By Allison Linn - Special to TODAY
It’s a terrible thing to get fired – and even worse when it happens in public.
probably why so many people were shocked by reports that Tim Armstrong,
the chairman and chief executive of AOL, appeared to fire a company
creative director in the midst of a conference call.
like big business being a bully,” said Jim Webber, who does workplace
training and runs a human resources advice blog called Evil Skippy at
According to the media blog JimRomenesko.com, Armstrong
fired the employee several minutes into a call with employees of the
company’s Patch.com local news operation.
During the call,
Armstrong is heard abruptly interrupting his own train of thought to
say, “Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you’re fired. Out!”
After a moment’s pause, the chief executive resumes talking business strategy.
spokesman for AOL declined to comment Monday. Abel Lenz, who Romenesko
identifies as the employee and whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as
the creative director at AOL Patch.com, did not return a call or respond
to an e-mail seeking comment.
Of course, most people will never
know what happened before Armstrong appeared to fire the employee. But
even if there is good reason for an employee to be let go, experts say
the proper way to do it is privately, and in most cases after repeated
warnings about the person’s performance.
Some bosses may think that publicly firing an employee will make them seem tough and decisive. But
Ron Ashkenas, a senior partner with Shaffer Consulting in Stamford,
Conn., said there are better ways to establish your reputation.
he was trying to make himself out like Donald Trump, then this isn’t
the way to do it,” Ashkenas said. " ’The Apprentice’ is a staged
Instead of rallying the troops,
Ashkenas said you run the risk that every other employee at the company
will fear for their job. That’s certainly not going to help morale, let
alone encourage employees to take risks.
could make them feel like maybe they’re next, and particularly if it’s
seen as arbitrary or if it’s seen as impulsive,” Ashkenas said.
not just employees that might question the company’s leadership. If the
public firing goes beyond the company’s walls, Webber said customers
and shareholders also may start to question company executives’
“What it does is it makes me wonder about all of
his other decisions about personnel, and is he always shooting from the
hip?” Webber said.
There’s also the question of how the employee
might react to being publicly shamed. For some companies, it may end up
being the start of an ugly legal battle.
“A lot of people
go immediately consult with a lawyer and say, ‘Do I have recourse here?
That never ends well for anybody,’ ” Ashkenas said.
There are plenty of examples of firings that have gone public, and viral.
years ago, Yahoo chief executive Carol Bartz turned the scenario on its
head when she e-mailed employees to tell them that she had just been
fired by phone. That set off a debate over whether it’s appropriate to
fire someone by phone.
And this past spring, a television anchor
in North Dakota was fired after he was caught cursing on camera on his
first day of work – again setting off a discussion over whether that was
a big enough mistake for the newbie to lose his job.
If you are
fired in a public way, Webber said it’s not worth lashing out,
regardless of how awful you may feel. For one thing, there’s probably
nothing you can do to make your boss look worse. And for another, you
always want to make sure you look like the saner party.
thing to do is to take the high road and say, ‘Yeah, that was really
crazy but I’m just going to move on,’ ” Webber said.
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