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Should I tell someone they will be fired?
September 30, 2008 6:55 AM   Subscribe

My secretary will get fired at the end of the day. Should I tell her in advance?

I was talking to my supervisor yesterday, and found out that my secretary will get fired at the end of the day.

Over the past few months, her and I have gotten friendly. We're not pals, but we can generally carry on an enjoyable conversation. I feel terrible that she is going to get blindsided by this firing at the end of the day.

Should I leave the situation alone, or should I take my secretary aside and let her know she needs to start packing? Do any of you foresee me revealing the firing as being adverse to me here at the office?
posted by reenum to Work & Money (57 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you want to get fired tomorrow? If so, feel free.
posted by Jairus at 6:59 AM on September 30, 2008 [8 favorites]


Someone at my old job got fired for doing this. What good do you think its going to do? She'll get angry and storm into your supervisor's office and get into an argument. People dont handle this news calmly.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:08 AM on September 30, 2008


Unless it was your decision to fire her (and from your question I can tell it wasn't), you have no business telling her.

Unless your supervisor flat out told you that she's going to get fired, then there's always the chance that you're interpreting things wrong. And I get the feeling that you wouldn't want to tell her she's getting fired and have that not be the case.
posted by theichibun at 7:12 AM on September 30, 2008


This sounds like one of those situations where you (understandably) want to do something to relieve the fact that you feel terrible -- when actually it's not clear that it would help her at all. She'll be blindsided anyway, right? If you want to do something to make things less bad, start figuring out what things you might appropriately do after she's been fired to sympathize/console. That'll depend on your relationship with her.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:13 AM on September 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Another vote for no. Considering you have a secretary, I'm assuming you're in some kind of supervisor/administrator role which means part of your job is to handle these situations professionally. This means not telling people something that is not yours to tell. If it was, your superior would have said otherwise.

While I'm not sure it'll get you fired, it could easily prevent people from telling your sensitive data in the future since it'll be known you leak information.
posted by jmd82 at 7:14 AM on September 30, 2008


Only if you videotape the fireworks when she storms into your supervisor's office. Then get someone to tape your supervisor firing you. Looking forward to some YouTube.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 7:14 AM on September 30, 2008


@theichibun: Yesterday, my supervisor explicitly told me she's been trying to get this secretary fired for a solid month. She also called another one of the secretaries and told her that that secretary will be moving to my soon to be ex-secretary's desk.

It was made explicitly clear that the only thing this supervisor is waiting for is the go-ahead from the firm's partners.
posted by reenum at 7:15 AM on September 30, 2008


Yes - leave the situation alone unless you really think that she should keep her job in which you can do the heroic but very risky thing of going to the people who are going to fire her (and presumably could fire you) and tell them that she shouldn't be fired.

No - do not tell her you know that she is going to get fired; that puts you in a very awkward HR situation that you should not be part of unless you are part of the decision to hire and fire her.

Yes - if you tell her she's going to be fired and that makes it harder to actually fire her the people whos job it is to fire her are not going to be happy with you.

And - IANY HR person, but aren't there some strange hierarchy issues here? Was your supervisor supposed to tell you that or just let it slip out casually? And don't you get some say in who your assistant is or is not going to be?
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:17 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


What you can do is think about whether there's anything you can do for her at the end of the day. Maybe not -- if you were closer, you might call her S.O. once she leaves to prepare him to take care of her a bit, or her roommate if she's got one of those. Gifts seem like a bad idea...

You might also want to prepare an answer in case she asks you whether you know _why_ she got fired, or if you can give her a recommendation or a lead for a new position.
posted by amtho at 7:19 AM on September 30, 2008


Take her to lunch, explain how much you've enjoyed her service, explain that hiring and firing isn't up to you, but if it were, you'd handle things differently.

Let her draw her own conclusions.
posted by orthogonality at 7:21 AM on September 30, 2008


Not a good idea.
posted by matteo at 7:25 AM on September 30, 2008


Um, I think orthogonality's method is _the same_ as telling her.

Even if she were to quietly accept her fate, that's several hours of torture for her trying to _pretend_ she doesn't know.
posted by amtho at 7:26 AM on September 30, 2008


Kind of odd that you weren't in the loop about the firing of your secretary. Additionally, it sounds like your supervisor has a serious bug up her ass about your secretary. It almost sounds personal, and nothing to do with performance.

