Your Co-Worker’s About to be Fired, Do You Say Anything?

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The he-said-she-said-I-heard-don’t-tell-anybody rumor mill thrives in any workplace. You can be a registered nurse, an attorney, a foreman or a teacher, and you come across information that no one else knows. Is it news? Is it gossip?

The textbook correct way to handle this information is to keep it to yourself. If what you found out about is that a partner at the firm is pregnant or that Greg has a crush on Janine, then, yes. You’d be hard pressed to categorize spreading that information around as anything other than gossiping.

However, what happens if you come across information that involves the company or your colleagues? An impending merger? Restructuring? These are major events that affect how your workplace functions. As juicy as this news is, the company will address it sooner or later, and you probably don’t have all the behind-the-scenes details that went on.

However, what do you do if you find out that a colleague is going to be laid off or fired? You might not have all the details in this situation, but you know that someone is about to lose his or her job. Would you ever take it upon yourself to break the news to the affected party? Before you decide what to do, let’s look at both sides of the situation.

Why you might want to say something

  • The personal connection
    Being laid off or fired is a devastating moment for most workers. The ability to pay the bills and survive comes from getting a paycheck. You can view telling the person, especially if he or she is a close friend, your way of making the news less cold and sterile. For a boss, the decision to downsize might be purely business; for a co-worker, it’s personal.
  • The shock value
    If you’ve ever been fired or seen someone shortly after receiving the news, the shock is visible. A stunned expression tells you the person is still trying to process it. Tipping him or her off gives time to get used to the idea before the boss breaks the news. That way, the fired party is in a state of mind to ask the right questions and understand what is going on.
  • Planning time
    Taking the previous two points into account, you can understand why adequate planning time is good before having to leave a job. Getting personal issues in order (belongings, incomplete projects, benefits, insurance) takes some preparation. If the soon-to-be-fired employee is about to buy a car or book a vacation, finding out could save them some much-needed cash.


Why you might want to keep your mouth closed

  • Your information could be wrong
    Let’s face it: Until the boss actually says, “We have to let you go,” nothing is official. Between the time you hear the news and the time you tell the person, the situation could have changed. Now you’re left looking like a liar and the person goes to work each day wondering if that will be the last day in the office.
  • You don’t know how the person will react
    Companies usually have a set of guidelines in place for terminating an employee. They might have HR deliver the news. They might have HR or security present in case the person reacts negatively. You don’t know how a person will take the news and you’re not equipped to handle the situation. The person could even overreact and storm into the boss’ office, quitting before she can be fired. That outcome could mean the company isn’t required to pay a severance package or honor any of the other perks that would be necessary with a layoff.
  • You don’t know the whole story
    Although you want to believe the best about your co-workers, maybe he or she is getting let go because of poor performance, bad reviews or other behind-the-scenes matters that you’re not privy to. Or maybe they’re being let go for financial reasons, and it’s either you or him. If word gets out that you gossiped, then the boss might want to let you go instead of (or in addition to) the other person .
  • You’re not the boss
    Ultimately, you’re not the person tasked with breaking the news. Maybe your colleague won’t find it easier to hear the news from your mouth. Perhaps it will be humiliating that a co-worker is the first to know about this bad news. You could be seen by your colleague as overstepping your boundaries and not as someone doing a favor.
  • You could be putting yourself at risk
    If your company has a policy about handling confidential information or violating a worker’s rights – and you can safely assume almost every company does have these policies – you could be in trouble. Are you prepared to lose your job and have to tell future employers that you were fired for violating a privacy policy? It could have serious effects on your career.

The case against telling is longer than the case for letting your colleague in on the secret. The repercussions for your career are certainly greater if you do tell. However, we are talking about people you work with every day. You might consider them friends. You know what a layoff does to a person’s life. It affects more than just the 40 hours they’re on the clock each week.

So, tell us if you would ever consider telling someone that you knew a layoff or firing was coming. Do you think it’s ever justified or should you always mind your own business? Would you want a co-worker to tell you if you were on the receiving end of the pink slip?

