Being fired is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through. Not only do they lose their livelihood, their circle of work friends, and their routine, but they have to deal with the fact that somebody looked them in the eye and said "You're not good enough". Or maybe even worse: Didn't look them in the eye, and just sent a dismissal letter or e-mail as though they weren't worth the personal appearance.
But it's not always easy on the person doing the firing, either. They need to be the one who looks the other person in the eye and says "You're not good enough", and then they need to live with the guilt afterwards. How do you just go back to your 9-to-5 job after you made the calculated decision that somebody wasn't worth keeping around?
Whether you're the fire-er or the fire-ee, it's a serious event, with long lasting repercussions.
Stories that focus on the person being fired can approach it in multiple different ways. If the character knows its coming, they can play up the fear and dread as the deadline approaches. In a comedy this can be the impetus for a Zany Scheme to try and save their job, or perhaps a form of revenge against the company instead. If it is a surprise, it can serve as a Cruel Twist Ending to shock and dismay the audience. If the character is a main character in an ongoing story they will often have their job again the next week, but not always. Sometimes this leads to an entirely new story or arc. Occasionally the firing will be seen as a good thing, giving the character the impetus to pursue their dreams that they had been putting off.
Stories which focus on the person performing the firing don't have as much leeway, and instead have one predominant feature: Forcing the character to shoulder the responsibility of firing somebody. Normally this will be their very first firing, and will come after a recent promotion to highlight the burdens that come with the perks of management. It might also be somebody they were friends with, or had previously hired, to add emotional complexity. Normally they want desperately to be a Benevolent Boss, only to ultimately find that there is no way around the issue in the cut-and-dry world of dollars and cents.
If the person doing the firing is a supervillain or criminal of some kind, this might overlap with You Have Failed Me or You Have Outlived Your Usefulness. Related to Kicked Upstairs and Reassigned to Antarctica, where they try to get rid of somebody without firing them.
Keep in mind that this is not just for any incident where a person is fired in a story, but is about the way stories explore the lead-up and aftereffects on the people involved. Not related to Out of Job, Into the Plot, which is when a person fired at the start of a work (Or even before it) leads to an unconnected main plot.
- In 52, Clark Kent has lost his superpowers and is living a year as just a normal human. Unfortunately, this means that his work as a reporter is seriously lacking, as he isn't used to needing to go out and look for news. Perry White is on the verge of firing him, and in fact has his termination letter in his hand, when Clark is motivated to take a lesson from his wife's playbook and leaps out a window in order to attract the attention of the new hero Supernova for an interview.
- In the future of 2015 seen in Back to the Future Part II, Jennifer witnesses Marty being fired after he is shamed into participating in an illegal scam with Needles. This highlights just how much of a Future Loser Marty will become, and how much his life is ruined by the fact that Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!. She judges just how much the future has changed when, in Back to the Future Part III, the "You're Fired!" fax she brought back is erased.
- The main plot of Office Space is kicked off when Peter learns that Michael and Samir are going to be fired (and he's going to be promoted). It's particularly frustrating because Peter has recently been slacking off while Michael and Samir have been dutifully plugging away at their jobs, and there have been Outside Consultants interviewing all of the employees to see who is worth keeping. They decide to take preemptive revenge against the company by installing a computer virus to undetectably siphon off money from electronic transactions.
- Max Barry's novels deal heavily with business and corporate life, and include a lot of focus on what happens when people are fired.
- In Jennifer Government, about halfway through the novel John Nike offhandedly remembers that Hack Nike, the patsy he had hired to commit the Mercury killings that set off the plot of the novel, is still employed at the company. He absentmindedly has HR fire Hack, and when Hack sends him an angry e-mail reminding him that Hack has all sorts of compromising information, John only responds with a two-word message: "Fuck off". This disrespectful dismissal is one of the final catalysts that gets Hack to join a group of anti-corporate terrorists (or rather, an afternoon discussion group that he pushes into committing some petty vandalism).
- In Company, Jones picks up a copy of the Omega Management System, the newest how-to guide for executives that everybody at Zephyr seems to own. As he flips through it he realizes that its chapters on firings contain no mention of how it impacts the person who is actually fired, and only talks about how hard it is to do the firing. When Jones eventually learns that Zephyr is actually just a case-study for the company which publishes the OMS and is recruited, he is horrified at the callous way they toy with the employees' lives for "research". When Zephyr is eventually "consolidated" (re: significantly downsized) Jones almost touches off a riot among the ex-employees with the simple consoling statement "You don't deserve this".
- In Isaac Asimov's Robot novels, "Declassification" is an ever-looming threat for detective Elijah Bailey. In the overpopulated, strictly-regulated life of Earth, all humans are guaranteed the basic sustenance of survival, but for those who are declassified it can get very "basic" indeed. Cramped living quarters, menial labor, and subsisting on bland yeast products is the norm for those who don't have classified status to receive luxuries. Elijah's father was declassified when Elijah was just a child, and the way it destroyed their family still haunts and motivates him.
- In The Caves of Steel, the Spacers are deliberately trying to destabilize Earth society through the introduction of robotic labor to create a large declassified populace. They hope that the Earthmen who are declassified will spearhead new exploration and settlement on extra-solar planets once they realize the opportunities they would have. Unfortunately, they miscalculated just how much the modern Earthman fears open spaces (and thus is psychologically unprepared for flying through open space), and also how much of the resentment towards the Spacers would turn into direct hate, so the declassified instead turn to "back to the Earth" Medievalism. The situation is only resolved when Elijah combines the two philosophies: They can go "back to the Earth" on other planets.
