Regrettably, RIFs (Reductions In Force) are becoming an
increasing reality in today's economic climate. Many
employers tend to see RIFs as a last resort and rush through a
process which could have serious legal and financial implications.
An often-ignored consequence of a rushed process is the damage it
can have on the morale of those employees who remain. While RIFs
are never easy to implement, employers can at least consider some
options below, to reduce the effect on employee morale:
Think Outside The Box.
Consider implementing alternative cost-saving
options, such as limiting travel, temporarily reducing salary (by
consent) or reducing overtime (where possible), to show employees
that RIFs really are a last resort. Unnecessary spending on travel,
social events and other perks at the same time that an employer is
cutting its headcount, can negatively affect morale.
Employers may want to consider (if appropriate)
informing employees, ahead of time, of the need to cut costs and
the possibility of dismissals so that employees are mentally
prepared when it does happen. This could be a simple update memo to
all staff. Although the memo may have a short-term negative effect,
by preparing employees for the possibility of a RIF, employers can
avoid the element of surprise. Alternatively, this communication
might engender cooperation when other cost reduction strategies
aimed at preserving jobs are proposed (i.e. across the board pay
Consult Ahead Of Time.
Be open with all employees and invite them to talk to
management about the possibility of RIFs. The more employees know,
the less uncertain they will feel. Consider the possibility of
voluntary reductions for certain groups of employees. This, of
course, should always be subject to the employer's right to
refuse any key employees who step forward.
Have Clear, Fair, And Objective Selection
Employers should always have evidence of fair and
objective selection criteria, so as to be in a position to respond
to allegations that the selection of a particular employee was
based on discriminatory grounds. In appropriate circumstances,
employers may want to share the selection criteria, in advance.
This form of communication might avoid the "Why
me?" reaction at the time of dismissal. Employees
generally recognize the need to cut costs by reducing payroll in
poor economic times and the greatest negative effect on morale
tends to be when the "good" employee is laid off
as opposed to the underperforming one. However, if employees
understand why a particular individual was chosen, the choice may
become less of a concern. Selection criteria which are based on
clear, measurable and relevant factors (such as performance, length
of service, business need etc.) are most effective.
Don't Turn Your Back.
Once an employee has been given notice of dismissal,
maintain communication and assist the employee if possible. For
example, letters of reference and a quick response to any
Employment Insurance claims show the employees who remain that the
employees who were dismissed were treated fairly. Most importantly,
continue to talk to remaining staff so that they know what the
future may hold.
During these trying times, effective communication of the
company's plans, and how employees fit into those plans,
will engender loyalty and keep employees focused on their jobs
rather than their job security.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
A former teacher at Bodwell High School has learned a valuable lesson from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal— it is not discriminatory for an employer to offer child-related benefits to only employees with children.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
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