Is This a New Trend – the Public Firing of Employees?

The CEO of AOL made news – the kind he didn’t want – when he fired the creative director of Patch, the local news service AOL runs for hundreds of towns.

Oh, and did I mention, he fired Abel Lenz on a conference call with 1,000 employees. CEO Tim Armstrong was describing the planned layoffs at the under-performing Patch. More than once he tells employees they should quit the company if they think this is a “joke.”

The public firing takes place at about the 2-minute mark, in the video below, in which he stops to say, “Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you’re fired. Out!”  Naturally, Twitter was on fire with comments on the hashtag #timarmstrong.

A Public Apology

The public brouhaha forced Armstrong to issue an apology to employees (which went public, of course) in which he said, I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz. It was an emotional response at the start of a difficult discussion dealing with many people’s careers and livelihoods… at a human level it was unfair to Abel. I’ve communicated to him directly and apologized for the way the matter was handled at the meeting.”

Is This to Way to Fire People?

This trend of firing people without regard to their feelings and their livelihoods is all too common now. Employees are often treated like criminals, with no notice of being laid off and then marched by a guard out the door in front of other employees.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently went one better. They axed 50 writers by phone. No need to waste time allowing them to return to their offices to pick up their belongings. Imagine receiving this message from management:

From approximately 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, July 31st, employees in the Editorial Department will receive a phone call notifying them that they are either being separated from employment on that date, or that they are not being separated from employment. Employees who are notified that they are not being separated should report for work at their next regularly scheduled time.

Why make all employees sweat it out for an entire day? That was great for morale – now even the employees who were lucky enough to keep their jobs are no doubt updating their resumes. They may be next. Why couldn’t the company simply write to the employees who were being let go? ‘Tis a mystery.

The fired employees were directed in the phone call to pick up their severance packages at another location. I wonder who gets to keep their personal belongings like photos of their kids? Probably they’ll be put out on the street along with the potted plants they’ve watered and nurtured

What Happened to the Human Touch?

When companies handle layoffs inhumanely, the employees who remain get the message that they are not valued. MetLife’s 2013 annual survey of employee benefits reveals that almost two-thirds of the companies surveyed feel they are very loyal to employees:

Employee loyalty tim armstrong aol

But the survey of employees tells a different story:

Employee loyalty Tim Armstrong AOL

Employee engagement is a hot topic, with many companies recognizing that engaged employees are more productive and loyal. But it takes more than talk.

It takes walking the talk by treating employees fairly while they’re on the job and when you need to let them go.

Leave a Reply


  1. I am so grateful to have my own business. Hard to imagine that people are being treated this way — reminds me of a “firing squad” and please excuse the pun. Thanks for opening my eyes to this horrific situation which I hope does not turn into a trend!

    • Joyce — It happens all too often, I’m afraid. Imagine how it feels to be humiliated in front of other employees when a guard stands by while you empty your desk of personal belongings and then you are marched by them and out the door. But that seems to the norm these days.

  2. One more example of how technology should not be used. What is really troubling is that the younger generation hasn’t learn great communication skills so when they become the boss this is bound to keep happening more and more.

    • Kathy — I sure hope it doesn’t keep happening. Management needs to realize there are consequences to their actions and that everything they say — even in a private company meeting — will go public. Of course, that’s no excuse for what Armstrong did.

  3. WOW!. That is just to much. It sure does speak to the individual who takes that kind of action. The first thing that went through my mind was he is not a person I would ever work for followed closely by the same feeling about the company. No wondered AOL is in the shadows of the online world they reside.

    • Susan — I agree. I wouldn’t want to work for him. Aside from the cruel firing, he sounded pretty desperate on the video. Wouldn’t inspire me if I were an employee.

  4. My God, have never even heard about anything like what you describe before.

    But it makes sense. Neo liberal policies show no regard for staff.

