Overstaffed? Take logical approach to job cuts

It’s an awkward workplace problem: Despite short-staffing, the work is still getting done. It’s a sure sign a function might have too many employees.

If an employee goes out on leave with no drop-off in organizational performance, you can consider layoffs to cut costs and increase efficiency.

But do it the smart way. Don’t automatically terminate the employee on leave. If you do, you could be risking an FMLA or ADA lawsuit.

Instead, assess which position should be eliminated based on workflow, pay and performance. Then use that rationale to justify terminating the person whose dismissal would least harm efficiency and most im­­prove the budget.

Recent case: Eula, a black 55-year-old woman, worked for years as an administrative assistant. She was paid almost twice as much as other admins in her division. However, she often arrived late and frequently worked unapproved overtime. She also had a history of arguing with supervisors and co-workers.

After Eula completed a probationary period for tardiness, her division had to contend with getting its work done despite another employee’s FMLA-protected maternity leave. Supervisors saw that the work was going smoothly without the employee and concluded that when she returned, the division would be overstaffed.

They then ranked all the division’s administrative employees by performance and pay. Eula was picked for termination because she was ranked as the poorest-performing worker despite being the highest paid.

She sued, alleging that the re­­duction in force was just a pretext for race and age discrimination.

The court disagreed. It said it was clear that no one replaced her. Plus, the employer had the right to reduce its workforce when it discovered it was overstaffed during the other employee’s leave. It wasn’t required to keep more people working than necessary. (Mack v. Wortham, No. H-1-4881, SD TX, 2012)