How to Conduct Virtual Layoffs

Laying off employees is never easy. Here are 8 steps to ensure you do it compassionately and maintain a positive reputation.

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Navigating the process layoffs in a virtual environment

Laying off employees is usually the least favorite part of an HR professional’s job, and it can feel even more difficult in a virtual environment. If you’re an HR manager or a business owner handling layoffs and the virtual environment is new to you, how do you handle it? Following best practices in this so-called “new normal” has changed things dramatically for layoffs; however, there are still some approaches that work better than others.

Maybe you’ve heard about some companies laying off swathes of workers en masse during a Zoom call or through email. Both of those scenarios are the wrong way to go about it. Even if the business is in a crisis, you can still ease this additional blow by properly conducting layoffs in a virtual setting. You might not be able to actually retain all of your employees right now, but you can certainly help to retain their dignity and offer support as they make a transition into the next phase of life during COVID-19.

Even if the business is in a crisis, you can still ease this additional blow by properly conducting layoffs in a virtual setting.

Make terminations individual

There’s never a good reason to lay off more than one person during a meeting. Mass layoffs might be happening at your company, but that doesn’t automatically equate to mass layoff meetings. Individual termination meetings are a respectful way to handle this situation.

Ensure meetings are private

Individual meetings are by nature a more private affair than a group meeting. However, make sure you take proper precautions to guarantee privacy. Do not schedule a series of meetings featuring suspicious titles that everyone can see on a shared calendar.

Record these meetings for everyone’s safety

One of the best parts about virtual work environments and meetings is that they’re easy to record and archive. When recording meetings, there are legal and privacy issues to consider, so be certain to include the right professionals (such as an HR representative and/or the worker’s direct manager). Recording meetings are essential to HR archives — and might be useful if there are issues in the future about the layoff or the employee’s unemployment claim. If you are going to record meetings, pay extra attention to what you say and in what manner so you don’t open up the company to litigation. A script can help you stay on track.

Further Reading: “How to Write a Termination Letter (With Sample Script)”

When recording meetings, there are legal and privacy issues to consider, so be certain to include the right professionals (such as an HR representative and/or the worker’s direct manager).

Follow the golden rule

Treat the employee how you’d like to be treated in this situation. This means providing them with the attention they deserve, plus time and space for processing. You can do this by making sure you are free of distractions. Devote your attention entirely to the employee throughout the meeting.

Be prepared with severance information

Be prepared with severance information (if applicable) and an explanation of how unemployment benefits work.

The first thing your employee will wonder and worry about is how they’ll pay the bills. Be prepared with severance information (if applicable) and an explanation of how unemployment benefits work (if they qualify — those who are fired do not qualify). Information on the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) for health insurance and any other benefits available to them should be shared at this meeting and immediately (and privately) sent to them in writing. This information is usually best delivered by an HR professional so there is minimal risk of miscommunication.

Address the return of company property

If the employee has company property such as a laptop or furniture, you’ll need to have a plan in place on how it can be safely returned. Asking your employee to drop it off is, quite frankly, asking a lot. Instead, if possible, you might consider offering a pickup concierge service that follows social distancing guidelines. Exact details will vary business to business, so come up with suitable plans before you schedule any layoff meetings.

Consider helping with outplacement services

If possible, offering your employees help with their career transition and finding a new job is a great gift you can provide (and helps to avoid burning any bridges). Outplacement also helps to nurture your company’s brand and can help to attract business and other candidates in the future. However, these services should be virtual right now. They can include just about anything from career coaching to help with resume writing services.

Be conscious of timing

Just because everything’s virtual and people feel like they’re working around the clock doesn’t mean timing your layoffs is no longer important. The best day for layoffs is Tuesday, by many professional standards, with mid-morning being the ideal time. This will give you time to produce any last-minute paperwork on Monday. It also steers clear of dampening your employee’s weekend. However, exact days and times might vary based on your business hours.

Layoffs are never easy, especially right now. The right approach can make them sting a little less, protect your reputation, and help set up your employees for their new chapter.

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