- In The Naked Sun, declassification is a less immediate threat since the story takes place on Solaria, where there is no classification system. Nonetheless, it is still a concern for Elijah, since he knows that if he messes up the investigation on Solaria he will be declassified once he returns home. He was only persuaded to go at all by the fear of what his family would be reduced to if he refused and was fired as a result. This was an un-stated threat from his superiors when they told him how well his family would be cared for while he was gone.
- Two episodes of The Bold Type deal with firings and layoffs at Scarlet:
- In "Three Girls in a Tub", Kat spends the episode trying to reign in a new employee who just can't seem to get a handle on running social media for a publication like Scarlet. When her posts keep opening up the magazine to potential legal difficulties and outraging celebrities, Kat ultimately realizes that she has to fire her for the good of the magazine. The situation is exacerbated because she was the very first person that Kat had hired as well.
- In "The End of the Beginning" there are layoff rumors swirling all around Steinem Publishing, and Kat knows that the rumors are true. Jane and Sutton both fear for their jobs and try to prove their worth to the company, while Kat has to deal with not giving them any information since she is in management and the information is privileged. Despite sympathizing with their worries, Kat almost wishes that her own job was in jeopardy because it might motivate her to do something more with her life. Jane and Sutton's jobs are saved, but Jane ultimately decides to leave anyway when she gets a job offer from another magazine.
- In the Scrubs episode "My Life in Four Cameras", Dr. Cox confronts Dr. Kelso when Kelso announces that he will need to fire somebody due to budget cuts. When Dr. Cox says that he could lower the budget without firing anybody, Kelso gives him the chance to figure it out, but says that Cox will need to be the one to do the firing when it turns out to be impossible. Despite looking through the budget for hours, Cox realizes that there really is no alternative since the hospital simply doesn't have the money. He fires Kenny, the lunchroom attendant who earlier in the episode had said how much he enjoyed helping out the doctors who save people's lives.
- In The Office (US) episode "Halloween", Michael Scott absolutely bungles a firing because he can't decide who to fire. He procrastinates until the end of the month (meaning it happens on Halloween) and he tries to pick the person that will be the least difficult to fire for him. He first decided to fire Creed Bratton, but during the firing Creed convinces him to instead fire Devon.
- The George Lopez Show: In "Profiles in Courage", George is tasked with firing a Muslim factory worker after his bosses find out he went to flight school (the fact that the factory is up for a government contract not helping matters).
- In Seinfeld, Elaine can't bring herself to fire somebody when she is running the Peterman magazine. The mailroom toughguy is so intimidating that every time she tries to fire him she chickens out and promotes him instead. This leads to all of her other senior staff quitting in indignation when he winds up over their heads.
- Serena Southerlyn was the only Assistant District Attorney fired by the DA in the original Law & Order. Dismissed in the episode "Ain't No Love" by Arthur Branch, she had frequently butted heads with the DA and EADA over politics and procedures, and Branch ultimately decided that she was too sympathetic to defendants and couldn't properly serve as an ADA.
- In The Good Place, Michael's description of what happens when Architects "retire" is absolutely hellish (Something people would literally describe as like hell), and it is looming over his head from the middle of the first season when he can't figure out what's wrong with his system design. When his boss, Shaun, shows up, he threatens that retirement is "on the table" if they can't resolve the situation. Michael was actually not at risk of being retired at the start of the season, he was just trying to make the main character feels bad by putting his pain on them. When things begin to fall apart for real, Shaun puts the threat in play for real.
- The season one finale of Brooklyn Nine-Nine opens with Jake Peralta walking into a bar, buying everybody a round of drinks, and explaining that he was just fired from the NYPD. The rest of the episode shows his ever-worsening relationship with NYPD brass that leads up to his disciplinary hearing. The final scene reveals that the entire first scene was a performance, as Jake is infiltrating the Mafia and needed to be publicly separated from the NYPD.
- In WWE, especially during the Attitude Era, one of the most well-known kayfabe stories was about a wrestler being fired on the set, mostly by Mr. McMahon acting as the Big Bad (Especially with his famous "YOU'RE FIRED!"). This became so famous as part of the WWE kayfabe that it has its own Top10 at WWE.
- Family Guy: The first episode has Peter getting fired from his toy factory job after he falls asleep due to a hangover and inadvertently allows dangerous "toys" to slip into the market. Not wanting Lois to find out and blame him, he decides to sign up for welfare and keep her in the dark about it.
- House of Mouse: In "Gone Goofy", the club goes over-budget and requires one person to be fired, and it has to be someone who is lazy and unproductive. Goofy naturally fits the mold, but the others, barring Donald, don't have the heart to fire their friend. As Donald tries to give Goofy a (literal) pink slip, Mickey decides to fire himself and make Goofy the new host.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Homer's Odyssey", Homer gets fired from the power plant and, after failing to find another job, his life goes into a downward spiral. After attempting suicide, he soon decides to become a safety advocate.
- "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song", the 100th episode of the show, deals with Bart's antics causing Principal Skinner to get fired.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- In "Karate Choppers", SpongeBob is told not to do karate at work or risk getting fired. He is then attacked by Sandy, who refuses to believe his pleas to stop, only for Mr. Krabs to appear and make good on his threat. This causes SpongeBob to cry a river, but Sandy, realizing her friend wasn't kidding, convinces Mr. Krabs to give him another chance.
- In "Bossy Boots", Pearl gets a summer job at the Krusty Krab and makes radical changes to the theme and decor. Mr. Krabs disapproves of the changes, but he can't bring himself to fire his daughter, so he has SpongeBob do it instead. It turns out Pearl actually wants to be fired, so the two stage a dramatic "firing" for Krabs to hear.
- In "SpongeBob, You're Fired", SpongeBob gets fired from the Krusty Krab as a cost-cutting measure. After a falling into a rut, he attempts to find jobs at other restaurants, but he is fired from them just as quickly because all he can make is krabby patties.