Many employers now have fully remote or hybrid workforces. This new landscape of work brings about new compliance requirements and challenges. The latest challenge stems from recent changes in economic conditions: conducting layoffs with remote employees. Before employers face this difficult situation, they should understand how to handle a reduction in force when the affected employees work in a remote or hybrid capacity. MP’s HR experts outline best practices organizations facing this difficult task need to know to develop their own compliant, detailed plan.
7 Best Practices for Conducting Layoffs with Remote Employees
1. Use similar tactics, whether conducting layoffs with remote or in-person employees.
Employers should plan to set notification meetings with laid-off employees that mirror best practices for traditional layoffs. HR departments and managers should:
- Set meetings over video if the employee can’t appear in person. Employers should have this conversation face-to-face and with empathy. A phone call is the next best option if the organization or employee can’t utilize video software. This information should never just be texted or emailed.
- Hold meetings one-on-one, never in large groups (though sometimes, an employer may want the manager and an HR representative in the meeting).
- Be trained before the layoff. The organization should provide trainings on discrimination and reducing legal risk when terminating employees.
- Hold all notification meetings as closely together as possible. Leaving too much time between them will allow employees to speculate and spread rumors about who will be laid off. This is especially critical for maintaining morale among employees who will remain after the layoff.
- Work with an employment lawyer or HR expert to see if the organization’s size and the number of impacted employees will trigger additional obligations under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.
2. Consider timing.
When employees are remote, organizations should always think about:
- When to hold the layoff meeting. If employees are in different time zones, the manager should ensure the meeting will be held towards the end of the employee’s workday day, preferably before a weekend. It’s ideal to give an employee time to cool off before interacting more with coworkers, clients, vendors, etc. (if they will be staying on for a few more weeks).
- Allow enough time for the employee to ask any questions. The manager or HR person conducting layoffs could pause and ask the employee if they have any questions. Whenever possible, the HR personnel or manager should honestly, clearly, and empathetically answer the question an employee asks. It’s essential not to schedule the meeting so tightly that laid-off employees can’t ask anything they need to know about compensation, next steps, etc.
3. Discuss how employees will return property.
Employers with remote staff should create and relay a plan for obtaining company equipment. Ideally, an organization should make it as easy as possible for the former employee to return equipment. Doing this will help ensure they get their equipment. It will also help keep the tone of the layoff procedure as positive as possible. Making former employees feel angrier or more upset during the layoff could significantly impact the employee engagement of the remaining employees or damage the employer brand. When conducting layoffs, employers should share:
- A list of assets that must be returned
- A timeline of when assets must be returned
- The consequences an employee will face if equipment isn’t sent back or isn’t sent back on time
- If equipment needs to be mailed, employers should send prepaid packing materials to the employee
4. Ensure IT is ready to shut down remote access, etc.
Organizations should alert their IT departments about upcoming layoffs. They should prepare to cut off remote access immediately following the separation meeting. During the meeting, the manager or HR personnel should let the employee know their access will be cut off, so it’s not a surprise. It can be discussed during the meeting if they need to retrieve information from their company computer, phone, email, etc.
5. If possible, offer assistance in finding other job opportunities.
Especially if an organization is laying off many employees at once, providing help in their upcoming job hunt is ideal. The organization may offer:
- Access to a recruiter
- Assistance updating and reviewing resumes
- Letters of recommendation and references
6. Review relevant last paycheck laws.
Many states have different laws surrounding how and when an employee receives their last paycheck. If employees are remote and live in another state, the employer may need to ensure they’re prepared to meet compliance regulations such as:
- Paying the employee on the day of the layoff
- Paying the employee for any untaken PTO
- Mailing their last paycheck within one or two weeks
- Sharing any letters, pamphlets, or other informational requirements
7. Send a follow-up after the meeting.
Provide any documents that need a signature. (Send them overnight and with prepaid mailing materials if necessary). Share a written record of information regarding COBRA, the employee’s last paycheck, other benefits, etc. This documentation will be helpful for the employee, but it will also stand as a record that the employer handled the layoff in full compliance.
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