family unit has a higher protection under the law than companies. Also, from a very practical position, having secrets from your partner is going to have more long-term adverse affects on you than not doing something that a company that you'll soon not be working for anymore wants you to do.

So, from all possible perspectives: Tell your partner, don't ask for permission to do so.

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    @MartinBonner Is an employees knowledge of their own impending layoff information that would be protected by law? That seems like it would be a hard one to restrict. – JMac Mar 4 at 13:44
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    "What they will do?" - It could affect the OP's redundancy payment. – colmde Mar 4 at 23:57
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    @Abigail if you know of a single case in recent history where an employee was sued for sharing news of his being layed off with his partner - please share it. – Tom Mar 5 at 9:42
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    I'd wager a company suing an employee for not keeping silent about their impending layoff will generate might generate even more bad publicity and stock price drops than news about the layoffs themselves were able to. (I.e. "They must be really desperate to go to these lengths - I'd rather sell quickly...") – Inarion Mar 5 at 16:55
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    +1 for "having secrets from your partner is going to have more long-term adverse affects on you (...)" <- really important point. – Radu Murzea Mar 7 at 13:51
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I would be astonished to find a jurisdiction that did not allow you to tell your partner. Many places, your partner cannot even be compelled to testify against you, so unless your partner passed the information along, nobody would ever know. That said, in telling your partner, you do become responsible for whomever they tell, if you're in a jurisdiction that provides a reason for you to not tell whomever you want.

In any event, you can at least tell your partner that you need to find a new job, along with any headhunters, recruiters, or potential employers. There's nothing that says you'd need to explain. If pressed, you could always say, "I can't keep working there. I can't talk about it."

Looking at some of the other answers, I see people talking about layoff situations that significantly differ from my experience. I'm used to layoffs where there's generally roughly four weeks (at least in the US) between when the layoff details are "finalized" and when they take effect. In the first two weeks after that, the people who will be laid off are talked to individually and asked to keep things quiet, so that there's not panic and undue rumors. Then there's an internal general announcement, followed shortly afterwards by a media announcement, after which there's no more secrecy. The media announcement will probably be as low key as possible, so if you're not paying attention to the right news source to hear it, you won't.

They probably won't announce when the secrecy is over, though if you ask about how long they want you to keep it secret, they'll probably explain this. The secrecy is just to prevent rumors from spreading during the period when they're letting the people laid off know, and having people they're not laying off do extra job searching and having some of them leave. The media secrecy is because they can't tell the media before the company employees without rumors, even if they told all of the affected employees first.

If you're laid off with a process that doesn't have a general announcement of a layoff before you actually leave, I would personally be inclined to let your coworkers know you'll be leaving, but not why. I'd also be inclined to take the opportunity to make sure I had the contact information of any coworkers I wanted to stay in contact with, as it's much easier to get while one still has contact.

I've known some people in non-key roles handling notifying people about their exit and dissemminating their contact information with an email their last day saying, "This is my last day. I've enjoyed working with you all. Good luck on everything. My personal email address is ..." I've never heard any complaints about those people doing that, though a few times people asked their boss about the lack of two weeks notice. Invariably, the answer to those queries was, "I got two weeks notice. It's fine."

If I were working in an environment where a sudden layoff were understood to be possible, I would do a better job of being sure the people I wanted to remain in contact with had my personal contact information, to reduce the likelihood I'd need to collect contact information on my supprise last day when I'd probably be too frazzled to remember to do it.

As far as layoffs that are never announced go... I'm not sure how that differs from being fired. A lawyer from a jurisdiction where such a thing happened might be able to clarify that.

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    I am not a lawyer, but as I understand it, spouses have not signed anything, so if you tell them nothing prevents the secrets to spread. Usually it doues not matter much because really, the secrets are leaking anyway and nobody cares much. But by the letter NDAs also should relate to spouses, and in hard cases are meant to be obeyed. – max630 Mar 3 at 21:48
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    The spouse isn't barred from saying stuff, but you're on the hook for who they tell. Last sentence of my first paragraph. I'm not a lawyer, either, and no lawyer is familiar with every jurisdiction. But I have talked to a few lawyers about this general situation, many years ago. – Ed Grimm Mar 3 at 21:53
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    Seriously, tell your partner: "I can't keep working there. I can't talk about it." ?! They'll think you were fired for sexual harassment or something equally horrible. – MSalters Mar 4 at 8:28
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    On the jurisdiction, I know a few: think of medics and secrets. Doctors are not allowed to tell the name of patients to partners. – Mayou36 Mar 4 at 10:49
  • Is there any actual responsibility for who you tell in this scenario? Your employer might have told you in confidence that you were laid off, but is them saying "don't tell anyone" legally binding in any way? I don't see how you would even really be responsible if your wife shared the information after you shared it with her. – JMac Mar 4 at 13:40
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They mean "anyone outside this room who also works here."

They do not mean your partner/spouse. Of course you can tell your partner/spouse.

