I was just laid off and it was the standard process that is used in the US: call the person to talk to personnel, and remove access to the network while that is going on, then have someone help pack, always have someone with the person until they are escorted from the property.

That is supposed to keep an unhappy developer from deleting or damaging software or data: to mimimize data loss.

However, it still results in a lot of data loss, as all of the work the programmer was working on is dropped: software not checked in is possibly lost, documents not finished are lost, releases in process are slowed down or stopped, and a huge amount of knowledge could be lost.

It seems the potential data loss is more than offset by the actual data loss. How can all losses, both potential and actual, be mimimized?

  • 4
    Is that common across the US?? In the UK that would only happen if someone was fired.
    – ozz
    Mar 22 '12 at 21:35
  • At least in the right-to-work states, yes. Layoffs can be without notice, just as we can leave without notice (although that is considered rude, at best). In Washington state, it's common. Firings are handled the same way, but the person is usually not eligible for rehire or unemployment benefits. Mar 22 '12 at 21:40
  • In my last position, it was a term of my contract that I would have to turn over all uncompleted work before leaving.
    – user16764
    Mar 22 '12 at 22:34
  • Short answer: there is no point in minimizing the loss. It will cost more to have remaining staff try and figure out what state the repositories of the laid off are in than to simply reschedule the original tasks. No one is irreplaceable no matter how much they think that their leaving will "slowed down or stopped" the project or how much "a huge amount of knowledge" they think they have. Mar 23 '12 at 2:25
  • 4
    wait... so you were just laid off and the question that popped into your head was, "how could the company that just laid me off done so with minimal loss for themselves?"
    – DXM
    Mar 23 '12 at 3:53

When a company is at the point of layoffs, the loss of an individual programmer's work is a rather minor concern.

The layoff, especially if it involves multiple people (and it usually does) is assumed to set back the project by a significant amount, and that's just the price that you have to pay. Sometimes entire projects have to get dropped, because there aren't enough people to do the work. Or the people who are left behind are expected to muddle through as best they can. Sometimes, with deadlines left intact.


Generally, the manager of the person can login to the laid-off person's old machine and look for any code to commit before the company reformats it for someone else. Of course in a lot of layoffs the project is put on hold anyway, so nobody cares.


Well, I'd imagine the common case is to know for a bit that you're going to lay someone off. If that's the case, you can always assign them to wrap up current project that they're workign on prior to laying them off. I mean, it's pretty Machiavellian, but you could essentially tell them they were getting a cool new assignment next week but first had to knowledge transfer their current work to a replacement.

Personally, I couldn't live with myself if I engaged in this sort of deception, but I think it would accomplish what you're asking about here.


My take is that this kind of firing/layoff is usually only done when the management and even the person in question know that it's going to happen, it's just a matter of timing. It also usually happens due to project cancellation or personal/political reasons so what's coming is obvious to everyone.

In the first case, the project is no longer important to the company, it's already written off as a loss, so losing data/code from it isn't a concern. They're more concerned about pilferage of hardware or losing data like customer lists and such. Sometimes this can be tied to a change in the business, such as a merger. In that situation, a transition period may be used to allow the affected personnel to exit on a friendly basis.

In the second case, the developer in question will have most likely already been sidelined in some fashion. They may be assigned to "junk" projects or doing report queries and the like just to keep them busy until all the firing logistics are right (such as it being "rank and yank" time). The developer will also realize this most of the time and should have already planned their exit strategy. Some toxic companies have a Trump-like fire on the spot policy. If you have the misfortune to work at a place like that and can't find a decent place to work, just be prepared to deal with irrational disruptions at any point.

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