What's It Like To Get Fired?

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On recent a sunny, spring day, Carol Keydash and I choose to meet in downtown Berea. It took a mere few minutes to arrange a meeting time. That’s because her schedule was wide open. Keydash—a trained software developer—is out of work. Besides putting in her mandatory two job applications a week, she spends her time networking and reaching out to a support network to keep her spirits up in hopes that a new job will soon come her way.

Keydash is one of the thousands of workers who are laid off every year in Ohio. In 2007, more than 40,000 people were involved in a mass layoff due to a job relocation or closure. This is Keydash’s second time being laid off. Both were devastating, but she remembers the first experience, when she worked at a large, regional bank, most vividly. It was March 4, 2005, and her termination came as a total surprise.

Carol Keydash: I was completely caught off guard when I got the tap on my shoulder and this was a woman who was actually my boss’s boss. And she asked if I would accompany her to a conference room. I thought it had something to do with a review that I had the week before.

In fact it had nothing to do with her performance review, which Keydash says was typically glowing. Once in the room, she sat down with her supervisor and an HR representative. The two then told her…

Carol Keydash: Well as you know you’re impacted by some salary reduction initiative and I had no idea what she was talking about. And she said so and so will fill you in on the details. And that’s when I turned to her and she said the same thing and I didn’t know what that meant. So I said am I being terminated and she said, “Yes you are, we didn’t use those words, but that’s what’s happening.”

Keydash spent the next half hour filling out paperwork. Subsequently, she was told to grab her keys, some personal effects, and to leave the building.

That story is not unusual, says David Schaefer a litigator who represents companies and managers during the firing process and in legal cases. He says companies use that kind of protocol for fear of retaliation, to avoid lawsuits. Companies don’t give explicit reasons because legally they don’t have to.

David Schaefer: You don’t need a reason to fire an employee at will. You don’t need cause in the private sector. So if you don’t have to give a reason, you don’t.

Attorney Ellen Simon is on the other end of the table. Simon represents workers who feel they’ve been wrongfully fired. Her clients are victims of discrimination, harassment, or have become whistleblowers. Simon says most companies also have policies that prohibit giving references for future employment , and for the same reason – to avoid any legal hassles. And, she says, it’s also customary, to escort workers out of an office or to have security on stand-by. She describes the experience of one former client, an engineer who worked for a nuclear reactor parts manufacturer. When he raised concerns about the work quality….

Ellen Simon: He was terminated, escorted out and wasn’t even allowed to get his things. And when he came back to get the contents of his desk he was at the security booth and his picture was hanging up there. And, he felt like a criminal.

And what’s it like for the people who break the news? Kristie Bender was an outside HR consultant to several companies before coming to Gardiner Trane, an air conditioning equipment seller in Solon. She’s helped companies let go of workers predominantly for performance issues - not showing up or taking too much time off. Bender says it’s difficult for managers. No one wants to see the tears, and no one wants to be yelled at. As a consultant, she would perform role playing scenarios with managers to prepare them.

Kristie Bender: I would just act as though I’m the associate and I’ve done the anger. Why? What could I have done. I just try to give them resistance, give the manager resistance in the process to help them maybe deal with some questions that they’re going to be put on the spot to answer.

And questions do come up. Laid off worker Carol Keydash asked her employer, “Is this negotiable?” at the time of her termination. The answer: No. Her severance package was set, and her job was over.

Tasha Flournoy, 90.3.

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