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    I imagine that this restriction would also extend to not talking to the media or other people of that nature – Zac Faragher Mar 4 at 0:25
  • It seems common sense....+1 – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 4 at 8:29
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    And customers, suppliers and other partners. If the company is public, it also includes the general public as there are then issues with disclosure, insider trading, etc. – jcaron Mar 4 at 12:58
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    Rephrased: "anyone outside this room who also has a business relationship with the company". This includes co-workers, customers, suppliers, and partners. Also includes the media and the like, as informing them implicitly informs "co-workers, customers, suppliers, etc". – Iiridayn Mar 6 at 20:03
  • To me this is the best answer; that the company likely can't stop OP from telling their spouse is not as important as the fact that they aren't trying to stop the OP from telling their spouse. – BSMP Mar 11 at 8:10
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Only you know your specific circumstances, but I can offer an example of a situation similar to yours.

I have been laid off in corporate restructurings 5 times in my 20 years (I work in a technology field, so this is common). In one case, the HR person asked me not to discuss my layoff with others at the company while I was still permitted to be in the building. Her hope was that I would collect my things discreetly and leave. I considered her request to be reasonable and I left. I even offered to return to the company at a later time to collect my personal things when folks were not expected to be in the office and she agreed to help do this. I think we both were able to make the best out of a bad situation.

Layoffs are tough, yet if you are asked to behave in odd ways by the people letting you, you can every obligation to clarify their expectations and to act professionally.

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    This highlights one of the things I find amusing about some HR people: They insult the intelligence of your co-workers by thinking nobody's going to notice that you're no longer there if you go quietly. – Blrfl Mar 3 at 12:46
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    In most of the layoffs that I've witnessed, they told everyone they gave an early heads up about the layoff to not tell anyone. But a week or two later, before anyone who was being laid off was actually fired, they made a general announcement. After that announcement, there was no further secrecy desired, even if they didn't explicitly say that. An immediate layoff like this with secrecy seems like a very different thing. – Ed Grimm Mar 3 at 21:40
  • @EdGrimm To me it reads like the OP was sent home for the day only (to absorb the news as they said), with the layoffs taking effect later. – Matthew Read Mar 5 at 19:45
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Of course, your co-workers need to know that you are leaving the company and that they need to plan accordingly. If they didn't know they would just notice that you do not show up anymore and would not have an explanation of the reason and the duration.

You will need to tell that you have been laid off to recruiters why hunting for a new job. And – depending on your jurisdiction – you might have the obligation to register yourself as jobless to receive unemployment benefits.

And of course, your partner needs to know!

This is an unusual request and IMHO doesn't make much sense to keep the fact that you have been laid off confidential. What might make sense would be if they asked you to keep the reason for being laid off confidential. Or if they asked you to not immediately inform your co-workers, because they want to tell this information.

If I was laid off and either the company offered me something in exchange nor the reason for being laid off is confidential on itself (for example because of my contract), I would not keep this information confidential. I would talk to my co-workers before I leave, explaining the situation. The people you worked closely together with deserve to know the facts and that you have the chance to say good-bye. And of cause, I would tell my partner immediately.

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    Partner yes, co-workers no - the whole point of asking for news not to be leaked is that co-workers who are likely to be affected (and who may also be in line to be laid off, you don't know that) should find out via an official announcement or a talk with their manager. Gossip about layoffs that haven't been formally announced could lead to people panicking unnecessarily or taking inappropriate actions to protect their own position. – Julia Hayward Mar 3 at 8:37
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    @JuliaHayward As I wrote in the fourth paragraph. I have been a company in which people just disappeared and the manager didn't tell the team about it. Therefore I think it is reasonable that the company ask not to share this information immediately with your co-workers. But if the management hasn't officially informed the team on your last day then your team deserve that you tell them before that you are leaving and say good-bye. – spickermann Mar 3 at 8:44
  • @spickermann: Do you work in Airstrip One, or Argentina, by chance? – dotancohen Mar 3 at 15:26
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It's very unlikely that your company has any authority to prevent you from telling family or friends about the layoff. If it's not already part of your contract, then you're likely in the clear.

Be aware, though, that there is an important reason why you should be careful here. Layoffs are frequently the result of a poor financial state. If the layoffs have not yet been announced publicly, you tell your family about the layoffs, and then a family member sells some of their stock in the company, then they could be charged with insider trading (or a similar offense). If you do choose to tell someone about the layoffs, make sure that they are aware of the consequences of acting on that information before it becomes public knowledge.

3

This is an unfortunate situation. What you need to do is get the person who laid you off to give you a reference letter. Hopefully they'll oblige. If not use the period of silence to extract something from your coworkers. This secrecy seems peculiar, but it exists, and you need to maximize your remaining time at this company. If it's not personal, then your boss should be happy to help you out in this manner.

If they are unwilling, ask someone else. Be discreet, but be sure that you keep in mind the reason for this discretion is because you want a reference. Really, that should have been offered to you at the announcement.

Do not hide the fact that you got laid off from your partner. That's a sitcom plot, not a real life strategy. The key here as I see it is to spend the time you are given "to absorb the news," getting that recommendation. It's not a given that people will write 4 or 5 of them. Your time here is over, use the time of discretion to set yourself up for the job search.

