Employee Offboarding: 3 Things to Consider During a Furlough or Layoff

Article by: Sharlyn Lauby

[Editor’s Note: This blog post comes from Sharlyn Lauby, author of the blog HR Bartender and president of ITM Group]. 

Employee separations are never fun. Even during the best of times when an employee is leaving for a fabulous new opportunity and the company wishes them well. Employees take with them organizational knowledge. And of course, employees are going to miss a co-worker.

The reality is that employee separations, especially involuntary ones, are often awkward. Sometimes, like in the case of a furlough or layoff, the process can feel rushed, which creates moments of misunderstanding and confusion for both the employee and the manager. For example, does everyone in the organization know the difference between a furlough and a layoff? The words we use have meaning, if we use the wrong one, employees might make decisions that are not in their best interest. No one wants that.

When we refer to voluntary terminations, organizations create guidelines to make sure employees know the proper way to resign (i.e. how to give notice, how much notice, should resignations be in writing, etc.). Companies need to do the same – meaning put an offboarding plan in place – when the organization is considering a layoff or furlough. Here are three things to consider:

  • Think about risk management. This is for the employee’s protection as well as the organization. Talk to your legal counsel about your business situation (i.e. what positions are being furloughed or eliminated, recommendations for how to handle severance,etc.) In addition, discuss how the organization will handle existing non-compete and non-disclosure agreements along with how this information will be communicated to employees. When the time comes for employees to depart, have a process in place for collecting company technology and discontinuing employee data access. This will be especially important if the organization has been supportive of ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) policies in the past. HR will want to work with other departments to create an offboarding checklist that covers gathering employee identification and other company property.
  • Consider creating a handoff period. If the organization is closing a location, department or division, it could make sense to give employees notice that their position is being eliminated. This is another item to discuss with your legal counsel to make sure that you’re in compliance with applicable legislation such as Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN). Creating some type of transition plan can be beneficial for the business in terms of creating a knowledge transfer and giving customers a new point of contact. It’s not always easy, but it can be helpful for exiting employees as well to prepare for their upcoming job search. And again, if the organization is eliminating a department or division, HR might be able to coordinate an onsite job fair to help employees find new opportunities.
  • Treat employees with respect. There is absolutely no reason not to provide an offboarding process with dignity and respect. This isn’t like firing someone for violating company policy. (And even terminating employees deserve respect.) In a furlough or layoff, the employee didn’t do anything wrong. Thank employees for their contributions. Your organization prides itself on having a best in class employment brand. Don’t stop just because you’re faced with a furlough or layoff. Many managers have never had to convey this type of message before so they will be looking for help from human resources. It’s important that employees hear this type of news from their manager. Additionally, HR can make sure employees receive information about the transition process including topics such as how employment referrals will be handled, final paychecks and health insurance benefits. If possible, organizations can provide outplacement services and/or direct them on how to file for unemployment benefits.

Furloughs and layoffs aren’t fun. And it’s possible that the company didn’t do anything wrong to create this situation. Maybe something happened in the business world that no one saw coming. It’s an unfortunate situation. However, at some point, the organization will start hiring again. Former employees might want to return. They could provide customer referrals.

A positive offboarding experience will give employees a proper thank you for their contributions, the information they need about pay and benefits and allow them to leave the organization with the respect they deserve.

P.S. Be sure to check out the archived webinar, “Delivering an Empathetic Employee Experience in Times of Uncertainty” which was held on Tuesday, March 31.