How to Hold a Remote RIF or Layoff

April 07, 2020 by Josh Hrala

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The outbreak of the Coronavirus has forced many employers to switch from in-person office settings to a remote environment in order to help stop the spread of the virus and disease it causes (COVID-19).

At the same time, numerous industries are suffering from the economic hardship the virus has caused.

Looking down the road, if the issue persists, many companies may find themselves in need of a RIF or layoff event to help right the ship. The problem is that many companies are still unsure about how to hold a RIF event for remote workers because they are used to traditional working environments and this situation has thrust them into a remote culture that they are having to figure out on the fly.

In today’s article, we’ll go over everything a CHRO and HR leader needs to know in order to hold a remote RIF if needed. You can read many of our other articles about reduction events here to have an even better understanding of the best-practices.

Note: If you’d like more details on COVID-19 and how it is impacting organizations, please follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) also has many helpful guides that you should check out as well.

Understanding the Remote RIF Process

According to a previous article and study we performed, face-to-face layoffs are always the way to go because they are the most personal. Those that are let go really do appreciate managers who have the empathy and courage to let them go in an office setting.

Because of this, in our past article, we advised that people travel into the office for their notification meeting. Right now, that is out of the question because it defeats social distancing efforts. You can read a great FAQ article about social distancing by The New York Times here.

Without the ability to have workers come into the office, managers should take the next best option: having a video or audio call. A video call – through Zoom, Skype, or any other conference software – will be better than an audio call.

Note: you can download a whole packet of layoff resources by clicking here or clicking the image below:

Download Our Layoff Script Here!

We don’t suggest just emailing those being let go because emails can get lost, routed to spam, or unread. For this notification, you need to ensure that people are receiving information when you need them to and that they will be able to ask questions, voice concerns, and have a better understanding of the situation.

During the meeting, managers should follow a layoff script and perform the RIF notification meeting just like they would if they were in an office. You can read all about that entire process here.

Right now, employees will likely have questions about unemployment benefits, COBRA, and other policies that can get quite confusing, especially with all of the other stress people are going through at the moment.

We highly suggest that you review the Department of Labor’s COBRA guide here and also speak to your legal counsel about all of the local, state, and federal laws that may impact your event. This includes any questions you may have about your state’s current unemployment laws. We are not attorneys!

Considerations for Remote RIFs

Along with all of the considerations that normally come with laying off any employee, your HR team and managers need to be aware of other issues specific to laying off a remote employee.

For example, the manager and human resources representative might be in a different timezone from the remote employee being let go. You should work to accommodate the laid-off employee’s time zone so that you aren’t laying them off in the middle of the night in their location.

There are also special considerations based on the laws of the area where the employee works. If you’re a domestic company, you should consider not only federal laws but also the laws of the state where the remote worker is located. Depending on the state, there could be regulations about what time of day, what type of notice, and how much notice must be given to an employee when getting laid off.

Even though this remote employee is employed by your organization, which abides by the laws of its location, your team will still have to recognize the laws of the state where the remote worker lives. Because of this, it is very important to work with your corporate counsel or an outside law firm to make sure that you are following all regulations.

For those who are working remotely because of the outbreak, this is usually not a concern because most people live around where they worked. Still, it should be considered before an event takes place.

Also, your human resources team and your manager should be just as prepared for this layoff notification as they are for any in-person meeting. They should be able to answer questions about the remote employee’s last day, severance benefits, their last paycheck, and any other questions that regularly come up in your layoff notification meetings.

Some experts also say that providing extra severance during times like these might make it easier for workers. Also, setting up a videoconference with Zoom or another tool a few days after the event to check-in might also help displaced workers cope and understand what comes next.

The remote employee’s direct manager should also be prepared to discuss how to tie up loose ends with current work projects. Since your remote employee keeps all of their hard work products outside of the office, your managers will need to have a plan to get the status and any work done on ongoing projects before the employee’s last day.

Normally, this process is made easier because remote workers have been performing their jobs remotely for some time. Right now, workers may have projects spread out all over the place between their office location and their home location. Either way, it’s important to understand what jobs need to be finished up, what projects need to be reassigned, etc.

layoff notice letter

It is also important that any hard documents involved with laying off the employee be delivered to them as quickly as possible. This includes a written copy of their layoff notice, a severance agreement for them to sign, and any other legal paperwork involved with laying someone off. Again, please lean on your legal counsel to understand what you may need to provide.

It is best to send these documents over to an employee with same-day delivery, an overnight service, or by using a digital platform like DocuSign. If sending hard copies, make sure that your shipping includes verification that the right person received the documents to avoid any legal trouble that could result from a document going missing, or the wrong person seeing privileged information.

Protect Your Brand With Outplacement

RIFs and layoffs always have the potential to tarnish hard-earned employer brands, a topic that is paramount for CHROs in 2020, especially during these trying times.

To make sure that your brand continues to thrive, we recommend that all employees let go – in-person or remotely – are offered outplacement services.

With today’s concerns, it helps to work with an outplacement provider (like Careerminds) who understands remote technology and has been delivering outplacement digitally for years.

Wrapping Up

When it comes to laying off remote workers, it is vital that HR and managers follow the same, standard process that they follow during in-person events. This includes:

  • Making and following a layoff script
  • Having benefits ready (severance, outplacement)
  • Ensuring that your outplacement provider is also virtual
  • Preparing any documents that need to be signed
  • Being as personal as possible (video conference, phone call)
  • Following all local, state, and federal laws pertaining to terminations

Again, you can read all about how to hold a top-notch RIF event here.

To learn more about Careerminds virtual outplacement and how it can help your company protect its employer brand, retain talent, and minimize survivor sickness even within your new remote workforce, click here.

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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