You can be fired by email and although it sounds distant and cold, if email is the preferred method for written business communication, it may be common depending on the employment agreement or company policies. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, no notice is required for employees prior to a layoff or a firing, and since no notice is required, no method of submitting a termination notice to an employee is mentioned.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which applies to some workers that are affected by a mass layoff, or employed at an organization that has more than one hundred people on staff, are required to provide written notice at least sixty days prior to the layoff. If the WARN Act does not apply to your situation, because your organization is too small, your state may have certain regulations that the employer needs to meet prior to the firing.
When it not acceptable
An email is a written notice of the firing. Some legislation, such as WARN, state that a staff meeting or a press release is not an acceptable method for providing mass layoff notices, since the former is a verbal notice which may be open to misinterpretation, and the latter is not sent directly to each affected worker.
The email has the advantage of written communication directed specifically to the employee, so if you were fired as a mass dismissal, you may have grounds for complaint, but if the communication was sent to you directly and it is one of the methods mentioned in a company handbook and the surest method of internal corporate communications, you may receive an email notice.
If you are fired with cause, and received a prior written reprimand, as a letter sent directly to you, a note in your employee file that you signed, or it was sent via email, you have known that your position was vulnerable. You should refer to your employee handbook, either in paper form or on the company’s intranet, to determine how termination notices are sent to the affected employee. If the organization does not follow their own internal written guidelines for your dismissal, you may have grounds for complaint.
Most human resource professionals complain that dismissing employees by email is harsh and cold, but many companies, such as the mass layoffs enacted at Radio Shack in 2006, applied layoffs via email. An email dismissal, however distant, can have benefits: it can spare you receiving the dreaded pink slip at work in front of all of you office mates, or having to watch your office be packed up by security as your co-workers look on.
It does not spare your feelings and it will still hurt as much, but an email firing can be private–depending on how much internal snooping of email goes on in your workplace. Some workers have even been fired by text message, with the employer stating that this was the only way to contact the employee. If email dominates your workplace and is the preferred method of written communication for employees, the company may opt to use email as a method for distributing termination notices.
Yes, you can be fired via email and it is completely legal.