The CEO of an upstart digital mortgage company has been the subject of international derision after recently firing 900 Better.com workers via a Zoom call.
While Vishal Garg’s action and timing make him an undisputed favorite for the Ebenezer Scrooge Boss of the Year Award, it does raise questions about the legality of sensitive conversations with employees, especially in this virtual world of work.
“Is it legal?” asked James Silvers, a shareholder Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Steward. “I’m not aware of any law that you have to fire someone a certain way, such as one-on-one. Just because something is legal, it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do.
“It’s ideal to have such a meeting be one-on-one.” Actually, that’s a qualified one-on-one since Silvers advises having more than one person from the company in on those meetings.
“You have to remember, this is some of the worse news people are ever going to get. It’s a sensitive topic and should be handled as such,” said Silvers, adding that one reason he got into his specialty was that his mother was unceremoniously laid off from her job while he was in law school.
The attorney said that when he heard of Garg’s mass firing, he wondered if it fell under the WARN (Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification) Act. The WARN Act calls for a 60-day notice for qualifying mass layoffs or plant closings.
“But the WARN Act applies to a single site,” Silvers said. “And, what’s a single site for a digital company?”
While it’s not mandatory to record such meetings, always act under the assumption that you are being recorded. “It’s always a good place from which to operate,” Silvers said.
Other conversations should fall under those guidelines, he added. “Any kind of employee discipline, employee improvement plan or salary discussion. Think of what kind of conversations with your boss you would like to be private.”
He also recommends letting people know a meeting is coming up, so they aren’t taken by surprise.
Finally, Silvers, a self-proclaimed Luddite, says work with IT before such virtual meetings. “Make sure the meetings are encrypted, so someone can’t jump in and interrupt you.”
Garg, 43, could not be reached for comment. He is taking an undisclosed amount of time off after a too-little-too-late apology. Meanwhile, as Yahoo! Finance reported, several Better.com C-suiters have quit while the board of directors plans to hire a third-party company to perform a “leadership and cultural assessment,” which will be used to “build a long-term sustainable and positive culture.”
About the Author
Jim Fickess writes and edits for WorldatWork.