  1. Mind your own business. Don’t mess with that sort of thing. I wouldn’t want my co-workers to tell me. Let my boss and/or the owner do the heavy work. That’s THEIR job.

  2. I heard my supervisor telling another supervisor that they were going to have to let “Mr. X” go because of poor job performance. I considered warning Mr. X, a word in the right place as it were so that he could fix the problem. Yet, I also knew Mr. X did not appreciate people barging into his private business. In the end I kept the info to myself. Mr. X is still with the firm. Imagine how foolish I would have look if I had told anybody. Not to mention being seen as unreliable.

  3. I’m kinda torn on this issue actually…but personally, since it is in my nature to want to help others, AND if it were someone I was close with I would likely engage them in a discussion to work out contingencies in case it happened (without mentioning that I heard it on the grapevine). If the rumor turns out to be false, this approach would somehow keep you safe without facing the embarrassment of being wrong and the torment to follow…and if it turned out to be true, then I know my friend would have the sense to start preparing themselves, and somehow it will ease the shock of knowing…at least that’s what I think.

    In general though, I agree it is best left to the boss, HR or whoever is the authority on it to break the news.

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter for questions, comments or violent reactions)

  4. I know of a co-worker, who’s lazy and hates his job to the point that makes it hard for the rest of us to work with him. He’s constantly posting about how much he hates the job, hates all of us, but also when he’s there he’s working on personal stuff(doesn’t even try to hide it) bosses are oblivious and this guy keeps getting a free pass to do what he wants(leave early, come in late, call out sick every friday..that kind of thing) If I was the boss he would have been gone a long time ago, but since I am not here’s the problem. We are thinking about somehow making his facebook rants visible to the bosses and seeing how they’ll handle this. I mean, this persons negativity affects everyone and even the clients that we are striving to keep hate this guy. We’re not trying to get him fired, but if he’s unhappy we don’t know why he still works there. Any suggestions? Thanks

    • Eva: there’s one thing you don’t understand he is being protected that’s the reason why he can get away with the things he does. He is probably a very good friend of the boss or someone higher up. Eventually the people who are protecting are going to get the the point and tell your co-worker that he either straighten’s out or get out this is going to be told to him in private. So I if I were you don’t pay attention to your co-worker and just do what you are suppose to do. Oh one more thing the boss’s are well aware of what he is doing.

  5. Eva, worked with a girl years ago just like you described your co-worker. She made it about 8 years with the agency, always causing conflicts and doing the least amount of work while the rest of us even had to take work home to do. But, one day she rubbed the boss the wrong way, and to every one’s shock, she was fired on the spot. We were thrilled that after all those years she finally got what she deserved. Hang on, and maybe your co-worker will fall into the same boat.

  6. I was once fired from a job due to a conspiracy of my subordinates to take my job. I was devastated and later learned everyone knew about it before hand except me. I would have appreciated being warned to get my affairs in order but had no loyalty from those I beleived in. Three years later I was recruited to return to the company that fired me. It was found that there was an actual conspiracy and I was set up. I returned as the CEO. Those that knew I was being set up or knew I was going to be discharged quickly applied for new jobs with other companies, or were phased out over the next year. I guess it is a double edged sword, but if someone would have told me about what was happening or about to happen, today they would be my right hand person.

  7. This is indeed a double edged sword. I would want to know and resent the person delivering the news. If I were privy to such news, I would do a measured delivery like encourage them to get their resume ready, talk about positions they qualify for and their satisfaction level at the job.

  8. Wow… hits home for me :-( I was recently called into the office where I had been working at for less than one month. It was a Thursday just before quitting time; I was given my paycheck by management and told my performance was less than they had expected for the amount of time I had been there. I was stunned. Shocked and silent. Devastating is the word for it and I believe other people in the office knew this was going to take place. I do not begrudge anyone who may have known yet did not tell me anything after all, I had only been there one month and was not even fully trained yet. It’s a hard pill to swallow but, sometimes it’s just because a person does not fit in to the group that makes them the ideal candidate for firing. Ouch!!! I am focusing on improving some of my office skills and re-evaluating the type of office I would like to work in before jumping into a new employment scene in blind faith that it is the right one for me. Ouch ouch ouch.

