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Carol Bartz says Yahoo! fired her by phone: Good idea or bad HR?

When an employee isn't working out make sure to show them the door, not hang up the phone.


Photo: Flickr

After less than three years at the helm of Yahoo!, Carol Bartz was fired on Tuesday. Bartz, a notable female exec brought aboard to help save the floundering company, came to Yahoo! from a position as chairman, president, and CEO at software company Autodesk.

On Yahoo!’s own website, the company chairman, Roy Bostock, issued a statement thanking Bartz for her help “during a critical time of transition in the company’s history, and against a very challenging macro-economic backdrop.” But Bartz didn’t seem to feel that the thanks were sincere, and in a two-line email to former employees she said (rather passive-aggressively), that she’d been fired on the phone: “I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.”

A phone dismissal (if that is indeed how things went down) should not be any company’s model for termination. Here are some dos and don’ts on how to fire someone professionally:

Do have your documents in order.

Termination shouldn’t really be a surprise to an employee as both verbal and written notices that behaviour wasn’t up to company standards should have been issued in advance. The employee should also have formally acknowledged those notices, and preferably have signed them. When sitting down to let someone go, have records of all those notices in front of you and ready to back up your decision.

Don’t wait too long to pull the plug.

Dan Betts, consultant and author of Employee Termination Guidebook says there are two reasons you shouldn’t wait to long before pulling troublesome staffer off of the team. The first reason is that if you try to rehab the worker for too long it will get harder to let go. “Firing him is [like] admitting that your rehabilitation effort failed,” he writes. “Second, by waiting to fire, you’re giving the problem employee time to build a legal case against you. His strategy is to unmask your weaknesses as a manager and document any mistakes you’ve made. You can tell when this is happening when you see him taking notes of your meetings and discover him copying important files to take home.”

Do the firing in person.

Donald Trump is on to something his “you’re fired” tagline. While it’s best to avoid his accompanying finger point, meeting with the employee in person in a quiet and private place is a good idea. Providing them with a formal letter may also be necessary under legislation like Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA): “In most cases, when an employer ends the employment of an employee who has been continuously employed for three months, the employer must provide the employee with either written notice of termination, termination pay or a combination (as long as the notice and the termination pay together equal the length of notice the employee is entitled to receive).”

This is also a good time to collect keys or passwords. Don’t let the meeting go on too long, but allow enough time for the employee to calm down and the news to sink in. Having a box of tissues in a drawer might be a good idea too—just in case.

Don’t fire them on Friday.

Okay, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but giving an employee a weekend to stew in the situation could get ugly. The HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector (HR Council) agrees. “If an employee is terminated on a Friday, this prevents the employee from obtaining legal advice or counseling before the weekend and leaves him/her with the whole weekend to worry and build up anger about the situation,” the group notes. But they do suggest leaving the job for the end of the day. “Terminate near the end of the day when other employees have left and therefore embarrassment to the employee is minimized.”