Name mix-ups and callous HR directors: Employees share how they got laid off

Janet Nguyen Nov 16, 2022
One tenure-track professor told us their employer informed them of their layoff by sliding a notice across the table. Chalirmpoj Pimpisarn/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Name mix-ups and callous HR directors: Employees share how they got laid off

Janet Nguyen Nov 16, 2022
One tenure-track professor told us their employer informed them of their layoff by sliding a notice across the table. Chalirmpoj Pimpisarn/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Getting the news that you’ve been laid off never feels good. But there’s bad, and then there’s worse. 

Twitter, which laid off half of its workforce at the beginning of November, has earned criticism for the unceremonious way it notified its employees, informing them they should expect an email that would reveal whether or not they still had a job at the company. Since then, CEO Elon Musk has fired workers who have publicly criticized him on the platform.

Musk has also given employees an ultimatum (again, over email), telling employees that they have a choice between staying at Twitter where they should expect to work “long hours at high intensity” or accepting a severance package. They have until 5 p.m. ET on Thursday to fill out an online form letting the company know. 

The tech giant is one of a number of companies that have recently announced mass layoffs or hiring freezes, including Lyft, Meta and Amazon. Amazon, which announced this week that it plans to lay off 10,000 workers, has already begun notifying employees across several divisions, including its Alexa unit. 

Companies hired aggressively during the pandemic, and are now grappling with declining consumer demand, inflation and fears of a recession. 

We asked you to share your layoff stories through our website and on social media.

Like an episode right out of a reality TV show, one of our readers said team members were told to gather in a test lab. If your name was called out, you had to go into another room. “Left in the first room when all names read? No job for you,” our reader told us.  

The stories came flooding in. (Submissions were edited. Individual names have been withheld for privacy.)

“Laid off on my honeymoon right as the pandemic started!” 

“7 a.m. email, 8:30 a.m. call with lawyer then computer access locked — nine weeks back from [maternity] leave.

Adding insult to injury, some companies realized how essential you were, calling you back in even after the layoff. We compiled some of the more in-depth stories you decided to share with us, which you can read below. 

“Like out of an SNL bit” 

I was a tenure-track professor at a university. I had been promoted the previous year, but hadn’t yet attained tenure. Lots of factors led to a “near catastrophic” financial situation at the university. I was called into a hastily arranged meeting with my dean and provost. After four minutes of [vagaries], the dean pulled a “non-renewal” notification letter out of a manila folder and slid it across the table to me. It was comical, like out of an “SNL” bit. Literally sliding a letter across the table to end four years of dedicated service to an institution that couldn’t figure out how to manage its values.

The boss who still asked for help after the layoff

I’ve been laid off from three companies. Two did it very well; one was pathetic. My boss and his boss were not informed, so they were as surprised as I was. Turns out, the company didn’t even know what I did and my boss had to sneak me back in at night to teach him how to run the programs I was in charge of. I could have refused but I saw no reason to make his life difficult. That company had another big layoff not long after, and shortly after that, went out of business altogether.

The HR director who wouldn’t go away

I was laid off from a trade association when I was eight months pregnant with my now-teenaged son. The HR director hovered in my office doorway as I packed up. She refused my request to share in-progress work with my one remaining department co-worker, and as I packed up pictures of my young daughter, made perky comments about how I’d be able to spend more time with her now. Of course searching for a new job with an infant is complicated. You can’t pay for daycare without a paycheck, so who cares for the baby when you’re invited for an interview? How do you answer, “If we offer you the job, when could you start?” when the answer is, “Whenever a daycare spot opens up,” which could be months? 

The company that had firing remorse 

Back in 2008, I was employed at a small mom and pop shipping company. I was laid off two weeks before Christmas of that year. I was very down at first, but then, I saw it as an opportunity. I worked with the state of Maine where they had a program to help displaced workers because of the economic downturn. I took the opportunity and enrolled in classes to get a degree in engineering. The odd or funny thing that happened whilst getting enrolled in these classes was my former employer called and offered me my old job back. Given that my employer laid me off two weeks prior to Christmas without any notice or anything, I felt that it would be a bad decision to go back. I did get a degree in engineering, and  used that associates degree to get a job with a facilities management company where I excelled and worked and was much more happy than being in a small mom and pop place, so getting laid off for me was an opportunity I couldn’t see at first.

When they get the wrong name

One month shy of 18 years of service, I was let go in a five-minute phone call in which the HR person called me by my last name, thinking it was my first name. How rude! Having just turned 55, the layoff was a terrible day in my life and I cried all afternoon, worrying about how my life had turned on end in mere minutes. However, the next morning I woke up feeling like I was on the top of the world. No more contentious meetings, no more backroom backstabbing, no more drama. Life was good! As I was a senior manager (director level), I received a nice severance package that included several months pay, career counseling, paid health care, etc. These “parting gifts” made it easy for me to find happiness quickly. 