    So we probably should not be surprised that this kind of things takes place in the United States. What’s worse, it will spread to the rest of the world. Unless of course, it’s possible to make politicians worldwide stop implementing neo liberal policies. But considering that those policies caused the recent meltdown of the global economy I am at a loss when it comes to imagining what needs to happen to put a stop to ideas coming out of the University of Chicago.

    • Cheryl — I’m afraid you’re right. He showed such a disregard for the feelings of the person he fired, humiliating him in front of 1,000 other employees.

  5. I have had to fired employees and it is hard to do. If I have to, I will do it in the morning, but I will pay them for the day. Whatever, my reason is for the firing, the employee is a human being and I still owe them respect and dignity. I do not ever want to humiliate the person in front of other co workers

    • Arleen — I, too, had to fire people when I worked in corporations, and it was painful. But I tried do do it in a humane way, not in front of a cast of thousands or by telephone.

  6. Dan — A big fat salary and a big fat mouth! Lucky you — traveling around the world and not reporting to an incompetent manager. Lucky you!

  7. Power corrupts, and that’s exactly what dominates the powers that be. Power, in the wrong hands, becomes addictive, and if you are not in complete control of your emotions, you will become insensitive to the needs of your subordinates.

    When I worked for the government, I encountered such individuals. I lasted nine years, and finally left, and became self employed. My employees were treated like royalty. Because of my actions, they reciprocated. I used to tell my people to treat each other with respect, and to help each other as needed. One never knows who your next boss might be. It could be one of your co-workers. Loyalty seems to be missing from the equation these days. Great post! Blessings.

    • Johnny – thanks for stopping by. You used the operative word: “respect.” Everyone deserves to receive respect and must respect others. Isn’t that one of the first things we were taught as youngsters? We should never forget it.

  8. I always bothers me when companies release important HR issues to the media before they even tell their own employees. When the company i was working for chose to sell off the division I was working for, they made the announcement to the media before they did to the employees. I heard the media report on my way to work! Extremely bad employee relations.

    • Doreen — thanks for sharing. That’s another mistake companies make. They don’t tell employees about important information before it’s released publicly. Now, with the internet pushing news and rumors out at the speed of light, companies have to more vigilant than ever. I can’t imagine how you must have felt, wondering if you had a job when you reported to work!

  9. The first thing that came to my mind Jeannette was how would they like to be fired in front of everyone. I have fired employees and it was always done in person and privately to show respect and to protect the other person’s dignity. That also applied when an employee had to be reprimanded. Never in front of others.

  10. I’ve never had to fire someone, nor have I personally witnessed a public-firing of an employee. However, in the education world, teachers are often the last to know they are being fired. I’ve seen administrators covertly (or not so covertly) start to put out feelers to replace teachers they have a gripe with. One teacher went to a conference and was asked by teachers from another school why they had decided to leave their position. Needless to say, the news came as a surprise to my co-worker. So in a way, such tactics do function as a public form of firing since so much shame and embarrassment results.

    • Jeri — You’re lucky. I’ve had to fire people and it’s very unpleasant. But I aways tried to do it with kindness, even if the firing was justified. I also know that rumors fly about layoffs and employees read about it in the papers before management ever tells them it’s coming.

  11. I read this with my mouth hanging open in surprise. After all the advancements made in the human resources sector, I am amazed that organizational leaders are performing so far outside of professional standards. It’s not just the impact on the employees who lose their positions, but as you noted, the negative impact on those who remain. What’s even more surprising is that these are not “mom and pop” shops. Unbelievable.

    • Debra — the biggest firms are sometimes the worst. They want to get all that payroll off the books so the meet their profit targets for the quarter. I’m not being cynical, just truthful.

  12. That is just purely disgusting!
    I am actually speechless that this type of thing is happening at all. People can be so cruel, particularly people in high places. I do hope this is certainly not a trend and it is nipped in the bud by public outcry and a disgruntled workforce.

    • Becc — Agree, people can be cruel. Companies need to remember that an employee is not just a number but a human being.