Firing the Staff? Call a Fire Drill

May 10, 2007 ( - When some employers announce a large-scale employee layoff, they meet individually with the affected workers or perhaps send each an apologetic letter.

The owners at Robbs, a UK department store, tried a different tactic: they set off the fire alarm, assembled the staff in the parking lot and announced their jobs were gone.

According to The Daily Mail newspaper, Robbs, a landmark in the Northumberland market town of Hexham for 189 years, is firing 140 people.

So, the assembled staff, who trooped back into the building after gathering in the parking lot, were told some “bad news” : having fallen into difficult times and with its parent company in bankruptcy and a buyer not forthcoming, the store was to close in two weeks.

“The way we’ve been treated is appalling and to find out in this way has infuriated a lot of people,” one “devastated” employee told the newspaper.

An unidentified company spokesman told The Daily Mail: “It is at the discretion of the store management how the staff are given the news. The fire alarm was set off to clear the store of members of the public.”

He added: “We appreciate that this is a difficult time for everyone involved and I would again like to thank all employees, store concessions and customers for their continued support during the administration process.”

According to the newspaper, the news came after parent company, Owen Owen, had already sold the 100,000 square foot store to Scottish property company Buccleuch in September 2006 for £7.7 million and had hoped to find a buyer for the business before now.

“Staff were in tears when the closure was announced,” Michael McGregor, a 53-year-old married father of two who runs the butcher shop inside the building, told the newspaper. “When the fire alarms went off we all had to usher the customers out of the store then gather at a meeting point in the car park.”

McGregor continued: “From there they took us back inside, stood us around the food hall tills where we have staff general meetings and told us that the shop would close. The general manager made the announcement and he was in absolute floods of tears. Quite a few of the women burst out crying as well. It was a total shock. We were all hoping someone would buy the place and take over. Now we are all out of a job.”

Last year, employees at RadioShack Corp.’s Fort Worth headquarters received notification of layoffs – via e-mail (See RadioShack Issues Emailed Layoff Notices ).