Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Layoff and Not Get Sued

medical practice layoffs
Medical Practice Layoffs
Some employment-law attorneys report an increase in discrimination suits. Threatened layoffs raise tensions, and worries about unemployment often create unrest and anger among employees. A staffer may react to losing his or her job by finding a lawyer to come after you.

If you expect to have to lay off some employees, you had better pay close attention to every detail in order to reduce your risk. Some of the details to keep in mind include:
  • Create a layoff-selection policy that puts all employees on a level playing field.
  • If using performance as one of the criteria, ensure that you’ve properly documented staff evaluations and discipline actions.
  • Use caution when refilling terminated positions.
  • Relax reference-giving rules for laid off employees and document the variation.
  • Offer a severance package.
  • Get the laid off worker to sign a release from employment liability.
  • Handle announcements with care.
  • Give layoff notices privately, on the employees’ last day.
Tough times sometimes call for tough measures, and the economic doldrums gripping America has forced many employers to lay off some employees. If you find yourself facing this difficult decision in your practice, make sure you do things right.

Involve all the partners in creating the criteria by which you decide who gets a pink slip. You can use factors like performance reviews, attendance, disciplinary records, and special skills, but make sure that your evaluation documentation and other employment records are up to date and thorough. After applying your measures and determining who has to go, take a second look to make sure there aren’t any “red flags”—sex, race, or age—that might make the decision appear to be discriminatory.

Experts recommend waiting at least six months before refilling any positions to avoid discrimination charges. If things turn around sooner than anticipated, and you decide you need to refill the vacancies created by layoffs, you’ll find it safer to offer the old jobs back to the terminated employees.

If you follow a “name-rank-and-serial-number” policy when giving out references, consider relaxing those standards for the folks you had to cut. Create a memo that ensures employees that lay- offs are due to business reasons and not simply because of poor performance. Tell them you will give fair references to future employers for them.

When the time comes to lay off the employees, follow these steps:
  1. Notify each employee privately, face-to-face, with a written notice in hand. Include a check with two weeks’ severance, too. That way you can dismiss the employee directly from your meeting, thus giving him or her two full weeks to search for other employment. 
  2. Some experts suggest offering a bigger severance as an incentive for the dismissed employee to sign a release from employment- related claims. Generally this requires at least five weeks’ pay, according to the experts. 
  3. If you go for a signed release, include language for employees over 40 years old that allows them seven days to consider the offer and another 45 days to revoke the signed agreement. 
  4. Meet with remaining staff and announce generally that several employees had to be laid off because of business reasons. Reassure remaining workers that you don’t anticipate any further cuts, and that released staffers were given severance pay, good references, and help searching for new jobs.
There are no guarantees when it comes to predicting how humans will react to bad news, but careful adherence to reasonable policies like these should help smooth your way through a very rough process.

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