Sometimes, layoffs are inevitable, something that’s always hard—and often a legal minefield. Get it wrong and your attorneys’ fees can easily exceed the labor costs you hoped to save.
Decide who should go in much the same way you decide who should fill a new position. Look at the jobs that will survive and select the employees who best fit those jobs. That’s the approach one employer recently took.
Recent case: Becky Roberts had worked as a secretary and HR specialist for her employer for more than 30 years. She was responsible for all HR matters affecting 100 hourly employees.
When revenues fell, the company concluded it had to consolidate several plants and reduce its workforce to cut costs. One of the areas slated for cuts was HR. Roberts—who had recently returned fromafter having back surgery—was one possible cut, as was another long-term employee.
The company looked at its newly reconstructed HR job and both employees’ skills and experience. The other employee had all the skills Roberts had, plus experience in accounts receivable and payable, as well as freight handling. Because its new structure relied on cross-training, the best candidate to keep the HR job was not Roberts, the employer concluded. While Roberts was older, both employees were over age 40.
The company terminated Roberts, and she sued, alleging age discrimination.
The court rejected her claim. It reasoned that the company picked a more broadly skilled employee who reasonably was a better asset. (Roberts v. Mestek, No. 3:10-CV-2515, ND OH, 2011)
Final note: The more professional your approach to a RIF, the less likely an employee will win a lawsuit. Judges won’t second-guess RIF decisions if they are justified.
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