COVID-19 has taken a toll on the workforce, with many employers considering furloughs, layoffs and workplace closures. While some employers may not be able to avoid permanent layoffs as a result of the pandemic, others are exploring temporary layoffs or other stopgap measures in the interest of keeping as many employees on the payroll as possible. Only 7 percent of companies have laid off employees, typically hourly wage earners; however, 37 percent will or may do so in the future, according to a new Willis Towers Watson survey.
Employee retention should be a top priority for employers during challenging times. If a temporary layoff is unavoidable, an employer should communicate its desire to retain its workforce and that this step must be taken due to circumstances outside of the employer’s control — not because of poor performance or misconduct.
As the economic fallout of the pandemic mounts, employers can consider alternatives to layoffs, such as hiring freezes, furloughs, flexible working arrangements and reductions in salary and benefits. Employers can also explore a variety of ways to reduce workforce spend while retaining the most desirable, productive employees, such as selective, performance-based terminations, voluntary attrition programs, and eliminating contract and temporary employees.
When layoffs become necessary, employers should comply with any and all applicable notice requirements under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) or any state and local counterparts, which may be activated if a temporary layoff is really a permanent one.
Even if temporarily laying off employees, an employer may need to provide termination notices under unemployment insurance laws and final pay requirements may apply. Because the pandemic requirements change often, HR professionals should ensure that the organization is following the latest guidance relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At XpertHR, we offer a multitude of practical compliance resources for organizations grappling with new employment complexities during the pandemic, including webinars with XpertHR’s award winning editorial team and employment law attorneys, a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Workplace Resource Center, podcasts and an editorial blog.
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Marta Moakley, J.D., is Legal Editor for XpertHR, covering topics related to HR strategy and management, employee relations and employee communications, and contributes blogs on the award-winning XpertHR Blog. She has been a speaker at PIHRA’s California HR Conference and HR Houston’s Gulf Coast Symposium. She has been quoted by a number of news outlets, including Forbes, InfoWorld, The Street and SHRM.org. Prior to joining XpertHR, she worked as an assistant attorney general with the Florida Attorney General’s Office, where she litigated a number of cases regarding business ethics, whistleblowing and compliance; and as an equal opportunity specialist for the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Moakley also served as a law clerk to the Hon. Paul C. Huck, Senior U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Florida.