Letting Go of Employees: the Humane Way to Execute Layoffs


Layoffs are never easy, especially when the employees in question have given their best years for the company’s growth. However, layoffs are a fact of life, especially during uncertain times. The pandemic has caused more than 40 million Americans to lose their jobs — a rate that has not been seen since the Great Depression. Job loss has hit every industry, with the leisure and hospitality bearing the brunt of the blow.

Even if layoffs are not uncommon during a pandemic, they should still be executed with compassion and care. Horrified HR professionals have heard stories of layoff devoid of empathy, like pre-recorded messages played for huge groups on a Zoom meeting.

No matter the circumstances surrounding a layoff, your employees deserve a graceful exit.

Check with an Employment Law Attorney

Even if you think you’ve followed protocol to a T, it still pays off to speak with a qualified employment law attorney who has experience with layoffs. This ensures that the succeeding steps are legal and ethical, especially if there are no precedent circumstances and if several employees will be laid off.

Make sure to present your layoff plan to your lawyer, just so he or she can make sure it is within legal territory. Apart from preventing legal issues, having an attorney walk through your plan will keep the relationship between you and the workers amicable.

Don’t Talk to Employees in Groups

Employees will remember how they were treated, especially in the middle of a health crisis. Laying off might be a necessary step, but it still needs to be executed with dignity and finesse. That said, it is extremely bad form to announce the layoff to a group—even if you’re letting go of all of them.


The pandemic has seen companies lay off entire departments, and understandably so. Some offices had to let go of full-time accountants because outsourcing to an accountancy service provider is more effective. Some restaurants had to let go of their dine-in staff to focus more on delivery services. Some factory workers had to be let go due to steep declines in demand.

However, one-on-one conversations are the way to go. It’s not for them to save face; it’s far from that. It’s to allow them to process the shock. Even if they expected the move, employees should still be accorded a private moment to take in the news.

Moreover, don’t play prerecorded videos—it takes the much-needed human element out of the process. It is cold and, to a certain degree, unprofessional. Remember that everybody is going through one of the largest of the last century, and you are taking away their livelihood—their source of security. A prerecorded video, which will be played, is insensitive.

Provide More Information than Needed

Employees have a right to know the reason they’re getting laid off, and it’s your obligation to furnish them with as much information as you can. Transparency will help ease their mind.

Explain the business difficulties and illustrate why layoffs are necessary for the survival of the company. They have to know, too, that you have looked into alternatives before deciding that the best decision is to let people go.

Layoffs are never easy, both on the part of the employer and the employee. However, that should not be a reason for employers to do a haphazard announcement. Employees deserve a humane layoff, especially in the middle of an economic crisis.

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