How to Conduct Layoffs: Advice from an HR Pro

Business is booming these days, but memories of a weaker economy aren’t too distant. Should profits slow or a big contract fall through, company expenses will need to be reduced. That can mean layoffs are on the table. Candida Arvizu, an adviser for HR Ad

By Sony Hocklander | Photo courtesy HR Advantage

Jul 2017

Know Your Legal Obligations

Consider any applicable compliance issues from employment and union contracts. Those might determine what parameters to use when deciding which positions must go. Employers not bound by contingencies have to decide which employees are most valuable based on seniority, qualifications, the department they work in and other factors. Try to make decisions in a fair way, Arvizu says, and “be mindful of any unequal treatment; be mindful of people in protected classes.” Companies with more than 100 employees planning massive layoffs like a plant closing must provide 60 days of advance notice to employees, and, if appropriate, a labor union. They should also notify elected community officials because that kind of layoff can affect the entire community. 

Create a Protocol

Especially if you are laying off more than one person, it’s important to have a consistent procedure. Involve human resources and all stakeholders to strategize layoffs and determine which and when information will be revealed. Prepare a packet of info that includes COBRA health benefits, how employees will access retirement information and details about final paycheck, paid time off and, if appropriate, severance. Determine also how to retrieve company property such as a car, laptop or cell phone. You should also consider whether security measures should be taken to protect company data and confidential information. Employees react in varying ways, Arvizu says. In some cases the layoff is amicable, but if there’s concern employees might delete files, download confidential information or use email or company social media in a negative way, be prepared to quickly change passwords and restrict access to data. 

Execute your Plan

Communication is key, Arvizu says. When it’s time to lay off employees, deliver the news with honesty, kindness and respect. Stress that the layoff is a business decision and doesn’t reflect performance. The meeting should be reasonably brief, “but you want to give the employee time to ask questions—not to change your mind, but questions about what happens next,” Arvizu says. Also share post-layoff contact information with the employee. Some employers provide resources for other job or retraining opportunities. Others contact the Missouri Career Center, or even competitors, on employees’ behalf. Finally, understand that remaining employees will view layoffs with fear. Be as transparent as you can to set minds at ease.

What to do if You Get Laid Off

Don’t burn bridges or let emotions rule the day. “And that’s so hard because it’s a commentary on your value as an employee, and it can sting to be the one selected for [the layoff],” Arvizu says. It’s better to shake hands and say thank you for the opportunity: “You will feel better about yourself if you conduct yourself well in those last moments.”

Maintaining professionalism throughout the process can also be good for your future and any recommendations your employer might make for you. If you are on good terms, ask if your employer has any contacts or introductions they can make on your behalf. “Some employers will do what they can, even reaching out to competitors and saying, ‘I’ve got a great project manager, could you use one?’” Arvizu says.

You should also start reaching out to your contacts and your network to let them know you are seeking work. Make sure you’ve updated your resume and have references lined up. If needed, call the Division of Employment Security to initiate the process for collecting unemployment.


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