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Layoffs Without Lawsuits?

Photonics Spectra
Jul 2001
Stephanie A. Weiss

SAN FRANCISCO -- 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.

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