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6 Tips for Handling Virtual Layoffs


For any number of reasons, such as downsizing or financial issues, you've decided to permanently lay off certain workers. You're forced to conduct the layoff via online videoconferencing — because your employees work remotely or to abide by social distancing guidelines.  

While you have no choice but to decrease your workforce, it's important to conduct the virtual meeting as humanely as possible. Below are five suggestions.

1. Prepare a plan for the meeting.

For example:

  • Familiarize yourself with details of the layoff, including why it needs to happen.
  • Create a script to remember key points or to avoid becoming distracted during the meeting. Practice your message beforehand.
  • Be ready for difficult questions and emotional responses. For instance, you may need to reassure employees that the layoff isn't due to poor work performance. 
  • Determine whether federal or state law requires you to give employees advance notice of the layoff. 
  • Consult employment contracts impacting employees who will be laid off.

2. Schedule individual meetings.

While you can save time by holding a mass layoff meeting, an article published by the Society for Human Resource Management advises employers to have one-on-one meetings with each affected employee. The goal is to show the employee that you respect them and value their contributions.

Large companies laying off many employees may need to assign more managers or human resources personnel to handle one-on-one video meetings.

3. Use a reliable virtual meeting platform.

Try to minimize interruptions and system glitches by using a dependable videoconferencing platform.

4. Don't forget that the meeting can be recorded.

Participants can record online video meetings, such as through a screen capture program, even without the host's permission. So watch what you say and do in the meeting, as the wrong words or actions could cause you to infringe on employees' rights, leading to lawsuits and litigation. Having — and sticking to — a carefully developed script can help prevent legal problems.  

5. Be empathetic but firm.

Explain the reason for the layoff and when the layoff will happen. 

While you should be sensitive to the employee's plight and give them a chance to respond, make sure they know your decision is nonnegotiable.

Let them also know that you'll be glad to consider rehiring them should things change.   

6. Give employees the necessary information and resources.  

These will vary based on your employment agreement with the employee; the federal, state and local labor laws that apply to your business; and your company's termination policies.

Generally, information and resources include:

  • When to expect the formal layoff/termination letter.
  • How to return company equipment.
  • Information on benefits, such as COBRA coverage and 401(k) plan options.
  • Information on final wages, including applicable severance pay and unused vacation time.
  • Outplacement services offered by the company.
  • Federal or state resources for dislocated employees.
  • Information on the availability of unemployment benefits.

The materials can be sent electronically, so long as no federal or state law bars you from sending them in that manner. 


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