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A reader writes:
Our office recently let an employee go for numerous reasons after several warnings. It was for minor things, such as frequent lateness, too many personal calls and emails on company time, and general friction with other co-workers, as well as more serious things, such as a very sharp decline in his work quality, cursing at other co-workers, and admitting to getting high at work. The employee was laid off instead of fired as a sort of favor, and was told the reason was a lack of work for his position.
The problem is, the employee had previously RSVP'ed for the staff Christmas party, which is a fairly formal gathering. He also requested a hotel reservation, which is generously supplied free of charge for those needing one. He has mentioned to other workers that he will be attending, and they see no problem with it, as he got the party invitation before being let go.
This employee most definitely burned bridges during his final few weeks of work -- using four-letter words toward co-workers and calling us a "venomous" office, and did not finish his final tasks without informing anyone, leading to very late nights for the rest of the department to meet a tight deadline. This former employee is now very disliked, and the mood of the department is now much more relaxed and it's relieved that he is gone. As such, most of this department is now refusing to attend the staff party because of the potential for confrontations, especially considering the open bar.
The person in charge of the party is not aware of any of this, and said the company has a policy to let laid-off workers attend the Christmas party. However, this is an industry that lays off many workers in the winter and hires them back in the spring, which does not apply to this former employee. As his former manager, should I let someone know about the true reason for this firing and have the invitation rescinded?
Yes. If the party organizer doesn't have this context, he or she needs it. If the employee had just slacked off in his final weeks, that would be one thing, but it's reasonable that other employees shouldn't be asked to deal with someone who cursed them out and called them "venomous." You should let the organizer know that the person burned his bridges on the way out the door and should be removed from the invite list.
Since it sounds like the employee had already received an invitation before all this happened, you or the organizer will need to reach out to him and let him know. I'd frame it as "We received your RSVP for the company holiday party. The party is for current employees only, so we won't be able to accommodate your attendance that evening. Thanks for understanding, and we wish you well going forward."
You might be thinking that uninviting someone is terribly rude and so you should do nothing and just let the chips fall where they may. But this is a business function, not a social one, and this former employee basically gave your business the finger. You're allowed to rescind invitations to people who treat you poorly. What's more, even if the employee hadn't behaved so badly, this is a company event for employees, and invitations were issued on that basis. This person no longer works for you, so the basis for the invitation no longer exists.
As a side note, it will be extra important that you're scrupulously fair in all your other dealings with this person. For example, don't fight his unemployment benefits if he files a claim (since you called it a layoff, it would be unfair to change the terms of the termination retroactively), and don't badmouth him to other staff members. Otherwise, you risk the party un-invitation coming across as a personal vendetta, instead of as a matter-of-fact "no, we don't have people who trash us at our holiday parties, but of course we'll still meet all of our professional obligations to you" decision.
By the way, speaking of that layoff ... you might have thought that it was kinder to frame your decision to fire him as a layoff, but that might be exactly what allowed him to misunderstand the terms of the relationship. In general, you're better off being straightforward when you're letting someone go for performance reasons. It can be a harder message to deliver -- and to receive -- but it's usually kinder in the long run because it allows someone to have the same information about the situation that you do.
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