“You're Fired!” (part 1): The Lay-Off

"You're Fired!" (part 1): The Lay-Off

Scenario: For financial reasons, your practice has decided to implement a reduction in force, and affected employees need to be told that they are being laid off. What do you do now?

The single most important facet of communicating to an employee about to be laid off is consistent across the board for all affected employees. Invariably, each employee will want to know "Why me?" and will be suspicious of being singled out by all the other employees who retained their jobs.

The layoff discussion is the ideal situation for working from a script to ensure consistency. Your communication should be short, concise, and clear, and it should include certain components:

A statement that the employee's position has been eliminated, and no suitable alternative job is available.

A statement emphasizes that the reduction in force is a financial decision and is not a reflection of the employee's performance or any other personal factors. Decisions were made based on finances and workload coverage.

An explanation of any benefits, vacation time accrued, severance, and date of termination.

However, in this conversation, do not do the following:

Do not mention other employees' situations, position, age, race, seniority.

Do not talk about the fairness of the decision or say anything other than supportive comments, such as "I know this is upsetting".

Do not deviate from the script or engage in additional dialogue.

Finally, just listen. If the employee expresses concern about discrimination, for example, pay close attention, take notes and be sure to follow up.

Do's for the HR Manager

  • Review relevant policies beforehand (performance expectations, workplace conduct, discipline, termination).
  • Research! Personnel files, emails, supervisor's satellite files, comparator information, etc.
  • Stay current on the laws.
  • Seek additional legal advice if you are unsure or if the situation is potentially litigious; think protected categories, protected activity, public policy.
  • Enlist a third party in potentially litigious meetings.
  • Ensure that benchmarks and behaviors are measurable.
  • Ensure that criteria are well-documented.
  • Ensure that the decision-making was fair, equitable, and non-discriminatory or retaliatory: including the impact.
  • Address employees one-on-one, in person.
  • Explain the criteria for the selection process.
  • Anticipate objections.
  • Listen, and make notes of comments and questions from the employee; and
  • Be sure that new managers or managers who have never handled this situation receive coaching and role-playing if necessary.

Do Not's for the HR Manager

  • Do not forget the need to document, document, document.
  • Do not be ambiguous or consider termination to be a negotiation.
  • Do not neglect to understand the need to maintain composure (balance business needs and human compassion); and
  • Do not deviate from the message.

In our next post, we will cover how to handle the other typical type of termination: "for cause".