Since she's your secretary, I'd certainly want to know why she's being dismissed. Surely you, above anyone else, would have the best clue as to her performance.

You'e witnessing one of the big inequities in the employer/employee relationship. The employer is allowed to fire someone at moment's notice, whereas employees are expected to give prior notice that they are leaving.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:27 AM on September 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Interesting they wait till end of day. I guess they ( the mgmt) just want another day's work for which they won't end up paying likely anyway.

Eh, if they wanted more days of work they probably wouldn't be firing the employee.

It's more likely that the person doing the firing read somewhere that the end of the day was the best time to do it; it's not hard to imagine why this could be.

It's kind of unprofessional of your supervisor to have publicised this secretary's firing so extensively.
posted by Mike1024 at 7:27 AM on September 30, 2008


Don't tell her. Unless you want to lose your job, too, or at least look bad to your peers, AND make her suffer through the entire day until she gets the official axe. Is there a reason why she's being fired? She might ask you. But she should really ask whoever fires her.
posted by fructose at 7:28 AM on September 30, 2008


It was made explicitly clear that the only thing this supervisor is waiting for is the go-ahead from the firm's partners.

So telling her would be pretty messed up if they didn't get the go-ahead until tomorrow, eh?
posted by smackfu at 7:29 AM on September 30, 2008


*Also, in response to whoever said that-- they will pay for the work done the day of the firing. I'm pretty sure in most places it would be illegal not to, esp. if she's hourly.
posted by fructose at 7:29 AM on September 30, 2008


What good could telling her do, except to clear your conscience? At best, she gets pissed off and leaves without making a fuss. Worst case, she sits quietly at her desk for the rest of the day, sabatogaging every single file and system she could get her hands on. You tell her, and you're gonna be on the hook for that.

Keep your mouth shut. You can be a friend once she's been told by the people in a position to tell her.
posted by cgg at 7:29 AM on September 30, 2008


Yesterday, my supervisor explicitly told me she's been trying to get this secretary fired for a solid month. She also called another one of the secretaries and told her that that secretary will be moving to my soon to be ex-secretary's desk

Yuck. Your supervisor is being unprofessional and rather a dick here. Stay the hell away from the situation. If Supervisor's been blabbing about this to the other secretaries, she likely knows something's up. Well, if Supervisor has been trying to get her fired for a solid month, she should know something's up anyway.
posted by desuetude at 7:31 AM on September 30, 2008


amtho writes "Um, I think orthogonality's method is _the same_ as telling her."

Yes, but with deniability.

As a society we've become too frightened, too robotically regimented by HR's rules, to the detriment of our humanity. Be loyal to doing the decent thing, not to a corporation's rules.
posted by orthogonality at 7:32 AM on September 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Interesting they wait till end of day. I guess they ( the mgmt) just want another day's work for which they won't end up paying likely anyway.

I have no idea why you would assume this. It's illegal.

To the point at hand, I agree that you shouldn't say anything. No sense sacrificing your own job, or even get a mark against you that might hurt your future career.

However, if you feel bad about not being able to tell her, maybe you can go get her a card a lunch to give her at the end of the day. You can write a note wishing her success in the future, and apologizing that you weren't able to say anything.

Or, you know, pretend you didn't know.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:32 AM on September 30, 2008


If you're looking for a way to assuage your guilt about hearing she's to be fired before she knows, perhaps after the fact (like, tomorrow) tell her you've heard about her being fired and offer to be a reference for her in her job search (if you can do that without running afoul of company policy). If you're in a position to know of other job openings she might be able to fill (that is, outside of your company), you could perhaps offer to pass them along as you become aware of them.

In other words, try to do practical, helpful things she will appreciate; telling her in advance will just give her longer to stress over it.
posted by AV at 7:34 AM on September 30, 2008


Be loyal to doing the decent thing, not to a corporation's rules.

I don't see how telling her is 'the decent thing'. Trying to do something behind the scenes to stop it from happening may be; I don't think we have enough details to know if this is a good idea, or even possible.
On preview, AV's advice is good.
posted by muteh at 7:38 AM on September 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


As a society we've become too frightened, too robotically regimented by HR's rules, to the detriment of our humanity. Be loyal to doing the decent thing, not to a corporation's rules.

