Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Poor communication of layoffs raises significant risks

According to CNN, French workers are holding management hostage over their refusal to negotiate severance:

Hundreds of French workers, angry about proposed layoffs at a Caterpillar factory, were holding executives of the company hostage Tuesday, a spokesman for the workers said….

The workers were angry that Caterpillar had proposed cutting more than 700 jobs and would not negotiate, said Nicolas Benoit, a spokesman for the workers’ union….

Benoit said all the workers wanted to do was negotiate with Caterpillar and they were upset that the company did not show up to two earlier scheduled negotiating sessions.

In the face of a layoff, your workers likely will not take the drastic step of physically taking people hostage. They are much more likely to take your business hostage in another way – through costly and time-consuming litigation.

The only insurance policy against a laid-off employee filing suit is a well-drafted severance agreement. The key to getting an employee’s signature on that agreement is treating the employee with dignity. Don’t let an employee find out that he or she is going to be included in a layoff by email, text message, or workplace gossip. As difficult as it will be, have a face-to-face conversation with each laid-off employee:

  1. Script out what you plan to say ahead of time. The message should be clear yet compassionate.

  2. Have an HR representative or other witness present in the room, just in case any dispute arises down the road as to what was said.

  3. Keep the lines of communication open, both for the laid-off and those left behind. Both groups will likely have questions. Being available to answer them is crucial.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or