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April 1, 2009

Doing the Layoffs? Don’t Let Your Emotions Get You in a Legal Bind

Filed under: General HR Buzz12:58 pm

Personal remarks or ambiguous statements made while handing out pink slips could be the basis for a wrongful termination lawsuit or discrimination complaint, said The Alternative Board, a peer advisory board for small and midsize businesses. The same goes if comments seem insensitive.

“This economy is turning some good people into desperate people,” said Jason Zickerman, the board’s president. “With terminations and layoffs, employers need to understand that if it isn’t done the right way, people will see opportunity and dollar signs. In their minds, they have no other choice.”
Don’t underestimate the intensity of the situation for both the manager and employee.

These meetings can be tempestuous and are a potential path to litigation, if not prepared for and executed properly. The Alternative Board offers these tips to avoid creating legal loopholes for ex-employees:

  • Avoid vague messages like, “If it were up to me, you’d still be working here” or “It looks as though we most likely won’t be able to keep you on.”
  • Comments or documents with inappropriate exaggerations and emotionally laden rhetoric will sabotage your defense in a wrongful-termination case.
  • If charged with discrimination, your business will have to prove that the termination was business-related. Managers who neglect to document policy violations and inadequate performance make it challenging to support the company’s defense.
  • Prepare what you’ll say, how you’ll say it and even how long the meeting will take. It sometimes helps to rehearse or practice speaking points.
  • Respond kindly but firmly to emotional outbursts, threats and accusations.

Associated Press

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