This is silly. What good will it do her to find out at lunch that she's going to be fired at the end of the day? None at all.

And as to the level of deniability -- you're dreaming. Nobody (nobody at all) is going to buy it. Unless you expect them to believe that what you were really saying was that you wouldn't have hired her if it was your decision.

All-around stupid advice.

Don't tell her -- you'd be doing it for yourself, not for her.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:40 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Having been in a similar role several times (as a colleague and even a direct report), stay out of it. It's not your news to tell and makes you a player in the arrangement, completely severing any relationship you might have had. Yeah, maybe you shouldn't have known, and you feel guilty, but don't make the situation worse because you want a clear conscience. That's not fair to her. Giving her heads-up is not going to improve anything and will only make the situation worse for everyone, including (or even especially) you. Also, she will still be able to pack, so that's not a good reason to tell her. If you want directly adverse consequences: you will be seen as someone that cannot hold confidential information. I don't know about your office, but in my office, once you lose that trust, you are pretty much screwed.
posted by ml98tu at 7:41 AM on September 30, 2008


Short answer, no. Do not tell her. You are not HR. This is not your responsibility.

Long answer: While it seems like it would be nice to get the heads up, can you imagine just waiting for someone to say, "hey, I need to speak with you in my office" for the rest of the day? And what if you tell her and she DOESN'T get fired today? What if it happens a week from today?

One responsibility you can take on is to soften the blow after the fact. Be sure to write a quick note thanking her, listing her positive attributes and saying you'll give her a reference if she needs it (list personal contact info if you feel comfortable). The note is important because she might want to GTFO as quickly as possible after it happens. It's kind of humiliating to have to chat with someone when you're trying really hard to not look upset (or you do look incredibly upset). And there's a chance she might be escorted out by security or someone from HR.

Personally, I would lie my ass off if she asked if I knew ahead of time (I'd say I knew just beforehand -- allowing for a plausible amount of time to write the aforementioned note, and that's it). She doesn't need to know that your supervisor had it in for her for the past month and stuff like that.
posted by giraffe at 7:44 AM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why is someone else firing *your* secretary? I'd be more indignant that I wasn't consulted on the decision than the decision itself
posted by handybitesize at 7:45 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


She also called another one of the secretaries and told her that that secretary will be moving to my soon to be ex-secretary's desk

If the secretaries at your place of employment are anything like the ones I have worked with, that little tidbit was surely enough to set off the office rumor-mill and given that your supervisor has been trying to get her fired for a month, it is quite likely she is already anticipating this. If you want to take her out to lunch as orthogonality suggested, fine; just do it after she is fired, and offer to write her a reference or otherwise help her find a new job (assuming she was a good secretary and is not being fired for embezzlement or some other clearly justifiable reason). I was actually in a similar situation some years ago at work except that the firing took place while I was out of town and so I had no advance warning. I handled it as described above and we remained friendly; at no point did she indicate that I should/could have done anything to warn her or help her keep her job.
posted by TedW at 7:48 AM on September 30, 2008


As giraffe notes, if your supervisor had it in for her, wouldn't she at least have an inkling of an idea that this is coming? In the majority of firing situations (firing, not layoffs), it's not exactly a huge shock to the person being fired. You might be telling her something she already knows, though maybe she didn't know exactly when the axe would fall (on preview: along the lines of what TedW said).
posted by ml98tu at 7:51 AM on September 30, 2008


I found out about a round of firings going on at my former workplace around noon one day (my birthday, as it turns out). I further knew that I was likely on the chopping block.

A buddy in IT texted me when he saw my name on the list of accounts to freeze. It gave me enough time to make myself scarce, and fuck with my boss trying to find me.

That little bit of satisfaction, making my bosses uncomfortable, made the firing a little less painful.
posted by notsnot at 7:56 AM on September 30, 2008


honestly, I think you'll be more helpful to her if you act like you don't know:

you: "OMG, I'm so sorry. They didn't tell ask me about this. I really can't believe they're doing this"

If you tell her, she can associate you with the guilty party, no matter how much you tell her that it wasn't your decision. (If it's not your decision, how would you know in the first place?)

I think from a professional standpoint and a personal one, it's easier for you to play good cop if you play dumb until you're actually needed.
posted by unexpected at 7:57 AM on September 30, 2008


No. There is absolutely no good outcome to this:

Outcome #1: She is fired. She spends her last day at work feeling depressed and angry.

