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Need to conduct a layoff? Use same criteria as for hiring

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in Centerpiece,Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Sometimes, layoffs are inevitable … and they’re always 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 to hire. Look at the jobs that will survive and select the employees who best fit those jobs. That’s the approach this employer 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 decided it had to consolidate several plants and reduce its workforce. One area slated for cuts was HR. Roberts—who had recently returned from FMLA leave after 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 company decided to lay off Roberts.

Roberts sued, alleging age discrimination. While Roberts was older, both employees were over age 40.

The court rejected her claim. It said the company used a practical, reasoned approach to pick a more broadly skilled employee. (Roberts v. Mestek, No. 3:10-CV-2515, ND OH, 2011)

Bottom line: 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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