Laying Off Employees During COVID-19

As states implement Shelter in Place orders, more organizations are closing their doors and facing the difficult decision—and in many cases the necessary decision—of laying off staff. Even though these layoffs may be temporary, we do understand that this is a painful moment not just for employees, but for leadership too. The following guidance will help you manage this process in a transparent, fair, responsible and values-led manner. If you have specific questions or concerns, reach out to your Redwoods contact.

State Unemployment Benefits
These are uncertain and stressful times for all of us. For staff who are losing their paycheck, that stress will be compounded. Fortunately, many states and local governments are stepping up with temporary changes to their unemployment programs to provide easier access to temporary assistance, and minimize requirements for actively seeking work—with the assumption that many employers will rehire once the current crisis has passed. The following site will help you find details on unemployment insurance in your state, which we recommend sharing with laid off workers:

Ensuring Fair and Ethical Treatment
If you are laying off workers, it is always critically important that this decision is made without discriminating against any specific class of individual. Given the speed at which decisions are sometimes being made during this crisis, we recommend that extra care is taken to follow all policies outlined in your policy handbook regarding layoffs. Making layoffs as broad as possible in terms of categories (e.g. all part-time staff) will help protect against potential discrimination lawsuits from any single employee.

Additionally, if an employee has an open Workers’ Compensation claim, consult with your Workers’ Compensation carrier before laying off the employee. When an employee is injured on the job and they face a layoff, payment can easily be delayed. By communicating with your Workers’ Compensation carrier, the potential delays for benefits are easily avoided for the employee. There are instances where Workers’ Compensation will cover the loss wages as a result of restricted duty and inability to work in full capacity during layoff scenarios.

What Can I Promise My People?
We know that many of you will intend to rehire workers once your facilities are operating again and the current crisis has passed. It’s important, however, that you are careful about what you communicate—and do not make promises about either a return to work, or that they will be able to get unemployment benefits. It is best to simply reaffirm your commitment to fairness and looking after your community, let them know that you will be there for them in any way you can, and be transparent about why this decision is necessary.

However, if you choose to consider a furlough as opposed to a layoff, then you are guaranteeing the employee their job back at some point. A furlough allows workers to return to their jobs after a certain time period. Some layoffs are temporary, and will recall workers to the job, but in cases where management decide the employees will not be recalled, the layoff becomes permanent. Both the furlough and layoff allow for unemployment benefits.

If possible, consider extending benefits like organization membership or access to classes for a period of time—this good will gesture will mean a lot in difficult times. And commit to communicating openly and transparently about next steps, including eventual reopening and rehiring as and when that time comes.

We know this is an extremely difficult time and all of us are facing considerable uncertainty. Please reach out to us if there is any way we can support you in your staffing decisions or processes during this crisis.