Outcome #1.1: She is fired. She spends her last day at work feeling depressed and angry. The person who fired her hears that you told her in advance. You are fired.

Outcome #1.2: She is fired. She holds it against the bearer of bad news (i.e. you.)

Outcome #2: She is not fired. She spends the day feeling angry/depressed, only to find out that it was all for naught. She holds it against you.

Outcome #2.1: She is not fired. She spends the day feeling angry/depressed, only to find out that it was all for naught. Your boss hears about the incident. You are fired.
posted by -1 at 7:59 AM on September 30, 2008 [9 favorites]


As a society we've become too frightened, too robotically regimented by HR's rules, to the detriment of our humanity. Be loyal to doing the decent thing, not to a corporation's rules.

This is very true, but in this instance it does not make any difference.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:11 AM on September 30, 2008


Give her your personal contact info NOW, without mentioning anything about firing, and let her know that you're very happy with her work.

That will hint that she can call you for a reference and that you're not the one doing the firing.

I do this for anyone to whom I would be happy to give a reference, coworkers, subordinates, and supervisors alike, as I get to know and respect the work that they do. It's friendly and reminds your colleagues that you're people first, and employees of X company second.
posted by sondrialiac at 8:15 AM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Bad news isn't improved by early delivery.

If you want to be kind, take her out for a drink afterward, or help her pack her stuff up, or tell her you'll give her a recommendation. Also, if it wasn't your call, and it sounds like it wasn't, make sure that she knows that since your prior friendliness might make it look like a terrible betrayal.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:22 AM on September 30, 2008


Don't mess things up further by telling her, no.

If you want to be helpful, spend your spare time today secretly writing the best fucking letter of reference ever... and then later you can explain "I wasn't supposed to tell you, sorry... here, I made you this."
posted by rokusan at 8:32 AM on September 30, 2008


Why is someone else firing *your* secretary? I'd be more indignant that I wasn't consulted on the decision than the decision itself

Total conjecture here...but management going around you to fire your secretary is not exactly a good statement on your job security either. This is either a totally screwed up and petty personal vendetta, or your standing in the company is questionable enough that they kept you out of the loop. If it's the latter you might want to polish your resume as you might need it soon.
posted by COD at 8:37 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


management going around you to fire your secretary is not exactly a good statement on your job security either.

Yeah, I'd give this some serious thought if I were you. Given what you've said, your secretary probably has a pretty good idea what's going down, but her being fired without any input from you says bad things about your position at the company.
posted by languagehat at 8:40 AM on September 30, 2008


Do something nice for her instead. Take her out for a coffee or lunch (if you can swing that without being too suspicious) and have a nice chat about non-work stuff, so at least she leaves feeling like someone at work liked her. Later if she asks you if you knew, say you heard a rumor but didn't know for sure, and it just made you realize you wanted to show her some appreciation either way.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:44 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rokusan's reference letter is a great idea. Do that for sure. I'd mail it in a couple days, though, in case she goes waving it around someone's office on the way out as proof that she was unjustly let go.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:46 AM on September 30, 2008


Don't listen to orthogonality, who is a freelancer and doesn't seem to understand corporate culture. Save the idealism for the days you volunteer in the soup kitchen. Your sec is nothing more than someone you work with -- you're not even pals, as you have admitted. This stuff happens. It sucks, I agree, and I don't mean to defend corporate culture -- but I've worked in corporations for more than 20 years and I know how the games are played. (And yes, I've been a freelancer, too.)

Meanwhile, dust off your resume.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:02 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Your supervisor has inappropriately pre-announced the firing by informing others. Show that you're more professional than she is by keeping it to yourself.

There's a reason people are fired abruptly and immediately escorted to the door. Ticked-off people can do a lot of quiet damage.

I agree with others that it sounds like you're working in a place where personal issues have too much sway. You might want to keep your resume up to date.
posted by PatoPata at 9:31 AM on September 30, 2008


If you are going to tell her, which IMHO is an extremely bad idea, do this:

You: Knock knock!
Her: Who's there?
You: Not you anymore.

