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Justify RIF by citing business necessity

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in Firing,Human Resources

Sometimes, it makes sense for a business to reduce costs. One way may be to cut personnel, especially employees who are highly compensated and whose work may be redundant. A danger, of course, is that the most highly paid may be older workers, and terminating them may prompt an age discrimination lawsuit.

Guard against discrimination claims by basing reduction-in-force decisions on business necessity. Be prepared to explain your rationale.

Recent case: Alexander was born in Belarus and speaks English with a heavy accent. He is a talented engineer, having earned a doctorate in condensed matter physics. He was hired by Seagate to work on computer drives and was frequently praised for his creativity, hard work and innovation.

He did not, however, get along well with his co-workers, who often found him abrasive and difficult to work with.

When the company ran into financial problems, upper-level managers were told to prepare for a reduction in force by analyzing their engineering workforce and identifying duplicate functions to eliminate. Engineers were then ranked according to experience, innovation, function and other characteristics. Alexander was one of the engineers terminated in the RIF.

Alexander sued, alleging that one reason for his selection was his national origin. He apparently attributed some of his difficulty with getting along with others to co-worker and supervisor prejudice against foreigners.

But Seagate explained at length the process it used to select those it cut. Its decision-making factors were objective and business-related.

The court concluded that, whatever Alexander might believe about his co-worker and supervisors, there was no objective evidence that the company made decisions based on his national origin. It tossed out the case. (Shukh v. Seagate Technologies, No. 10-404, DC MN, 2014)

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