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Is firing employees by text message acceptable?

Changing norms mean such moves could someday be commonplace

By Brian Kreissl

When communicating with employees it’s important to consider not only the content and tone of the message, but also the way the message is delivered. Employee terminations in particular need to be handled with sensitivity and tact, as the owner of one Florida restaurant recently discovered.

According to several news reports, Gregory Kennedy, the owner of Barducci's Italian Bistro in Winter Park, Fla., fired the entire staff of the restaurant via text message on July 4, stating the restaurant was closed effective immediately.

Obviously such a move completely flies in the face of what we know about HR best practices. Most people agree this move was a cowardly way to fire employees who had done no wrong — and on a holiday to boot. 

It’s unlikely the owner had access to advice from a qualified HR practitioner. Because if he did, I’m sure he would have conducted the termination properly by first having a meeting with all of the staff members to explain the situation, then meeting with each employee individually to thank them for their efforts and provide them with a termination letter along with their last paycheque.

Of course, in Canada the situation would be somewhat different because, in absence of just cause, terminated employees are entitled to reasonable notice or pay in lieu of notice and possibly statutory severance pay. It’s also quite likely firing someone by text message would amount to bad faith conduct in the manner of the dismissal entitling the employees to additional damages.

Texting the primary means of communication for young people

But aside from the legalities of such a move, this type of thing may just become more common in the future as we become more accustomed to electronic means of communication and less comfortable with face-to-face communications.

Many young people now use text messaging and instant messaging as their primary means of communication. Even e-mail is considered relatively old school by some.

I personally think text messaging has its place and is great if you want to send someone a very quick and unobtrusive message. But it’s such an informal and impersonal communication vehicle I can’t see it being used to fire someone.

Another problem with text messaging is not everyone does it. I personally know people who don’t even know how to send or receive a text message. And one of my pet peeves with people who text regularly is they rarely identify themselves, meaning if you haven't memorized their phone number you won’t know who sent the message.

But with so many young people texting as their primary means of communication, will we ever get to the point where people think nothing of being fired by text message? Already, I have heard of people calling in sick and even resigning from their jobs via text message — so why not the other way around with employers doing the texting?

Technology replacing social interaction

I’m a little baffled these days when I go into a coffee shop and see groups of teenagers sitting together. Invariably, they don’t seem to be socializing with one another, but instead seem to be constantly texting other people.

Why even get together to socialize with people if you’re only going to ignore them and communicate with others instead through electronic means?

I also see many people — some of whom aren’t even that young — with their eyes constantly glued to their smartphones no matter where they’re going, even when crossing the street. And I find it so annoying in social situations when people simply won’t put their smartphones down or have to jump every time they hear the tone indicating they just received a text message.

I find it liberating at times leaving the house without my BlackBerry. Sometimes I don't want to be reached, nor do I care what others are saying on social media.

Yet other people seem to have a panic attack if they don't have their smartphone with them 24-7. Are we all going to become so dependent on electronic means of communication that we lose the ability to socialize or have a face to face conversation?

We may just get to a point where being fired from your job via text message is commonplace. But I personally hope we never do, and that we manage to keep the “human” in human resources, in spite of the proliferation of modern technology.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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6 Comments
  • Re: Need for an article like this
    Wednesday, July 24, 2013 2:05:00 PM by Brian Kreissl
    I'm curious what you meant by this. Clearly, you disagree on some level (and that's fine because we all have our opinions and blogs are supposed to be somewhat controversial), but I would be curious to hear more.

    Was it because it's just so obvious that firing someone by text message isn't a best practice and therefore my blog post is pointless? I can concede you may have a point there, but I still think this raises some interesting issues.

    Or was it because I commented on social trends involving modern technology? Or because my post could in some ways be construed as somewhat negative towards the way some (most?) people communicate these days?

    Clearly one other person thinks I'm still living in the stone age, but I would hazard a guess quite a few people would agree with me and wonder if someday something like firing people via text message will become more commonplace (and possibly even an acceptable practice).

    Thanks,

    Brian


    Was there reeally a need for an article like this one?
  • Re: Out of the stone age
    Wednesday, July 24, 2013 9:20:00 AM by Brian Kreissl
    No, that's my uncle who does that (don't tell him I said that)!

    Seriously, I can't see this type of thing being good for society, can you?


    Looks like Old Man Kreissl is back outside yelling at the kids to get off the lawn again...