Paula Deen's restaurant closes -- without telling employees

Uncle Bubba's Seafood & Oyster House, which is owned by Paula Deen and her younger brother, Earl W. "Bubba" Hiers Jr., recently announced that it's closing via Facebook. And nothing wrong with that -- social media is a great way to communicate with people, including customers.

Except that in this case this was also how Bubba's informed the restaurant's employees that it was going out of business and that they were out of a job.

At this point let us pause to make an obvious point: Workers should never be told they've been fired over Facebook. In fact, in all but extreme circumstances, employees should be told face to face. Worst case scenario? Phone calls from their direct supervisors.

Instead, Deen and Hiers chose to post this message on Facebook:

"Since its opening in 2004, Uncle Bubba's Oyster House has been a destination for residents and tourists in Savannah, offering the region's freshest seafood and oysters. However, the restaurant's owner and operator, Bubba Heirs, has made the decision to close the restaurant in order to explore development options for the waterfront property on which the restaurant is located. At this point, no specific plans have been announced and a range of uses are under consideration in order realize the highest and best use for the property.
The closing is effective today, Thursday, April 3, 2014. Employees will be provided with severance based on position and tenure with the restaurant. All effort will be made to find employees comparable employment with other Savannah restaurant organizations."

Severance? Good. Help finding a new job? Also good. Fired via Facebook? Bad.

Not only is this a deeply impersonal way to find out you've lost a job (and I'm sure, in many cases, an employee's friends and family found out before the employee did), it also indicates a complete lack of character on the part of the owners and management.

Sometimes in business there are things that can't be announced in advance for legal reasons. For instance, I once found out a company I worked for had been taken over by a competitor on my drive in to work -- listening to National Public Radio. But that involved a takeover of one Fortune 100 company by another Fortune 100 company, not the closing of a small restaurant in order to figure out what the "highest and best use" for the property was. And, importantly, while numerous people lost their job with that merger, no one did at that very moment.

If you need to let people go, here is how you do it:

Gather all information and documents first. Whenever you terminate someone, at a minimum there should be paperwork, including information on continuing benefits (COBRA), severance pay, and checklists for keys and name badges. You need to have this all prepared in advance and ready to go.

Information should be given face to face. In Uncle Bubba's case, all employees were being terminated at the same moment, so it makes sense to have one meeting where everyone is told together (although, I would recommend telling the senior team first). But that's permissible in a case where everyone is being let go. If only a few people are losing their jobs, supervisors should sit down with individual employees and tell them in person. These meetings can, and should, be quick. No more than 15 minutes.

Severance is a great thing. Severance is not required in most terminations, but it is when it meets certain criteria, such as shutting down an entire business. Chances are, this closing required severance because employees weren't given 60 days notice and the whole business was closing. But even if it wasn't required, in any case where an employee is being let go without having done something terrible, the company should -- as a moral consideration -- offer severance. If a business can afford it, that should be a priority.

Support your former employees during the unemployment application process. Workers who lose a job through no fault of their own are entitled to unemployment payments. These payments cost the company money. As such, companies often fight unemployment and are prone to bringing up piddling things that were irrelevant in the decision to terminate in an attempt to save a few bucks -- and end up making a bad situation even worse. Laying someone off? Own it, and give accurate information to the unemployment office.

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