  9. To Whom It May Concerned:

    In the month of June 2000, a co-worker of mines was fired for cursing at me on the job, and I had to report her to the supervisor. So, what can I say? that I am glad yes I am. Maybe she would not hurt other people on the job like me. I have been in situations where I have lost jobs behind people ignorance, and behaviors. And when you go to a supervisor that is responsible for employees that are responsible, the supervisors does nothing to stop them. And you wondering why employees and supervisors is always getting shot and killed everyday. When a co-worker gets fired because they deserved it. If you can’t do the work that needed to be done by the hour you go home, you shouldn’t have to say anything but hold your head up and moved on to better things.

  10. And I do have several comments to say about co-workers. Working as a temp with the LA County and the U.S. Postal Services in the Los Angeles area, there co-workers that I’ve worked with have kissed a whole lot of ass and suck a whole lot of dicks just to get their raises keep their jobs. And yes the City of Los Angeles employees are not the only ones who drinks and smoke pot on the job. There are several government employees and supervisors that has done more fucking up on the job why we as temp employees are being slandered why your contract and your application are being rejected in the Personnel Department. And plus there are men and women are being discriminated on the job by their weight and sexual orientation.

  11. What do I say when a co-worker is being terminated? I will pray for them and try to help them with the best you can. You can help by getting settled, and take time for themselves and help find jobs for them, when a ex-co-worker walk in to you and if they question
    you about what are you doing, and you know that person has set you up on something. To an expert like myself I have been the victim.

  12. When I was in a slightly upper posistion, and I knew my facts were correct, IF the person was a good employee that benifited the company, I would “comment” about the reason why such an act was even comming to the attention of the people that could fore them. But I would never “tell” them, just suggest that when I worked my way up, I found that…”

    However when they didn’t commit to performing the job required, I secretly hoped they did get fired, so that someone who carried their own weight replaced them, friend or not, business is business.

  13. Don – that’s a rare outcome…but I can imagine how deeply satisfying it was in the end.

    Tressy – you were fortunate such swift action was taken…I’ve been treated worse for longer periods and reported it, but nothing was done.

  14. I was hired on Mon, fired on Fri. I had to learn a new of job, a new way of dictation, w/little direct training, in a week. The super who hired me was confident that I could do the job. So did I, but not in one week, between learning new office procedures and how to do computer-connected dictation. The other secretaries were too busy to help me, and I’d email ask how to do things. If I had had more one-on-one training, and given, say, a month to learn, I might still be there.

    • @Terri – here’s a question for you – would you have wanted a fellow coworker (though not one that was directly responsible for training you) to help you learn the various stuff that you needed to learn? I’m asking because I’m in a situation where a fellow admin assistant is not doing a very good job. She’s only been here for a few months and her supervisors haven’t trained her. They want her to figure stuff out by herself. She also seems to have difficulty with comprehension so she’ll ask for clarification (which annoys the supers).

      I think she could be a good assistant, if someone just took the time to explain stuff to her. Some people don’t think assistants need training, but I think they do – every manager, supervisor, executive is different and they want things to be done in different ways. The training wouldn’t be like if you were teaching someone how to use a cash register, but letting the assistant know how to route phone calls or respond to requests is still “training”.

      Anyway, I kind of want to offer my two cents since I’ve been around forever, to help her out but I don’t want to make her feel like I’m attacking her. And though my job title is higher than hers and I have seniority, I’m not her supervisor and she doesn’t have to take direction from me. She’s not exactly the friendly type (neither am I, actually).

      Should I mind my own business? (If I were new, I’d appreciate someone helping me out… esp if the supers were not helpful).

      • The thing that we have here is called job security….The little you know the better that other person looks, It’s horrible that it has to be that way, but its reality!

