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Detroit-–-November 7, 2022-–- In June of 2021, Deborah Brouwer, managing partner of Detroit-based management-side labor and employment law firm Nemeth Bonnette Brouwer referred to remote firing by Zoom as the equivalent of breaking up with someone via text. With recent news of thousands of layoffs at Twitter being done by text and email, Zoom firing is almost beginning to look like good employer etiquette.

“As workers got hired remotely without ever having stepped foot in the office, the option of remote firing via videoconferencing platforms like Zoom and Teams became – if not ideal – then somewhat acceptable. It may also be the most practical option when a company needs to lay off hundreds of workers at different locations around the world,” Brouwer said. “But with the escalation of firing by email and text, employers need to think carefully about the impact of losing one’s job. For many, it’s a traumatic experience, and the impersonal option of firing digitally is at risk to backfire – harming both the terminated employee and the company’s reputation and future recruiting prospects – not to mention risk of lawsuits, which we are already seeing post-Twitter. Firing people by email or text can also create hard feelings where none existed before, and there can be repercussions.”

Still, in this day of remote work, remote terminations are happening. The pluses of terminating someone by videoconference or by phone:

  • The challenges of dealing with an angry or crying employee are mitigated.
  • There is no ‘walk of shame’ out of the boss’s office or the conference room.
  • The emotional response to the firing can be handled privately, out of view of co-workers.

The negatives of firing via email or text:

  • The appearance of callous disregard for the employee and the contribution they made to the company.
  • Permanent reputation damage to the firing organization – hindering future hiring efforts.
  • Increased risk of litigation against the employer. An employee angered because she was fired by text can start looking for other reasons for the termination, leading to a discrimination lawsuit, or suits claiming failure to provide the period of time legally required for layoffs.
  • Risk of workplace violence by disgruntled terminated workers who resent the impersonal nature of the firing approach.

If choosing to terminate employment remotely, regardless of method, Brouwer says many of the best practices remain the same from a traditional termination; just because the platform is different, does not mean the usual, sound practices should be discarded.  So:

  • Consider the tone of the email or text, to try to humanize or personalize the message being sent.
  • Be sensitive about timing of an email or remotely cutting off access to company laptops or email groups – is it the middle of the night where the employee lives?
  • For terminations by teleconference, be direct and to the point and keep the interaction brief, noting the termination decision is final.
  • Follow up immediately with a letter confirming the discussion and the terms of the termination, including severance pay and benefits if applicable.
  • Have a plan in place for recovering employer property and technology—and disconnecting remote access.
  • Is the employee working out of state? Be sure to consider legal guidelines for that state.
  • Communicate to employees with respect and sensitivity to explain that the terminated employee is no longer with the company. Do not provide unnecessary details.

When is remote termination not recommended?

“Terminating an employee is a difficult and emotional process for employers as well as employees; but as uncomfortable as it may be, some scenarios, such as with certain long-term employees or executives, the more personal approach of an in-person termination might be advisable,” Brouwer said.

Brouwer adds that with the very real threat of workplace violence following a termination of any kind, it is imperative that all employee terminations be conducted with consideration of what, if any, added security measures need to be put in place.

About Nemeth Bonnette Brouwer P.C.
Celebrating 30 years in 2022, Nemeth Bonnette Brouwer specializes in employment litigation, traditional labor law, workplace investigations, and management consultation and training for private and public sector employers. The firm also provides arbitration and mediation services. Woman-owned and led since its founding, Nemeth Bonnette Brouwer exclusively represents management in the prevention, resolution and litigation of labor and employment disputes.