When an Employer Can Fire You By Phone or Email

Man checking phone

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No matter how your boss delivers the news, it’s painful to hear that you’re being fired. However, there are good ways and bad ways to learn that your employment is coming to an end. The worst ways to find out: impersonal methods like phone, email, or even text messaging.

Why would companies choose to break up with employees like they were a bad blind date? In part, because they can. Your soon-to-be-former employer doesn’t have to be nice when they fire you. In most cases, they can let you go without notice or warning and tell you in any manner they choose.

Can You Get Fired by Email or a Phone Call?

Unless you are covered by an employment contract or state law that stipulates how you can be terminated, there are no restrictions on how an employer can fire you.

Most employees in the U.S. are covered under employment at will, which means that they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. Employers can fire employees over the phone, by paper letter or email, in person -- or yes, even by sending a text message.

Employer Termination Policies

But will you be fired via phone or worse? In most cases, no. While an employer can fire you in any method they choose, this is not a typical company’s policy. Most employers know that these methods of firing would hurt staff morale. Word of harsh firings can reverberate through an organization and impact productivity and retention of key employees.

If your company is planning to stay in business for a while, they have an additional reason to be professional during the termination process. Not only do they hope to retain their current employees, they want to be able to hire new ones as necessary. If word gets out that they fire staff via text or phone call, the organization will have a hard time attracting new talent. Bottom line, employers have a brand, and they don’t want theirs to include “fires people in 280 characters or less.”

Most employers create standard policies for firing and discharging staff. Typically, this includes a meeting with a Human Resources representative in which you go over the terms of your termination and leave detailed documentation of your separation, such as a signed document.

The company may have provided a warning in advance and have given the employee the opportunity to improve performance. This is not a requirement unless stipulated by company policy or employment agreement.

Typical Termination Process

Almost all organizations have a set process for discharging staff, which normally includes a meeting with a Human Resources or management representative who will go over benefits and any other conditions for your separation.

Organizations also want solid documentation that you have received their notice of termination, such as a signed document or registered mail receipt.

What to Do If You're Fired

Regardless of how you are informed of a firing, make sure your employer provides all the benefits that are outlined in your employee manual or contract, like severance pay or unused vacation or sick pay.

Avoid retaliating in an unprofessional way if your employer uses an inappropriate method to inform you of a termination. Although it might feel good at the moment to vent your feelings, it can backfire should future employers seek input about your background from your prior organization.

Wrongful Termination

While a firing over the phone or via text is not typically illegal, there are instances of wrongful termination. Wrongful termination happens when an employee is discharged from employment for illegal reasons or if company policy is violated when the employee is fired.

If you believe your termination was wrongful or you have not been treated according to the law or company policy, you can get help. The U.S. Department of Labor, for example, has information on each law that regulates employment and advice on where and how to file a claim.

You may also be covered by state laws that regulate how employers can discharge employees. Check with your State Labor Office for guidelines.

Whether or not you were wrongfully terminated, it is important not to beat yourself up. Firings can happen to anyone. Rather than dwell on it, focus on moving forward.

Key Takeaways

In Most Cases, You Can Be Fired by Phone or Email: There are no federal restrictions on how employees may be terminated.

Most Companies Will Not Fire Workers in This Manner: Employers have a brand to protect, and terminating employees this way doesn’t help.

Research Company Policy: Companies may outline their termination policies in official documentation.

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right: If your company does terminate you in an unprofessional fashion, resist the urge to respond in kind.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.