      • You should offer to help her. I worked for a software company with a boss who was lousy at training and I ended up teaching everyone on my team how to use our analytics. Of course, my Boss was very insecure so I had to do it behind her back. I even had people come to my house! But I still think it’s the right thing to do…it’s not fair to have a company hire someone and then give them the tools or the training to succeed.

  15. I am currently in a situation where I know that my boss is not happy with a coworker and has decided that one more incident involving her will result in her firing. Normally I wouldn’t say anything, but I’ve been recently promoted and she now reports to me. I feel it’s my job to coach her to change her negative attitude but nothing seems to be working. Unfortunately she seems unwilling to change. I’ve come to realize there’s not much more I can do.

  16. try being crippled by a company then getting put in the office after being off 1.5 years without any training at al they just said here it is literally. also without ever working in an office in my life ive always been in the plant. then being off a few months because i had to have surgery for something they caused. then getting a letter the day before you are supposed to be going back saying “your postion has been eliminated”. i am on a cane now because of the bastards and am 29 now. now try finding a job the bastards see my cane then its dont call us well call you. Try finding a job with my disabilities and this economy and this god damn stupid nigger in office. try that shit on for size

    • Did you become crippled by someone in the company beating the crap out of you for being an ignorant racist? How truly ironic to be discriminated against because of your disability, when you clearly discriminate against race. Sounds like you got what you deserved, idiot.

    • Hey Billy Bob,
      I don’t like Ubama either, but his race has nothing to do with it…couldn’t care less about that…just his Marxist policies.
      As for the job hunt, your cane has little to do with not getting a job…it’s your attitude. Show up for an interview acting like a victim, you’ll be treated as such. Show up with a POSITIVE “can-do” attitude, along with being LIKEABLE, you’d be surprised as to how much further you’ll get.

      • wornoutbiker, your second post was the only one other than Chuck’s that had any real value. William’s original post basically said “I’m bitter” and started name calling.
        Al’s, LMAO and yes, your first post were “pissing back”. Oh well, When I read William’s post I was taken aback too. I hope William reads your post.

    • If your company caused your injuries you should sue but you might want to get rid of the racist remarks…you never know who will be on the jury…

  17. This is not a good practice, if you want to get fired yourself. This is something I woud “NOT” do. In the work place it’s a dog -eat – dog world no one has friends. If you don’t know what CYA is (Cover Your Ass) then I suggest you keep your month shut. If the boss finds out you told a co-worker that he/she is going to be launched then you can be sure that your are going to be on his/her’s hit list especially when a down sizing is coming. You are going to be first on the list and don’t expect to get a “Good Reference” either. The only way you will keep your job is if you are doing the boss and that might not even save you. So the best advice I can give is “Don’t say anything”

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  20. I was “let go” after being at a job for more than 5 years with positive reviews. The manager was extremely jealous of me – I am attractive but do not flaunt or act like a snob toward anyone. I was hired because a long time male coworker recommended me and his wishes took precedence over this woman at the time. So, there was already resentment there. The girls in the department I worked with were all younger and inexperienced, as well as irresponsible and unattractive, and ganged together against me because one of their own wanted to be promoted to my position and knew the female “manager” resented me. Anyway, it was very easy to set her against me. I was completely swamped with work, because I was doing their jobs too since if they didn’t do their part, it caused problems with my job. The manager then told me I was not allowed overtime, yet I had to in order to complete the work, so I worked without being paid for overtime. I was working 60 hours plus per week, and I didn’t want to. I had informed her that no one was doing their part and she said she talked to them, but nothing changed. My workload was then increased fourfold and I was given even shorter deadlines to perform the work. I still completed the projects with only great comments and exceptional comments from the external client. The manager then completely lied on my performance review. Everyone in the office that I did projects for had sent in positive comments on my work and blind copied me on the emails. These comments were never placed in my performance review. There were only complete lies on the review…things that had never occurred in regards to projects I had never even heard about. It was a complete setup.

  21. Many years ago, I was sent a memo that described the details under which a former coworker and friend of mine was going to be terminated. I had recently left the company myself, so my career wasn’t going to be affected in any way.

