A Dignified Firing

Posted on Category: Corporate Culture
Dignified Firing | Professional man with his face in his hands

Does the Dignified Firing Exist?

Downsizing, rightsizing, corporate restructuring, firings and layoffs. However you label them, they all mean the same thing. The writing is on the wall. Those delivering the news, those affected, and the ones left behind will not escape the stench of indignation that follows. So, is there such a thing as a dignified firing?

Individuals get hurt even when employers deliver the news with foresight, planning, openness and care. A dignified firing is quite the pipe dream, so why bother? Ask an employment lawyer and you will learn that this should be the only way to fire an employee. When you make the decision to disrupt someone’s life with a layoff or termination, not doing so with compassion can cost you dearly in court.

The Dreaded “Frog March”

Companies downsize for many reasons. Often, it is in response to market conditions and a need to reduce operating costs. Increasing profitability can improve the value of a company’s shares. Sometimes, layoffs occur to grow productivity by replacing people with more efficient equipment and automation. A company can also restructure for strategic reasons, moving services and entire departments to outsourced, off-shore locations. Such are the realities of operating a business. Consequently, staff firings are a part of the equation.

Over the years, the quest for operational efficiencies led corporate teams to examine processes and procedures for layoffs and terminations. And with this arrived swift and surgical methods for conducting firings.

In the army, when an employee handling sensitive information gets fired, they are marched out without notice and under guard. They cannot say their goodbyes or collect personal belongings. Corporations have adopted this “Frog March” for themselves, as standard operating procedure when terminating employees.

It is surgically clean. The effects of such firings came under close scrutiny by CBC Radio in a documentary on their show, The Sunday Edition. It starts out with a powerful quote, “The only thing they leave out is the handcuffs“.

Managing A Firing

This Frog March is not only the most humiliating and heartless way of firing employees, it also scars those left behind. And it can have the opposite effect of what a corporation may be trying to achieve. Invariably, it leads to negative productivity and poor staff morale. This is not the way to manage a firing.

We advise CEOs considering job terminations to start out with good planning, followed by sufficient time and resources for execution.

First, closely examine the list of affected individuals. Think of them as people and not numbers on a spreadsheet. Some should be completely off limits. This includes expectant mothers, those on maternity and sick leave and those close to retirement. While they might be at the top of your list for cutting off, they are your most vulnerable employees and it would be a disingenuous thing to do.  Moreover, the legal challenges that accompany those types of layoffs will be difficult and expensive down the road.

Severance Packages

Next, obtain legal advice on severance packages to make them as generous as possible. Unless you meet the high burden of proof for a for-cause dismissal that also includes willful misconduct, your severance packages  must represent a fair financial bridge for your employees, until they find other jobs. The law requires this of you.

Do not get trapped into paying out the minimum. In Ontario, a set of judge-made laws, called Common Laws, protect employees for fairness. They require terminations packages to reflect the seniority and circumstances of the individuals you let go. Most employers address this matter rather inadequately. And invariably, they culminate in wrongful dismissal lawsuits.

Outplacement Services

In fact, the best send-off you can give your laid off employee is an offer of help, through your own network, to get them a job elsewhere. However, this is not always practical, and it can be tough when the layoff affects lots of people.

Accordingly, the next best thing you can bring to the table is a budget for outplacement services to help the employee along in the next phase of their career. Your laid-off employee would benefit most from personalized career transition services. They can be customized for cost effectiveness for junior staff and limited budgets. And in the case of larger group layoffs, our career coaches can effectively deliver custom designed group sessions , both on or off-site.

Employees Duty to Mitigate

There is an important reason to consider including outplacement services in your severance packages. Your laid off employee has a legal Duty to Mitigate the job loss by actively seeking employment. This reduces your liability in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit. However, if you are hit by such a lawsuit, then how do you prove the employee failed to mitigate?

The answer is a cleverly designed outplacement package. If you pay for it, then you have the right to this visibility.  Equity’s career coaches work with the candidates as non-adversarial partners, even while representing the employer’s interests.

Hiring a Third Party

Finally, take the time to communicate and manage each termination with compassion, one-on-one. This is where the practicalities of hiring an outside firm to execute the layoff becomes beneficial. Layoffs can be emotionally draining on HR and other managers tasked with carrying them out. They may have established relationships with the affected employees. Therefore, having an impartial third party in place to complete the process for you can ensure your business continues to operate as normally as it can during this turbulence.

We maintain that companies can manage a dignified layoff. What it takes is progressive thinking, compassionate leadership and patience.

Susan Heim is the president of Equity Career Transition and Outplacement Services, offering personalized coaching services for individuals in their quest for the perfect job and career. Equity also provides cost-effective outplacement services for organizations, large and small, in both the private and public sector.