As North American photonics companies finalize their plans for tens of thousands of layoffs, a San Francisco lawyer offers a few ideas that could help managers avoid trading pink slips for employment lawsuits. Garry G. Mathiason, a partner at Littler Mendelson, wrote recently in The National Law Journal and Law.com about "surviving" layoffs. The following list adapts some of Mathiason's key points: Consider alternatives to layoffs. Early retirement and other voluntary leave programs, or hiring freezes can reduce the work force through attrition. Note, however, that a recent Pennsylvania State University study suggests that generous early retirement offers may influence other workers to quit. Read the employee handbook and other personnel policies. It seems obvious, but the company may have written policies about how to reduce the work force. Don't promise anyone that his or her job is safe. Today's reassurances could turn into a court challenge if more layoffs come tomorrow. Document the layoff plan. Include clear business justification of the need for layoffs, and establish criteria for layoff selections. Remember: Interoffice memos and e-mail messages could be part of the documentation trail. Carefully choose and train those who will implement the reduction. The Internet abounds with horror stories of ex-dot-commers whose supervisors pushed them aside with all the sensitivity of a Mack truck driving a Geo Metro into the ditch. Analyze the demographics of those being laid off and those remaining. If your layoff selection criteria seem to discriminate against an ethnic, gender or age group, rethink the plan. Freeze hiring during the layoff period. If you need to fill other positions, offer them -- with training, if necessary -- to those being laid off.