    I never did find out who sent me that memo, but I gave it to my friend who ended up terminated a few weeks later under the conditions the memo stated. Considering that my friend had been about to do some home remodeling the anonymous sender of the memo changed him from being broke and jobless with a nicer home to having cash in the bank while looking for a new job.

    My personal rule on such news comes down to if it’s a friend or not. If it is, I’ll do what I think would help them, I don’t care if the company would approve or not.

  22. What if you’re fired for being a part of a rumor mill?

    Several of your employees came to you (manager) complaining about one of the other manager(s) were against blacks PERIOD and did not like working with them AT ALL.You would go to YOUR boss, but can’t because he’s talking with he or she everyday and tells them everything anyone says about them. Also the manager has been in the office before about this situation, which he/she admitted to through another employee. So you confide in another manager to see what steps you should take. Unfortunately she says something to another employee and YOU’RE the one FIRED!! What is wrong with this picture??? Clarification it seems to me that the several employees, and ALL were part of this so called rumor mill.
    Also to top it off the manager that was supposingly committing the accusations was FIRED!! Hmmmmm was the rumor or accusations TRUE…Seems to me they were if he/she were fired also. My question is this if you have that many people in this circle WHY WERE ONLY 2 PEOPLE FIRED?

  23. Cassie – by all means help her. Every job I have had I had to fly by the seat of my pants because they did not train me in what they wanted done like they said they would. In the end the supervisors are the ones that wind up being fired because of their teams performance. Admins need some training (yes I am and always will be an admin)when they go to a new company just so they know how each superor wants the job done and once they are trained they become a valuable asset to the company

  24. When I tried to help someone by gently warning them there was talk of firing her for attendance and she might need to be careful, she retaliated against me by setting me up in an unrelated, really ugly situation calling my competency into question.

    Turns out, they were right to fire her, but because I warned her, she straightened up enough to remain employed and make my life miserable all the days until I left.

  25. I was in this situation and I told my co-worker. She was a good friend and an okay, not great worker. She was dedicated to the company but she had a very ADD personality. My co-worker left for vacation on Friday and my scumbag boss had an ad in the Sunday paper to replace her. He hired someone that week and planned to have them start on Monday – the same day that he planned to fire my friend when she came back to work after her vacation. My friend would have been coming in, pictures in hand, ready to tell everyone about her first cruise and she’d have seen her replacement at her desk. So, yes I told her and I told my boss I thought his conduct was unethical. He found an excuse to get rid me of later that year but I’ve never been sorry. One of the problems in the office is that bad behavior is still so accepted that it’s become the norm. I don’t like that I refuse to be scared into pretending it’s okay.

  26. I would want to be told by a co-worker. Of course it never occurred to me that my co-worker could be as nasty and mean spirited as what I am hearing in these replies. I guess anyone that gets fired is used to people being nasty to them, or they are used to being nasty to others. But, like Karen who wrote a reply back in July, I would want to be helped if I was going to be fired. I would want to know that there are decent people who know me, and care about me, and truly want to be helpful to me. It’s bad enough that at least one person in this office really hates me so much as they don’t care about what will happen to the rest of my life without this job. So I would be very grateful to anyone who would put out a helping hand in a time I would need it the most. I’m saddened to read how many people don’t see it this way.

  27. Never, and I mean it, never tell anyone they may be getting fired. That is like telling the boss you want to be next. What if the person you tell goes straight to the boss and says “X told me I was going to be fired?” Boss might say, “Not now, you can take his place though.” You may not know all the reasons the boss is having to consider. The economy, attitude, ability, competence are some. No one can say their job is secure these days. Watch out for your own job. Your co-worker isn’t paying your bills.

