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Whoops: Firm's e-mail slipup fires 1,300 employees

British insurance company Aviva sends out an e-mail to 1,300 employees telling them the show is over. Sadly, this e-mail was meant for only one. Wait, they fire people by e-mail?

At Aviva, they see people. Fired people. Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

"Hey, I've just been fired."

"What a coincidence! So have I. Let's go and have a beer."

Such conversations must have abounded yesterday when British insurance company Aviva sent this charming e-mail to 1,300 employees in its investment unit: "We're not investing in you anymore. You're fired."

No, wait. That wasn't the e-mail. This was the e-mail, according to the Telegraph: "I am required to remind you of your contractual obligations to the company you are leaving. You have an obligation to retain any confidential information pertaining to Aviva Investors operations, systems, and clients."

Because people who work in investment tend to have hardened hearts, not all were fooled by this e-mail. Some, though, reportedly were. The Telegraph suggested that "stunned silence" reigned.

You might wonder whether this e-mail was a complete mistake. Not quite. It was intended for one poor soul and then someone in HR seems to have clicked on just one little button that sent it to 1,299 more people.

Aviva was contrite. Spokesman Paul Lockstone told Bloomberg: "It was intended that this e-mail should have gone to one single person. Unfortunately, as a result of a clerical error, it was sent to all of the Investors staff worldwide."

There is something so beautiful about the phrase "clerical error." The era of clerks is long past, and yet at Aviva they still seem to have clerks who make mistakes. Or perhaps they had a former man of the cloth on work experience and he pressed the wrong button.

Lockstone also added to Bloomberg: "From time to time, things go wrong."

They most certainly do. How slightly inhuman, though, that a company whose Web site says, "Most insurance companies see policies. At Aviva, we see people" sends e-mails to inform staff of its sayonara rules.