It’s never easy, even when you’re not the one getting laid off

I am a manufacturing engineer and have been laid off three times in my 15-year career. The first time, in 2014, was a complete surprise when the company laid off about 10% of the workforce across all departments a month or two before the company was put up for sale. After that layoff, I moved to another state for a new job and was laid off after 18 months when the particular industry we made equipment for experienced a downturn. A good size portion of our company was laid off. The third time was in early 2021 during COVID. 

Over the course of 2020, there were four rounds of layoffs mixed in with a few weeks here and there of furloughs to cope with the drastic decline in sales. The fourth round of layoffs was difficult to watch because, even though I was not let go, I saw the supervisor walk down the line machines that I supported to call them into HR. We all knew what was happening and no one could do anything about it. The fifth round came in early 2021 and I took the voluntary severance package the company was offering. I later learned a sixth round occurred the following month. I again moved out of state to work for another aerospace manufacturer where I am currently employed. 

Unfortunately, manufacturing is an industry that goes through highs and lows, depending on the economy and what is still being made in the U.S. Layoffs are never a pleasant experience, even if you are not the one being laid off.

Laid off, re-hired, and laid off again

I have been laid off and been part of downsizing so many times I cannot count them all, starting in the ‘70s. 

Got married, had a child, and when we went to work one day it said on a bulletin board 100 people laid off in a month, permanently. We had some people happy to get out and off the roller coaster. We got outplacement counseling, and unemployment. Seems wonderful, huh. But some were shaken to their core. Sad, depressed, feeling very poorly. Some were angry and did unhelpful things, like sabotage work. Break machines, pretend they could not work for one reason or another. I left with mixed emotions. 

Found another job. Local company. They bragged in the interview they had never had a layoff and would be happy to have me as an employee. (I had high productivity awards at the other company, and a good local reputation.) I started work for similar wages. At one point, my new employer heard the past employer was calling and trying to get people to come back. The company president came to my desk and asked me not to go back to the former employer. That felt good. Oh well. Worked there for over 12 years, until being laid off, no choice. Then they set up a system where you could choose temporary voluntary layoffs, and we all took turns having it. Some were not in a position to be laid off, while others who had a spouse with a good income or others who were savers could volunteer. I was lucky to be able to volunteer a couple times. You got unemployment and got to stay home with your kids for a month in the summer. Great for me with two kids by this time. Then laid off permanently. Same deal — lots let go with me. 

Went to school and graduated. Incurred student loan debt which took YEARS to pay off. The company wanted me back. So rather than take an entry-level position in my new degree, went back to the former job for some “unknown” reason — money — and worked there until eliminated again.

An email with other job openings 

I was not laid off but my wife was. It was 2011 and the aftermath of the Great Recession caught up to the public funding for both of our jobs (we worked for different local government agencies). 

Once the agency leadership decided to lay off employees, those whose positions were targeted were referred to in nearly all agency communications as “Employees identified for potential layoff/termination”. They didn’t even use employees’ names. The HR director sent an email to all the layoff targeted employees with the local newspaper’s job board link that opened to jobs at fast food restaurants. While the agency board my wife worked for made their tough decision in 2011 and balanced their budget, they got to move on. We never fully recovered. With the kids we could not cut expenses. We could not buy less food, fewer diapers or less childcare. We wiped out our savings and put the rest on credit cards. They are almost paid off. The difference in my wife’s wages over the past 11 years is $174,000 lower than what she would have been paid had she been able to stay at that agency (government wages are public records, I can track the wages of the employees who stayed). Her wages just reached the level they were at when she was laid off a couple of years ago. 

The constant anxiety 

I was laid off from my first three jobs after college. The first time came after working at the company for two and a half years. I was given a few months’ notice, opportunities to apply for other jobs within the organization, and ended up staying on two months extra to do some “wrap up.” The second time came after a year and a half. I was called into a meeting room on a Monday and unceremoniously told the company had decided to “end the relationship”. I went back to my desk, didn’t say a word to anyone around me, packed the few personal items I had and left. The third time came after only nine months. I walked into the office and noticed a co-worker consoling another coworker crying in the lobby. The mood seemed off in the open-layout office, and as soon as I flipped my computer open, a message popped up asking me to come to the conference room. Once again, I was told “this has been a challenging time for the company,” and “unfortunately you are being let go today.”

By the time I got to my fourth job, I had begun to feel like I was the problem, and worse, I became paranoid about any little sign that layoffs were coming. I would psych myself up in the car every day before walking in the door that this could be the day I get let go again, and I can handle it because at least I won’t be surprised. It all came to a head one day in the office, when I began to notice my co-workers behaving somewhat out of the ordinary — ducking into rooms for quick, hushed conversations, none of which included me. I sat in my cube in the corner and had what I think was probably a minor panic attack. I thought for sure it was happening again. I was called out of my cube. I stood up and walked to the reception area, ready for stern, sorrowful faces and more embarrassment. I was handed an envelope. Inside was a card, signed by everyone congratulating me on my recent wedding, and an Amazon gift card.

It’s been 5 years since my last layoff, and I’m now at my fifth job (this time by my own choice).

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