Aug. 13, 2009 -- As companies cut costs to battle through the recession, stories of nightmare layoffs are continuing to bear down on American workers.
Most recently, a shake-up at a local New York newspaper is bringing a sorry case of deja vu for nearly 300 people. This week, staffers at The Journal News, a daily newspaper based in Westchester County, N.Y., were told that they'd have to apply for jobs at the paper all over again -- and that, no matter what, at least 70 of them would be fired.
They have until the end of the day Friday to submit job applications as part of a restructuring plan announced Wednesday and will be interviewed for the jobs next week.
The decisions on who stays and who will be laid off are due in two weeks.
"We're all pretty devastated," a reporter who declined to be identified told ABCNews.com.
But, the reporter said, "We're just going on the way we always do. We still have to put a paper out."
As the newspaper industry continues to struggle with declining circulation and declining advertising revenues, layoffs have become nearly the norm industrywide. Michael J. Fisch, the president and publisher of The Journal News, said asking employees to apply again for jobs are part of efforts by the paper to focus more on its Web site.
The jobs they'll be applying for, he said, will include more of an emphasis on Web site work. Fisch said 70 employees -- 50 in the newsroom and 20 in advertising sales -- will be laid off when the jobs are filled.
"The business is changing and its changing rapidly," Fisch said. "We need to embrace and integrate these skill sets that will support a multi-platform approach to what we do."
The dismal scenario facing Journal News staffers may still be slightly better than the one that hit staffers at the Baltimore Sun in April. Three of them were covering a game between the Orioles and Los Angeles Angels when they were informed that they were being laid off.
"They got me over the phone, while I was at the Orioles-Angels game ... It's a complete bloodletting there right now," one of the journalists, sports columnist David Steele, wrote in an e-mail to colleagues, according to Journal-isms, a column published on the Web site of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
The three were among 61 who were laid off at the newspaper, which is owned by the Chicago-based Tribune Co., the media giant that filed for bankruptcy protection in December.
But the newspaper job cuts spree aren't the only cringe-worthy layoff stories in the headlines: the Wisconsin State Journal reported in April that a hospital manager at Dean Health System in Madison, Wisc., violated medical protocol by pulling a nurse out of a minor surgical procedure to tell her she'd lost her job.
"Clearly there was an error in judgment on the part of the manager conducting the layoff," said Dean Health spokesman Paul Pitas in a statement to ABCNews.com.
Such errors in judgment may be occurring more frequently as the recession continues to force companies to slash jobs.
"You hear these stories and you think, 'What terrible people are doing this firing?'" said Jenny Schade, the president of JRS Consulting, a management and marketing consulting firm in Chicago, recently told ABCNews.com. "I think what it comes down to is everyone feels so uncomfortable in this situation. No one wants to fire anybody. They feel uncomfortable, so they goof up."
But experts also say that sometimes, the bosses doing the firing aren't uncomfortable. They're just plain mean. Some ABCNews.com readers, it seems, agree with that. We recently asked readers to send us their worst firing stories. Find some of their outrageous submissions on the next page. (See tips on what to do after a dramatic layoff experience.)
Fired, Threatened and Chased
Park City, Utah
I was teaching English in Korea on a one-year contract. My schedule was set on the contract (Monday through Friday), but with less than a week's notice, my boss told me I had to come in that Saturday.
I had already booked an expensive, non-refundable trip to North Korea for my days off, so I told him I wouldn't be coming in on my day off. He came over to my apartment Friday night as I was getting ready to leave. He owned the apartment, as housing was provided by the school.
He had a key, and opened my door. He kept yelling and cursing at me, saying I owed him money, and tried to physically take my wallet from my pants. He wouldn't let go of my shirt, until I finally pushed him off me and made a run for it. He chased me for 2-3 blocks in sweltering summer humidity ... I got away and made it to the bus terminal, and went on my trip, but of course, he locked me out of the apartment and took all my stuff. I was left jobless and homeless in Korea, with nothing but two (sets) of clothes and a little money to survive on. I used my credit card and bought a flight home and made it out OK.
Layoff Triggers: From Small Mistakes to Health Problems
I was fired two days after returning from having surgery on my hip. I was on crutches and the place that I was working only had steps (no ramp) to get into the front of the building. I was running late because I had difficulty getting in and out of the shower. They fired me because I was eight minutes late to work.
The one and only time I was fired was when I was working for a woman who made plaster animal earrings wholesale. She'd mold little plaster animals, paint them, spray a gloss on them to make them appear "fired" (ha ha), and then hang them on hooks.
Her whole operation was fake, in that she sold these things as "fired porcelain" and they weren't.
I was hired to paint the earrings.
Once I did a whole batch of penguins. My boss walked in and looked at them and shrieked. Grabbing a penguin, she gasped out, "Oh, my GOD, what an UNPLEASANT expression on this poor penguin! He looks PERVERTED! Oh, my GOD! Oh, my GOD! What a wicked, wicked person you are! Get out of here!" She was throwing penguins everywhere and they were just greenware so they were breaking and crumbling all over the place.
Laid Off at the Worst Time
West Chester, Ohio
I worked for a national company for four months when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, and was asked to come home (approximately 525 miles.)
We went home and informed employer of the situation and was told it was OK.
Got home on a Monday, mother went in hospice on Tuesday and on Friday afternoon died. Funeral was set for the following Tuesday and on the following Friday, I received a call informing me that I had been replaced and did not have to hurry back to Cincinnati.
Cape Coral, Fla.
I was working in a fast food place ... When making an order of 6 sandwiches, trying to be time efficient as they train you to be, I placed the tomato directly on the meat instead of the bun for the last sandwich, when I received a very abusive tongue lashing and subsequent dismissal -- I had worked there for nearly 3 years!
After a traditional face to face layoff session, my company tried a new kinder gentler approach. They called a big meeting and announced that every employee had e-mail back on their computer that would tell them if they still had a job. I didn't!
Aftermath of a Nightmare Layoff
Being laid off in dramatic fashion can make you feel helpless, but you don't have to be, experts say.
Schade recommends taking the high road: bid your boss and employees goodbye as nicely as possible and, later on, send a note or an e-mail to the co-workers you'd like to stay in touch with -- you never know who could help you find a job later on.
Resist bad-mouthing your boss to co-workers, she said.
"If you conduct yourself with integrity," Schade said, "that's going to make you stand out in the crowd."
Roy Lubit, a psychiatrist and organizational consultant, said that if the person who fired you was truly offensive, it might make sense to alert the company's human resources department.
"You could contact HR at the company and say this is the way the boss did this to me. I don't think this is a good thing for your company to be doing to people," he said. "Hopefully, HR would go and speak to the person who did that."
In the future, Lubit said, that could stop the boss from treating others the way he treated you.
ABC News' Alice Gomstyn is a former employee of The Journal News.