The always-excellent Carolyn Elefant has this post, "U.K. Lawyers Get the Message: 1-800-U-R-Fired," over at one of my favorite blawgs, Legal Blog Watch. Carolyn reports (citing a Daily Mail story) on how 14 trainee solicitors (which is British for "baby lawyers") were laid off by Freshfields in London. Freshfields sounds like an organic supermarket chain, but is actually the fourth-largest law firm in the world and a member of Britain's "Magic Circle" (which sounds like a Harry Potter sequel, but isn't).
Like most major law firms, Freshfields has had to trim its staff in response to the worldwide economic crisis. What makes them different is the way they did it: by leaving the unlucky 14 a voicemail. Not only that, but instead of partners doing the deed, they staffed it out to HR.
What's British for power tool?
Apparently, Magic Circle firms respond to bad press the same way their American cousins do: by defending the indefensible. The Mail story quoted a firm flack:
It was not ideal from our perspective but we were trying to get the information out as soon as possible. We did not want to take the chance of them hearing first from someone else.
To be fair, Freshfields gave the laid-off lawyers a severance to soften the blow. How much? you might ask. Well, the firm spokesperson wanted to be discreet:
Those people that we have not retained received an ex-gratia payment. We feel it would not be appropriate to confirm the exact amount.
Of course, of course. And it's not like that word would get out. A secret's a secret, old chap. Oh, wait. What's this? The Internet? Bloody hell!
Turns out the firm gave severance payments of a whopping £700.
Apparently, "ex-gratia" is British for cheap.
This cowardly method for firing people is in danger of becoming a trend. Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times fired people over the phone. Recently, the Boston Globe reported on a local social-media-software company revealing layoffs via Twitter and blogs. And Gruntled Employees' very first post, nearly three years ago, was on firing by email: "Radio Shack Deletes 400 Workers, Common Sense."
File this under "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." Employers: don't fire people by phone, email, voicemail, Twitter, or blogs.
Be a person. And fire in person.