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Contemplating a RIF? Use clear criteria for who loses job

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

In these difficult times, your organization may have to undergo a reduction in force (RIF). If you do, it pays to develop objective standards for who can stay and who must go.

Make those standards clear and explain how they relate to your legitimate business needs. Then rank employees according to your standards and discharge those who don’t make the cut.

By outlining your plan and sticking with it, you reduce your chance of losing a lawsuit a former employee might bring. Remember that fired employees will visit an attorney, who will try to find a reason to sue you. You can’t prevent all lawsuits, but you can be prepared.

Recent case: Mala Davenport, who is black, was one of five material coordinators in her department at Northrop Grumman.

When the company laid off 100 workers, Davenport’s supervisor put her name on the RIF list. He did so based on directions from HR to rank employees in his group by performance and cut those with the worst performance whose work could most easily be transferred to others.

Because Davenport was the only material coordinator who had performance problems, the supervisor placed her on the bottom of the list. Davenport had been counseled several times over the past year pertaining to her poor work performance, while none of the others had.

After Davenport lost her job, she sued for race discrimination. She added a claim for retaliation over a sexual and racial harassment complaint she had filed four years earlier.

But the court tossed out her case. It reasoned that Davenport couldn’t show that the company’s RIF process was flawed. It was perfectly reasonable to terminate the poorest performer whose work could readily be passed on to others. Plus, there was nothing to link the termination decision to her earlier HR complaint. (Davenport v. Northrop Grumman Systems, No. 07-3362, 7th Cir., 2008)

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