  28. My place of work has a new person in charge. S/he has been here 2 years and 10, count them 10, long time, well-respected employees have disappeared: one’s position was eliminated and a new position created that, other than a title, has much the same duties; one encouraged to retire/resign, one asked for a transfer, then changed h/her mind and asked to be retained. Request denied. One new position created that absorbed the responsibilities of a long time employee; another was announced as having found the position more demanding that expected, but told me of many examples of unprofessional treatment of her by 2 long standing employees. Many new admin staff have been hired, with attendant new furniture, computer equipment, etc., and minions with the same, supposedly to make the entity self sustaining. One admin resigned after being given unctious, morally ambiguous new duties and was replaced by another who “resigned” suddenly due to “personal problems” 7 months later though all seemed well to those who worked with h/him. One was told there was no money for h/her job, but there was enough to make 2 part time employees full time without cutting into the exorbitant salary of the one doing the axing, not so subtly. I am probably next, one of the few long time employees, making more money than most other employees, doing the work of 2 professionals + 2 part time workers. Last year I was disciplined for the first time in my long employment. I worked with a lawyer, and instead of not being given a new contract, I was put on a bizarre “improvement plan”. All who disappeared were replaced by new hires with nil experience except for the latest who is older and female and clearly hired as a response to possible legal action on the part of the disappeared. Not being a union operation doesn’t help employees. Information is shared so that the remaining can proceed with caution.

    I pretty much see the writing on the wall, but it’s disappointing to see the cold, calculated treatment of good employees. I know there are 2 sides to every story, but there’s quite a pattern here.

    We share information amongst ourselves, being careful to avoid those who are clearly “company people.” We try to help each other do our best work and let the chips fall as they may. At least we know we’ve don’t have anything to feel sorry for if the ax falls. We are the victims, not the abusers of workers, who are worthy of their pay and the respect of our admin, whether they think so or not. We have our integrity. They have a bill to pay that will come due in due time. ‘Nuff said.

  29. After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any manner you may take away me from that service? Thanks!

  30. Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch since I found it for him smile Therefore let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch! “Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship.” by Harry S Truman.

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  32. So what this REALLY boils down to is this:
    1.  Are you the type of person that looks out ONLY for yourself and your interests – stepping on anyone or anything that might threaten your job?
    2.  Are you a moral, ethical person that cares about other people and try to help, when you can?
    In other words – it’s about CHARACTER.
    And let’s face it – CORPORATIONS do not have morals or ethics or character – do you know why?  NOT because they’re in it to make money – no – it’s because CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE.
    I’m a human being.  If it was a friend, and our workplace is going to JACK THEM AROUND by only telling them at the last minute they’re going to be laid off – then I’m going to side with a fellow human being – not a cold, heartless corporation.
    Now you HR types and you pro-corporate goons can yammer about confidentiality and other business-garble all you want – you all are just as cold and heartless.

  33. @yosofine OOOOOO – can *I* be *YOUR* friend??  Your level of loyalty to friends just shines forth!
    (sarcasm off)

  34. @Kat415 You should be PROUD of yourself.  I don’t know you, and *I* am.  
    We should be judged by the type of character we have.  You’ve shown yourself to value humanity over selfish self-interest.  And yes, I know that’s redundant and repetitive.  
    If there’s such a thing as an afterlife and we’re judged for our actions – then you’ll be able to keep your head held high on this one.

  35. @Ernie “In the work place it’s a dog -eat – dog world no one has friends.”
     What a sad, pathetic little worm you must be, living, eating, breathing and crapping dirt.  No wonder that when you look around, all you see is dirt.
    If there’s any truth in what you said – it’s because vermin like you make it so.

  36. @Cassie “…not exactly the friendly type (neither am I, actually).
    LIAR!  A non-friendly type of person wouldn’t be vexed with the question you posed.  They’d not get involved.  They’d mind their own business.  They’d care nothing about anyone else.
    I think you might just be a teensie-bit on the friendly side, but I promise I’ll keep your secret if you don’t tell anyone I’m wearing purple fish-net stockings right now.

  37. I’m in this very awkward position right now. My boss chose to confide in me that at the end of the week she will be terminating my co-worker. I cannot say I am surprised but I feel awful. I will keep my mouth shut because me telling my co-worker will do no good, but I wish there was some way I could warn her to start looking for another job immediately.

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