Professional Development

Is a company allowed to fire you over email?

Written by Eric Titner

Let’s face it—the rules of the work world have changed drastically over the last few years. Everything from widespread technological innovation to an uncertain economy, globalization, and rapidly shifting cultural norms have all led to seismic shifts in how we think about work and professional etiquette.

No one has all the answers about how to behave and what’s appropriate in every possible scenario and situation in the workplace. Truth is, things are changing so fast these days that the rules are practically shifting while they’re being written. Advances in technology have seemed to create more new questions than answers in many areas—including what’s appropriate and not appropriate to handle electronically and what’s better left handled in person. This question most often arises when dealing with sensitive and personal issues like hiring and firing.

In today’s tech-centric work world, is it appropriate to fire and to be fired electronically? It’s an important question, and one worth looking at seriously in order to help set the tone for what technology should and should not be made a part of. The truth is, in almost all conceivable instances, it’s up to the employer how they want to set the parameters when firing someone—if they’d rather do it electronically, it’s probably within their legal discretion to do so. But that doesn’t necessarily make it the best or most appropriate choice for handling such a personal and potentially difficult situation. Besides, firing someone in a cold, callous, and impersonal way is a sword that can cut both ways—not only can it be really potentially hurtful and damaging to the person getting fired, it can also lead to the employer getting a bad reputation. News travels fast in the Twittersphere.

Most people would agree that in most instances, firing someone is best handled in person. After all, our work lives are usually key components of our identities (sometimes spanning years and even multiple decades), and losing such a big piece of ourselves can be extremely challenging and difficult. And that’s not even considering the stressful and damaging financial consequences of being out of a job. It’s something that employers should be mindful of and appreciate—and making the process as kind and humane as possible is a good way to show it.

There are instances where letting someone go electronically is less egregious. For example, if you’re a freelancer or you work remotely (which sometimes means that you’re in different cities or even countries), or if the entire employer-employee relationship is a remote one, then it may be a necessary or at least a more acceptable approach. That said, just because it’s handled electronically doesn’t mean that it has to be completely impersonal—if you’re going to use a text or email to let someone go, doing so with sensitivity, humility, and grace is always a good approach.

Above all else, we should also remember that throughout our professional journeys, most of us have opportunities to play both the role of subordinate and superior, and some form of the Golden Rule should be applied here as a guiding principle when making the decision to let someone go: Always fire others as how you’d want them to fire you.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.