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Subject line: You’re downsized

A layoff could be lurking in your inbox.

A new national survey has found that 10 percent of employees report that their company has used e-mail to fire or lay off employees. Conducted by workplace communication firm The Marlin Company, the survey also found that 17 percent of employees said their boss used e-mail to avoid other difficult conversations.

"It’s easier than doing it in person," said Marlin president Frank Kenna. It’s also more convenient for busy bosses to send an e-pink slip when they’re traveling or bogged down with work, he said.

The fallout from resorting to e-mail for sensitive discussions extends beyond the recipient, he said. It’s bad for morale if other employees find out, and other managers could follow suit, spreading the tactless practice throughout the company.

E-mail can be used effectively, however, for addressing more minor issues. For example, it’s appropriate for a boss to e-mail an employee about a late report in between performance reviews. But it’s not OK to conduct the performance review itself over e-mail, Kenna said.

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"It’s just the right thing to give employees a chance to respond," he said.

The telephone survey of 752 U.S. workers was conducted in May and June.

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