(swiped from Dilbert)
posted by ostranenie at 9:38 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Since another secretary has been told she'll be moving into her desk, its likely she already knows. If she doesn't know then telling her will only make the rest of her day lousy (or give her time to do some damage before she leaves). Don't tell her, do tell your higher ups how unprofessionally your supervisor has acted in this matter.
posted by missmagenta at 9:44 AM on September 30, 2008


Should I leave the situation alone

I'd agree with everyone else who says not to tell her. If you really feel that she is being fired unfairly then maybe you can have a talk with the supervisor to get more details or put in a good word for her.

Of course, you must use your discretion in doing this. Confronting the supervisor about this, even in the most non-confrontational manner may mean trouble for you.

I'd also agree with the others who suggest giving her a reference, if appropriate.

I hate to hedge on all this but only you know the details at your office. I've been friends with secretaries who were terrible at their jobs. And though I was happy to help them personally, there was no way I was getting involved when they got fired or giving them a reference.
posted by cjets at 9:44 AM on September 30, 2008


You shouldn't know this fact in the first place. Whoever told it to you put you in this crappy position.
posted by scarabic at 9:57 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's sounding like this is a law firm to me, in which case the hiring and firing and assigning of secretaries may very well not be in the hands of the poster at all.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:06 AM on September 30, 2008


Don't tell her. Then, when the bad news has been delivered and you're faced with the inevitable, accusatory, "Did you know about this? Why didn't you tell me?", point her to this AskMefi thread.
posted by dinger at 10:20 AM on September 30, 2008


I agree with mynameisluka that this sounds very much like a law firm. At my firm, assistants are assigned to more than one lawyer, typically a partner and one or two associates. The partner is the priority assignment, with the associates getting more or less help from the assistant depending on the arrangement. There is also a separate supervisor over all of the assistants. If an assistant were being fired, it would be either by the partner or the supervisor, and not by the associate. It would not be uncommon under this arrangement for the associate to know about the imminent firing, but powerless one way or the other. Under this kind of arrangement, I think it would be a Very Bad Mistake for the associate to tip off the assistant, and would strongly advise against it.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:31 AM on September 30, 2008


Let someone else be the bearer of bad news. What if you tell her this and they decide to keep her even if its just for another week... then you have someone working for you that is unhappy/pissed off. I just don't see the reason for upsetting her for the rest of her last day you know?
posted by Mardigan at 11:27 AM on September 30, 2008


I wouldn't mention it, it sucks to know beforehand but telling her doesn't help anyone...
posted by wangarific at 11:28 AM on September 30, 2008


Since they're being dickholes about it, she needs to know. The sharks are circling and that's her blood in the water. If she's a sensible girl, tell her! So she can give them no joy when they kick her in the balls later on. Of course if she's not, absolutely forget it!! Though if she's hung in there for a month... :) Tell her, she deserves a chance to go out with her boots on. That's a bit out of control that all these other people are in on it except for the one person it actually concerns. (Yeah it might be standard, but it's still turd tricks all the same.)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:45 AM on September 30, 2008


I don't recommend telling her, since it sounds like you don't know her well enough to know how she will handle it. You will be partially responsible if things go badly.

You'e witnessing one of the big inequities in the employer/employee relationship. The employer is allowed to fire someone at moment's notice, whereas employees are expected to give prior notice that they are leaving.
posted by Thorzdad

This has not been the case anywhere I've worked. If there is a requirement of advance notice from the employee in the contract, the same clause also provides for severance pay for the same amount of time from the employer.

Of course some employers don't want a just-fired employee sticking around for two more weeks!
posted by qvtqht at 12:17 PM on September 30, 2008


Telling her early wouldn't be doing anyone a favor. If I were in her position I wouldn't want to be told before hand because of the kind of devious things I might do while waiting for the axe.

What if it turned out she wasn't going to be fired but, because she thought she was, she screwed with some files or something and then ended up fired over that?
posted by Carbolic at 12:28 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Any way you can make life less happy for this horrible supervisor?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:29 PM on September 30, 2008


One of many worst case scenarios here:

1. You tell her she's going to be fired
2. She goes and clocks the guy who she blames for firing her
3. It turns out there was a change of heart and she wasn't going to be fired
4. She is now
5. And so are you

What was the upside here again?
posted by unSane at 8:35 PM on September 30, 2008


So what happened?
posted by cashman at 6:42 AM on October 1, 2008


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