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Miss Manners: Don’t give laid-off workers the brush-off

Judith Martin

DEAR MISS MANNERS: A large percentage of the U.S. work force for my corporation was laid off without warning. Some of these are colleagues who I am not close friends with, but yet I have worked closely with for several years. What is the proper etiquette in such situations?

Everyone in the office seems to wish to avoid contracting the contagion by remaining holed up in their offices or cubicles and not speaking to these co-workers.

I would like to approach them and offer my condolences and ask if there is anything I can do to help, but this may seem presumptuous, and my presence might even cause resentment, since those laid off had been at the firm many years longer than I have, yet I still kept my job. I know that if I were laid off, I would appreciate a friendly word of support, but I recognize others might prefer to metaphorically lick their wounds in private.

At this point, it is moot, since the co-workers have left the office and I don’t have contact information to send a commiserating e-mail, if such a thing would be appropriate. For future reference, however, what is the best way to handle such a situation?

GENTLE READER: Well, it is not by shunning them. Miss Manners can hardly think of a crueler send-off than saying, in effect, “Don’t come near me, you loser; go enjoy your humiliation by yourself.”

Miss Manners considers not knowing what to say a poor excuse for inflicting that kind of damage. Because of such reasoning, the bereaved are often made to feel that their loss is augmented by the loss of friends.

Surely one can always say, “I’m so sorry.” Perhaps you might be able to add that it was undeserved, that you know what fine work they did, that you enjoyed working with them – whatever. But if none of that is so, just the simple expression will do.

And don’t think it is too late. Tracking down a former colleague for lunch is always a nice gesture. Eventually you may even want to go to such a person for consolation yourself.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We invited our two friends to our country home in Pennsylvania sometime this summer. In conversation, they told us that they visited other friends’ home that was old and dingy and was a tear down. That house was built in the 1950s.

Bottom line, our house was built in 1989, and I feel that our friends are going to scrutinize what’s in our home. Is it proper to uninvite them?

GENTLE READER: It is never proper to disinvite your guests short of an emergency. This is Miss Manners’ idea of an emergency.

One of the most sacred rules about hospitality prohibits breaking bread with one’s hosts and speaking ill of them afterward. If your prospective guests can break that one – presuming they were not fasting – what rules will they not break?

You can hardly cite this, however, because another pesky rule forbids criticizing. A highly apologetic letter should accompany your regret that you have a change in plans.

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