Are There Consequences To Firing Someone On The Spot?

There are always consequences when fire someone. Even in California, where employment is “at will.”

Years ago, I was running a division of a company. Every Friday the company had an operations meeting that included senior management.

The meeting always started at 1PM sharp with the CEO usually starting the meeting by giving a speech. This day was no different.

However, the subject of the speech seemed to be me. The CEO started listing off all the things that he didn’t like about me.

Then, at 1:15PM, the HR VP asked me to go with him. “Take your stuff,” he said to me.

I knew right then and there I was being fired, and the twenty other people in the boardroom knew I was being fired too. This was only the beginning.

I was due a quarterly bonus for completing my goals for the previous quarter. I had completed all of them and deserved 100% of the bonus.

I called the HR VP after I was fired asking where my bonus check was? The HR VP told me that the CEO felt, “I didn’t deserve the bonus.” They weren’t going to pay me the bonus.

The bonus was for a significant amount of money, so I was going to have to fight for what was rightfully mine. The company stalled for weeks.

Finally, I threatened legal action if they didn’t pay me 100% of my bonus.

The company paid me 100% of my bonus.

The experience left a bitter taste in my mouth obviously. The point is to treat people the way you want to be treated even when you have to let them go.

Remember, you are messing with someone’s life and livelihood when you have to take action. So, be generous, don’t be petty.

But there were no real consequences for the CEO, right? Wrong.

A few years ago, I sold my company, and I was looking around for things to do. I remembered the company I worked for where I was fired.

The company was not giving a great return to its shareholders. I knew exactly how to fix the company.

I got in touch with an activist hedge fund, and I pitched the idea of fixing the company to the hedge fund. The activist hedge fund invested in the company after several meetings and tons of research.

The company announced they were pursuing “strategic alternatives” six months after the activist hedge fund invested in the company. The company was sold six months after that.

The CEO, who was the founder of the company, didn’t want to sell. The board of directors forced him to sell.

Now, truth be told, I did the deal with the hedge fund because it made good business sense. The CEO losing his company was a bonus.

The CEO should have taken a piece of advice from Steve Jobs.

According to the book, Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, Jobs found it more difficult to fire people after he had children:

"When I look at people when this happens (being fired), I also think of them as being 5 years old, kind of like I look at my kids. And I think that that could be me coming home to tell my wife and kids that I just got laid off. Or that it could be one of my kids in 20 years. I never took it so personally before."

I hope this story about Steve Jobs is true. And, I hope you take it personally too when you have to let someone go.

For more on firing people read: How Do You Know It’s Time To Fire Someone?

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