The world of work has changed exponentially in the last ten years. Not too long ago, it was almost unheard of to know someone who worked remotely. But now, it seems like almost everyone has some ability to work from home. This is probably because around 63% of companies now employ remote workers.
This is great! Remote teams have the ability to work flexibly, are more agile, cost less, and are usually easier to retain due to the work/life balance working from home promotes.
But there is just one problem - what happens when you have to layoff remote employees? Or fire them?
Unfortunately, this is one of the major downsides of having a remote workforce.
Before we dig in on how to layoff a remote employee, make sure to download our layoff script with the link above to assist you with your termination meeting.
Face-to-Face Layoffs For A Remote Employee?
It is wide held belief that the best way to layoff or fire an employee is in person. In a recent study we did at Careerminds, we actually found that even the person getting laid off prefers this as well.
It conveys true empathy to the person whose life you are changing. HR professionals like to do this because it is ethical. People who have worked hard for you deserve to hear in person that they are losing their employment.
It is also a smart thing to do. When employees don’t feel that they have been treated ethically, they are more likely to damage your employer brand by spreading poor word of mouth or posting negatively about your company online.
So, here is where the problem lies:how do you layoff someone in person when they work remotely?
If your company can afford it, it makes sense to have your employee travel into an office to be laid off. This would mean paying for the travel of the remote worker, and potentially the remote manager and human resources representative.
This is definitely the best option, but the most difficult to execute on. What if you have to terminate an employee quickly? Or you are laying off because of a lack of capital? (It definitely wouldn’t make sense to spend money on all of that travel in that case.)
Because of all of these coordination issues, the most realistic option is to use video conferencing or phone/audio to give the layoff or termination notification to your remote employee. While this doesn’t allow for the truly empathetic experience of giving the notification in person, it is does allow for some empathy.
At least more so than sending a layoff notification over email or snail mail. Sending a layoff notification in either of these two avenues is the worst option because of the opportunity for the message to become lost. An email might accidentally get deleted or go into spam, and letters have the ability to get delivered to the wrong person (which is a huge legal liability).
Out of all of these options, the most realistic, empathetic, and easiest to execute on is to layoff a remote employee through videoconferencing or by telephone.
Not only do you need to consider the medium through which you will lay off your remote employee, you also need to understand all the considerations involved with the process in the remote landscape.
Laying off A Remote Employee: Issues and Considerations
Along with all of the considerations that normally come with laying off any employee, your HR team and hiring managers need to be aware of other issues specific to laying of a remote employee.
For example, the manager and human resources representative might be in a different timezone from the remote employee being let go. You should work to accommodate the laid off employee’s time zone so that you aren’t laying them off in the middle of the night in their location.
There are also special considerations based on the laws of the area where the employee works. If you are a domestic company, you should consider not only federal laws, but also the laws of the state where the remote worker is located. Depending on the state, there could be regulations about what time of day, what type of notice, and how much notice must be given to an employee when getting laid off.
Even though this remote employee is employed by your organization which abides by the laws of its location, your team will still have to recognize the laws of the state where the remote worker lives. Because of this, it is very important to work with your corporate counsel or an outside law firm to make sure that you are following all regulations.
Also, your human resources team and your manager should be just as prepared for this layoff notification as they are for any in person meeting. They should be able to answer questions about the remote employee’s last day, severance benefits, their last paycheck, and any other questions that regularly come up in your layoff notification meetings.
The remote employee’s direct manager should also be prepared to discuss how to tie up loose ends with current work projects. Since your remote employee keeps all of their hard work products outside of the office, your hiring manager will need to have a plan to get the status and any work done on ongoing projects before the employee’s last day.
Along those lines, you will also need to communicate directly with the employee on how to return any equipment back to the organization. Such as a phone, computer, graphic equipment, or any other company equipment given to the employee.
Losing valuable work on projects and company equipment is one of the biggest risks associated with laying off remote employees. We recommend creating a script, and a written guide, that are both communicated to the employee that contain instructions about how to return any work products or equipment back to the organization. Make sure that this communication is as clear as possible to ensure that your remote employee doesn’t misunderstand. It is also important to include a date by which these materials need to be returned by.
If your remote employee doesn’t return said materials, contact them to let them know what the consequences will be if they don’t return them. In this situation, you organization will have a few options:
- Create a severance agreement that states that your organization will withhold any or all severance benefits if specified company property is not returned properly. When your remote employee doesn’t return said property, send them a letter notifying them of this clause and that you will not be delivering their severance until all products have been received. Be careful about stating that your company will not be giving them any severance benefits in this scenario… It could take away what incentive an employee has left to send in materials.
- Use legal remedies to receive company property. Your HR team can report stolen property to the police in an effort to get back any property. It is important to be careful when doing this, because of the stain it can leave on your reputation and the high cost of taking someone to court. Make sure that the property that you are suing over is worth more than the cost of actually going to court.
It is also important that any hard documents involved with laying off the employee be delivered to them as quickly as possible. This includes a written copy of their lay off notice, a severance agreement for them to sign, and any other legal paperwork involved with laying someone off. It is best to send these documents over to an employee with same delivery or by using an overnight service. Make sure that your shipping includes verification that the right person received the documents to avoid any legal trouble that could result from a document going missing, or the wrong person seeing privileged information.
Finally, create a strategy with your technology team about how to cut off access to important company databases, email, and servers. This will ensure that a laid off employee still doesn’t have access to any trade secrets that might be damaging to the organization if they were to get out in the public. Because of this, it is important not only for your technology team to cut off access to your organization’s intellectual property, but to also include a clause in your severance agreement that limits your employee from revealing any of this privileged information to others after their employment. This is generally called a disparagement clause.
It is important for the manager and human resources representative present for the layoff notification to be properly trained in how to handle situations specific to laying off a remote employee. This will ensure legal compliance, and help your organization maintain a positive employer brand.
Always consult with your corporate council before executing a layoff event.