Devil’s Bargain

You may not be familiar with the term “Stealth Layoffs.”  Essentially, it’s when “firms lay off attorneys supposedly for performance reasons, but in fact are doing so by imposing arbitrarily tighter standards due to economic conditions.”  Additionally, firms and companies, instead of announcing and undertaking layoffs en masse, they “are making many small cuts over the course of weeks or even months”.  (Source)

In general, this idea is foul.  The firm, in an effort to save face and not acknowledge that it is not doing as rosy as the face it puts on, would rather sully an associate’s professional reputation.  Whoever is doing the firing, sometimes in instances that are a very short time after a positive review, concoct a negative review as a pretext for firing the associate.  Firms use buzzwords like “part of our normal review process” and “regular attrition” instead of “shitty economy” and “we’re really sorry, but we just need fewer associates.”

What’s sad is that most everyone can see through it.  So why even bother?  In the age of instant internet news and gossip sites like Above the Law and Law Shucks that exist to track these things (and create nifty charts) news eventually gets out.  It’s impossible to avoid.  The worse it gets, of course, the less shameful it is to be laying anybody off.

But still, there are firms that persist in doing stealth layoffs, going so far as to force the fired associate to admit to negative performance.  That’s not just foul, that’s revolting.  Check it out:

Sources tell us that one of the ways Alston & Bird is trying to keep the news quiet is by asking terminated associates to sign a letter acknowledging they were fired for performance reasons.

You can’t blame people for signing it. That is apparently the deal you have to take if you want your three months of “coming into the office” and receiving a paycheck.

That’s right.  They aren’t giving severance pay; they are making the fired people continue to come into the office to get paid every two weeks, with a guillotine hanging over their necks.  While there are benefits to the “working severance” model (especially if you have kids at home, and appreciate a quiet place to go to to do your networking calls, sending emails, resumes and cover letters, etc.), in this economy, when nobody is finding jobs anyway, there really isn’t much networking help to be had (which means I’d rather have three/six months pay and sit on my couch watching TV).  And in order to even GET the three months of “working severance” you have to sign a letter that forces you to admit you’re a shitty employee.  They’ve taken the stealth layoff one step further: not only will we concoct a bullshit pretextual reason to call your firing “performance based,” we’re going to make you agree to it!  Don’t try to keep any of your dignity!

I wish, I WISH, I could say that I would have the principles/stones to tell someone who offered me that deal to shove it.  I really do.  But right now, I’m in no position to throw three months of pay down the drain, and I don’t know many people that are.  Which is why it works.  The firm has seized the associate at the base of his snarglies.  Truly awful.


4 responses to “Devil’s Bargain

  1. I refused to sign a similar letter which was wholly inaccurate, until they wrote in that it was an acknowledgment that I’d seen the letter not that I agreed with it. (On the first copy I crossed out all the lines but one, which I agreed with.)

  2. I discovered that four female associates were fired from my firm within the last six months, though no one else in the firm actually knew about each other getting fired. It is “hush hush” behind closed doors. But, only one got the 3 months of come-in-and-get-your-check while the rest got a box.

  3. Typical slimy lawyer thing to do. Such behavior should be publicized as much as possible.

  4. My company (large financial firm) is currently doing the same exact thing.

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