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Restaurant lays off all employees via text message

Text message may be an effective method for telling someone you’re running late, but is it a fair tool to use when firing an entire staff? Let’s look at both sides of this story.

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Using text message to communicate with staff

It is increasingly common for people to text their boss that they’re running late, they’re sick, they need something, or they have a question, but you don’t hear all to often of mass layoffs done over text messaging, which is exactly what WFTV.com reports has taken place at Barducci’s Italian Bistro in Winter Park, Florida.

With what employees say was no notice, restaurant owner Gregory Kennedy texted all employees, “I unfortunately need to inform you that I have been forced to close Barducci’s effective immediately.” Staff members say they are all still owed final paychecks.

WFTV says they repeatedly attempted to call the owner who did not respond until they attempted to text him. His text response to the station was, “Unfortunately businesses are forced to close across Orlando every day especially in the restaurant sector. I am working to resolve issues including final paychecks as quickly as possible.”

Customers and employees are upset

While some customers are likely upset that their favorite local spot has closed it’s doors, others had actually purchased coupons through Groupon and have asserted through social networks that they don’t know what to do now that they’re out the money.

According to WFTV, Groupon has responded by offering a full refund to any person who had purchased a coupon in advance, which is typically what the company’s standard response is when companies go out of business.

One employee called the move immoral, saying it is cowardice. “I think we all deserve our compensation for money he’s already made from us,” she said.

Playing devil’s advocate

While it is easy to roll your eyes and feel anger at the restaurant owner, thinking you would never do that if you were a business owner, take pause for a moment. Imagine you’ve poured your life into this one restaurant and it is your everything – you wake up to it and go to sleep with it on your mind every night. You’ve sought ways to make each dish even better and reach new customers, living out your dream. But like many other businesses, sometimes that dream ends and it can be somewhat abrupt. That has to be painful. Wouldn’t you want to pull your limbs into your turtle shell and hide forever?

Most criticize the business owner for his chosen method of communication, and while there were clearly better alternatives, it appears to be missed that someone is clearly emotional about the loss of their business, their source of income, their dream. Perhaps he came to open his restaurant that morning and the bank had seized the property and there were locks on the door – text messaging could be the most effective way to quickly tell everyone there is no restaurant to go to, so don’t bother getting ready. It could have been in that emotional moment he texted his team.

While text messaging is insensitive, it is unclear whether or not this was the standard communication method for the entire team – if this is how they’ve all communicated for the past few years, why would anyone change the path now?

Analysis of this learning moment for all

This is, however, a learning moment for all. This business owner likely knew the house of cards was falling and could have offered warnings to team members, perhaps having a team meeting expressing that there are struggles and the owner could assert he is doing everything he can to keep the business afloat. When the doors were to close, it would have been less of a surprise, even if done by text.

Alternatively, if text is the only way the owner could muster to communicate, it could have been a series of texts that read more along the lines of, “You guys have done such amazing work and because of your dedication, we lasted longer than we ever would have. That’s why it pains me to inform you that effective immediately, Barducci’s is closed and we are all out of a job. I am working to resolve your final paycheck and will update you tomorrow regarding the status. I apologize that I wasn’t able to do more and this is with a heavy heart I am messaging you all. I also apologize for using text, but losing my business and my dream is crushing and I know you share in that feeling with me. Please let me know if you’d like me to write a letter of recommendation for you or call your next employer, because you are all like family.”

Setting expectations, emoting, relating, and apologizing are critical in this type of situation, even if text message is the chosen form of communication. Most other forms of communication are superior, and in this case, having a friend call all employees so a voice could explain and set expectations would have been better.

It is unfair to crucify this business owner, even though all in the situation are hurting. From every angle, a business closing is a bad scenario and one no one wants and many people fail to deal with perfectly as emotions rule their reactions.

Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. bobledrew

    July 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Great post, Marti. When I shared this on my company FB page, I said that a key to writing great stuff is going beyond the easy answers, and your post does that really well. Yes, this should not be anyone’s idea of a best practice. But there’s more to this than just shouting “FAIL!”

  2. LukeandMyriah Walker

    August 16, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Great post! I appreciate it when someone in the media can see both sides and report fairly. All around good reporting. -Luke “Sky” Walker – Keller Williams Elite

  3. Ro Reed

    August 17, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Talk about “fair and balanced”… nicely done, Martin. I couldn’t help but think your proposed text should be shared on Facebook (like all those recipes we’re asked to “Post to Timelines so they aren’t lost”) as it might serve one well at some point in the future.

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Business News

Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

This story was first published in November 2020.

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Business News

How to apply to be on a Board of Directors

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

Age discrimination lawsuits are coming due to the pandemic – don’t add to the mess

(BUSINESS NEWS) Age discrimination is spreading despite intentions to help, and employers need to know how to proceed in this unprecedented era.

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Ageism void

Before the pandemic, age discrimination was prevalent in workplaces. The EEOC reports that in 2018, about 6 out of 10 workers aged 45 years and older say they experience discrimination on the job.

A 2015 survey found that 75% of older workers found age an obstacle in job hunting. COVID-19 made the situation much worse.

Not only do older workers deal with discrimination, but they are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, older workers were hit the hardest by job loss during the pandemic, which is unusual during a recession. As offices reopen, employers need to be careful to avoid age discrimination in rehiring.

Lawyers expect age discrimination lawsuits to increase.

Last September, Harris Meyer published an article in the ABA Journal that predicted a “flood of age discrimination lawsuits” from the pandemic. Employers who have good intentions by keeping older employees out of the workplace to protect their health are still guilty of age discrimination.

What can employers do to avoid age discrimination?

It may be fine line between making sure you don’t discriminate based on age while offering ADA accommodations. The first thing employers should do is to know what laws apply based on their location. Some states exempt employees over 65 from returning to the workplace out of safety fears, meaning that those employees can still get unemployment. Other states are cutting benefits if employees don’t return to work, regardless of age.

There are some jurisdictions that have passed legislation about which workers have the right to be recalled. Next, review your own policies and agreements with laid off and terminated employees. You may want to consult legal counsel to make sure you’re covering your bases.

As you rehire, whether you’re bringing back former employees or hiring new team members, do not make hiring decisions based on age. Keep good documentation about your decisions to terminate certain employees. If you are citing poor performance, make sure to have a record of that. Don’t terminate older employees who have bigger salaries just because of lower sales. Monitor your words (and that of your hiring team) to avoid bias in hiring and firing.

Provide accommodations or not?

According to the SHRM, “Workers age 40 and older are protected from bias by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; however, that law doesn’t require employers to make accommodations for safety concerns.”

Still, employers can provide flexibility for workers, but it largely depends on the type of job. Reaching an accommodation for an office worker will be much easier than accommodating a sanitation worker.

Employers should assume that workers aged 40 and older can return to work. When the need for help is raised by the employee, enter negotiations for accommodations. Don’t initiate the conversation, and absolutely avoid any references to age.

Know that the environment may change as the pandemic continues to affect workers.

Be thoughtful about your hiring practices moving forward to avoid costly litigation from age discrimination.

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