Having to let an employee or employees go is a stressful situation at any moment in time. During a pandemic, when so many things are outside of our control, it can be even more fraught with stress and uncertainty. As a business owner or HR manager, if you must let someone go during this difficult time, here’s some information to know about how Americans are being impacted, how to prepare legally to lay someone off, what to say, and how to do it successfully.
Coronavirus’ Impact on American Jobs
With the pandemic changing our personal and professional lives as we know it, here’s a look at how coronavirus has affected unemployment in America. This information may not directly help you perform an offboarding procedure, but it can give you peace in a tough time to know that your company is not alone in the financial and professional implications that the pandemic has caused.
Since we know how coronavirus has significantly impacted American jobs, here’s a deeper look at what’s at stake for employers and employees.
Pandemic Offboarding: Layoffs vs. Furloughs
First off, there are two prominent types of offboarding occurring during this time; a layoff or a furlough. It’s important to know what type you’re going to be performing based on your company’s situation and the legal difference between the two.
For some companies, coronavirus has made the hammer come down hard. In this situation, the company is likely finding it extremely difficult to stay afloat. It could even possibly force them to close if drastic action isn’t taken. A layoff is likely what needs to be done, meaning no chance of return for the employee, but it can vary based on the company and circumstances. Layoffs are different from being fired, as the employee is being let go for something beyond their control instead of due to poor conduct or something of their own causation. Layoffs can be temporary, but the employee loses all benefits during this time and does not retain employment status with the company.
For some companies, coronavirus has made doing business difficult, but not impossible. Companies may have enough consistent work coming in to stay afloat, but they also may need to halt certain operations (and certain paychecks) to keep the company going. In this case, a furlough is likely to be plausible, but still depends on the company and individual situation. A furlough is where an employee is not working temporarily, but is expected to come back later. They are still employed by the company and may receive benefits, but are not working for the time being. This type of offboarding has been prominent during the pandemic, as employees are let go for a short time, but are able to return to work when the pandemic ends or when finances are back in shape, if the company survives.
No matter which type of offboarding you are performing, it is important to inform the employee you are speaking with which case applies to them. This will help them understand the extent of their position and what options for moving forward are available to them. Now that you know what types of offboarding are typical for this pandemic, what do you need to prepare for a successful meeting?
Stay Protected With Legal Awareness and Preparation
Layoffs and furloughs, especially during a rough time, are important to perform properly. Here are a few legal matters to be aware of when preparing to offboard an employee.
Insurance and Benefits
In the case of a permanent layoff, not of the employee’s fault, you are legally required to inform the employee of their COBRA rights and resources post employment. Legally, if the employee qualifies for COBRA, they must be notified in writing of their election for coverage within 30 days of the qualifying event’s occurrence. While it is not required at the time of the offboarding meeting that you explain to the employee their COBRA benefits, it could substantially help them understand what resources are available to them after employment. Working this conversation into the offboarding meeting is likely to be appreciated by your employee and leaves them on a better note for the future, especially in a tough situation. If an employee is furloughed during the pandemic, but is still receiving benefits, they are not eligible for COBRA. COBRA allows employers with a staff of over 20 to provide their employee with extended group health insurance post employment, granted they experience a qualifying event, such as a job loss, not of their own fault. Some states have a Mini-Cobra law that can apply to businesses with a smaller number of employees. For many, this health insurance could be a necessary lifeline at a time when health is on everyone’s mind.
If your company has over 100 full-time employees, you need to be aware of WARN, which is the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. WARN mandates that employers must notify their employees through written notice 60 days in advance of a potential mass layoff or plant closing affecting 50 or more employees. This gives them time to potentially seek other jobs or get proper training to compete in the job market. Some states have Mini-WARN laws that apply to companies of 50 or more full-time workers that anticipate laying off half or more of their staff. During the pandemic, many companies have undergone mass layoffs, and the WARN Act has already been brought out in investigations. In order to avoid this being your company, ensure that you’re giving your employees proper advanced and legal notice.
Legal matters are of great importance when offboarding an employee in order to prevent future exposure to lawsuits, but it’s also crucial to understand how layoffs impact more than just one employee, and often in a way that is less based on factual logistics, but highly on emotional ones.
Emotional Logistics to Remember When Performing an Offboarding Procedure During COVID-19
If you are going to be performing an offboarding procedure, it’s crucial to keep in mind these key emotional points during this sensitive time.
The privacy of the employee of whom you’re letting go is an important emotional aspect to remember during this time, as their work environment may be different from normal. Employees may be working from home and they may not be alone, as roommates, children, family members, spouses, and partners could be around. Emotional consideration for the employee during this time means letting them know that you’ll be in a private meeting room for the conversation and if possible, that would be best for them as well. This helps assure your employee that you understand the sensitive nature of these conversations and that you have their needs and emotions in mind.
During an offboarding conversation, language is critical, especially during a sensitive time. Be polite, but don’t drag out small talk. Be direct and get to the point. Due to the sensitive nature of the conversation, dragging it out only delays the inevitable. It’s also important to use compassionate language and personal recognition in this conversation, thanking the employee for their work. The employee may get emotional during this time, and that is completely valid, but sensitive language and compassion can help soften the blow.
It’s important to ensure that the employee understands that they are being let go due to the pandemic. However, if the employee asks about the possibility of returning afterward, don’t make promises you can’t keep. This topic may be emotionally hard for you to discuss, as the pandemic is out of your hands, but by being straightforward and not letting emotion get to you, you’re saving the employee and yourself the harm that false hope can create in a rough situation.
While a pandemic can be a stressful time mentally, physically, and emotionally for many professionals, there are ways to move forward in a positive manner that elevates morale. Here we’ll take a look at how to manage professional situations that may arise in the future, keeping your employees productive and positive.
Managing Future Changes
If your employees see that an employee or group of employees were let go or furloughed, they may be reasonably concerned about their position. This is normal during an ordinary work timeframe, but people may be especially on edge during a pandemic when something within the office structure changes. Taking the time to share with your employees the reasoning for letting the employee go and the status of the company’s stability can help reassure them that their jobs are safe. If this is not the case, please be transparent with them in a way that gets the message across effectively, without creating paranoia. Transparency during a volatile time will not only help your employees feel safe and secure at work; it can go a long way in boosting company morale and communication during a critical time.
This time is also a great opportunity to boost the efforts that your current employees are doing. Often, the employees that survived the layoff or furlough have extra slack to pick up, so giving them and the company extra support and appreciation during this time will go a long way. The higher the company morale in volatile times, the more likely the company is to perform well under pressure.
Bringing an Employee Back On
After a few months pass, if your company is still afloat, you may be thinking about bringing an employee or more back on that was furloughed or temporarily let go. This is especially common with the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan for small businesses that is built so that you can bring back your employees to original payroll amounts and headcount numbers with those funds. The more employees you’re able to bring back or hire on new, the more your loan amount will be forgiven that you won’t have to pay back.
In contemplating this, it’s important to understand that some employees may be eager to return to work and some may have reasonable reservations about the stability of such an offer if they were let go once before. All of these concerns are valid, and the employee’s refusal of your offer will not affect your loan forgiveness if you made good faith written efforts to offer them the job again and documented the interaction and their refusal.
If you need help managing your company’s business resources during the pandemic, Greenlink Payroll can help. With cloud based access to a variety of useful tools, your employees can access their payroll and benefits information from home and you can use our talent solutions platform to make employment adjustments if needed. Contact us today for more information.
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