Since the start of the year, a whole bunch of tech firms have been going through a series of layoffs. The New York Times recently did an article about how such layoffs were “shocking” to a whole generation of workers typically Millennials and Generation Z who had never experienced such change before. (Generation X and Baby Boomers have lived through this cycle before though it doesn’t make it that much easier.)
Obviously, the impact on the workers is (and should be) the focus of layoffs. Losing your job is unsettling as people fear for their future — not to mention putting food on the table and paying rent & utilities. Employers would do well to try to soften the blow by offering severance in exchange for a release and offering transition services if possible.
But there’s another group of people that these articles leave out: HR Departments. For this group, layoffs present a whole new set of challenges that are rarely discussed. There is a lot of pressure put on these individuals and they’re asked to keep it a secret too. This isn’t to draw sympathy to them but rather awareness.
Weeks (and likely months) before the actual layoffs, these HR professionals are asked to help devise a system to fairly select individuals for a layoff. And as a result, a number of hard questions have to be asked: What is the goal of the layoff? What criteria is to be used? How will decisions be made?
Even beyond that, HR professionals are typically asked to review initial layoff lists and provide feedback. One way that they can do so is to consider running statistical analyses to determine whether the layoff plan appears to create any statistical anomalies. Some of these may seem to show a disparate impact on a protected group. (I’ve discussed this in a prior post here.)
The work doesn’t end there. Exceptions will be sought to the list — perhaps someone is out on a parental leave, or another person has already made a discrimination claim. Risks will need to be balanced.
And then the even harder work begins. After preparations of layoff packages, HR professionals may be brought in to deliver the bad news to laid-off employees. In prior downturns, the standard advice was to conduct such layoffs in person. But that seems to be out the door now — Teams/Zoom/Webex terminations seem to be the norm with people working remotely.
Regardless, such meetings are typically short and direct. HR is there to help share the news but also the next steps that are available.
For “seasoned” legal professionals like me, we’ve seen this before. It’s hard, painful work. Be sure to seek out legal guidance during this process not only to ensure the company is protected, but also to talk through some issues that may arise. It’s not a process anyone should have to go through alone.