Good luck.

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    use the period of silence to extract something from your coworkers -- You mean, like, if one of your office mates has a set of headphones you've always admired, this would be a good time to borrow them? – A. I. Breveleri Mar 3 at 17:32
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    @A.I.Breveleri We have here a precedent in Workplace, cant remember exacly the specifics, someone who collected 1.5K for a lottery, or event, and then disappeared for good. – Rui F Ribeiro Mar 4 at 8:30
1

Unless you are in a very special situation (specific employment contract, maybe national security), yes, of course you can tell your intimate partner (with their assurance that they do not tell ANYONE until you are cleared to do so, including parents and best friends).

One of the highest rated answers right now says to tell anyone you want, because "what are they going to do?" I'll tell you what they might do: sue you for millions of dollars.

You currently have insider information about a company. The fact that a layoff is happening, and the reasons why it's happening, could have huge financial repercussions. One quick example: they might be about to close a big deal with a client. If that deal falls through because you tell the wrong person, and it's traced back to you, you could be sued. At the least, you could get a reputation in the industry as someone who doesn't know how to behave in critical situations.

They also might be asking you to keep quiet because they want to control how the information is released to other parts of the company. It's hard to manage layoffs without causing employee panic.

Sorry you're getting laid off. Discuss it with your partner and make plans for finding a new job. Good luck in your search!

  • While they could sue, unless the employee has a contractual obligation to stay quiet, I don't see how the company could expect that. – Luke Mar 8 at 15:34
1

Like many of the existing answers said: Yes, you can almost always tell your partner.

In the United States many employees are employed at-will and can be fired for any reason, but an employer might be willing to provide some severance in exchange for your silence about the nature of the lay-off. This is usually meant to keep the company out of the news, to help future deals, fund raising, etc. Don't ever sign a "keep quiet" contract without getting something in exchange.

Some reasons not to tell other people:

  1. If you've signed a contract that says you'll keep it quiet (and got something in return).
  2. If you're expecting to be offered a severance package that might require a "keep quiet" clause (or if you are planning to negotiate for one).
  3. You're really afraid of causing an issue for the company that might cause them to sue. (I would assume they couldn't sue you for sharing information you haven't agreed to keep quiet, but I don't know the technicalities.)

Once you've "absorbed the news", you'll want to discuss severance with your employer. If they want to be very careful about who knows about the lay-off, then they'll need to offer you, and others laid-off, something in exchange.

0

In many places it would actually be illegal to put such restrictions on you, or rather to retaliate if you did tell someone. After all, they are making you redundant so you need another job, and one of the standard questions is "why are you leaving?" They can't expect you to lie for them.

In any case, you can definitely tell your spouse. They likely only mean other people at work anyway.

0

The value of marital harmony is immense - whereas you're not married to the job. (partnerial harmony? domestic harmony? you get the idea.) Your other half needs to know the change in both your circumstances ASAP.

Telling any kids are a grey area.

0

Let's assume you don't tell anyone.

What will you say when partner asks why you're not going to the office? As you'll now have to find another job what do you put on your resume? Tell a future employer?
If not getting severance then what do you say when applying for unemployment benefits?

0

The question you should ask, seriously, is "why should I keep it quiet that I'm out of work?" They need to give you a really good reason, and maybe pay you a bonus for keeping this secret. Otherwise, how can you put bread on your table? Finding another job involves telling the new employer why you need the job.

In practice, this involves you signing a contract with a non-disclosure cause and a payment clause. "In return for keeping your layoff secret for six months, we will pay you £5,000 per month."

You can tell your spouse / partner about this unless you already promised not to in some sort of contract you signed when you began work. If you work for some sort of secret service, you probably already know you can't talk to your spouse.

Similarly, if you work for a publicly traded company and you're formally an "insider" (privy to material information about the company's performance prior to its announcement) then you can't talk about the redundancy. But here's the thing. If you are not sure whether you are such an insider, you are not one. Insiders get told their confidentiality responsibilities, in unmistakable terms.

You used the words "made redundant." That's a hint that you are in UK; that's English for layoff. UK has some fairly stringent laws about redundancies and notice to employees. Are they trying to dodge those laws?

(If you're in India, ignore all this. India's rules are different.)

-10

I would get as much money as I had together and I would short the company as when they do release the news you'll make a few quid.

But no, they cannot expect you to not tell anyone, especially if they've not forced you to sign an NDA about it

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    Ok well this would be a clear case of insider trading... – TheSaint321 Mar 7 at 2:08
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    This isn't even financially lucrative unethical advice. Sometimes layoffs make stock go up, because they say "look, we cut our operating costs. Our EBITDA has gone up. In the short term, we're even more profitable now." I've worked at a company who laid off 14 people (13 were valuable employees) with literally nothing to gain except for short-term EBITDA increase. Shortly after that, the CEO retired and presumably cashed out his stock as well. Related info: the CEO was relatively young, had only been CEO for about 3 years, and always prioritized EBITDA highly. – John Mar 7 at 2:40
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    Isn't this illegal in most places? – gravity Mar 7 at 15:01

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