Angry union protestors ripped off two Air France managers' shirts after Air France announced the proposed layoffs of about 3000 workers. This is exactly the type of scene you want to avoid if you are in the unfortunate position of announcing your own layoffs. Here's how to lessen your chances of violence when letting people go.
1. Don't do business in France.
Okay, that's pretty ridiculous, but culture matters a lot. French unions like to protest things loudly. Chances are your employees won't stage a protest and rip off anyone's shirt. Crowds can also get crazy. But, they'll get crazy according to the culture you live in.
You want to be aware of the culture in your town and your industry. What happened the last time a local business laid people off? What happened the last time you let someone go? What's been in the news lately?
Knowing these things can help you prepare and plan for a peaceful process in your own business. If there is a history of violent reactions or even loud protests, it's worth your money to hire a security expert to help you plan the best course of action.
2. Be fair.
If you have to do layoffs, do them fairly. You don't keep your best friend on staff even though he is a huge slacker and let the high performer go. You make clear criteria that will hold up in court. Double check to make sure you're not violating the law by laying off people based on things like race, age, or gender.
3. Offer severance.
You generally let people go because you can't afford to have them working for you anymore. However, what you can't afford even more are bad reactions and lawsuits. Severance is not only a nice gesture towards people who worked for your faithfully-sometimes for very long times-but it makes people go away quietly.
Severance should always come with a general release. This is a legal document that must be prepared by an employment attorney. In exchange for severance (a good guideline is 2 weeks of severance per year of service, although this varies from industry to industry), the employee gives up the right to sue for a variety of things. You can't waive certain things, and those vary by state, so this is why you must have it done by an attorney who specializes in this, and not printed off the internet. Another clause you can include is a non-disparagement clause and or a non-disclosure agreement. Be fair on this. It should go both ways. They can't say anything bad about your business, but you can't say anything bad about them either.
4. Don't enforce non-compete agreements, except in extreme circumstances.
Nothing makes an employee more likely to get angry than his former company preventing him from working. You want your layoff to go smoothly, so the best possible outcome is that your former employees find work quickly. Non-competes prevent that. In some states, they are practically unenforceable anyway. They only make sense if they prevent, for instance, a salesperson from taking a list of clients, or a scientist from taking a proprietary formula or something similar. It doesn't make sense for just about anyone else.
5. Don't oppose unemployment.
Unemployment is a state decision, but you have the opportunity to object and present evidence that you fired an employee for cause. Don't do this. I know you're trying to save money since you have to pay unemployment insurance taxes based on the number of employees who use it. But, just don't. Again, your goal is for the person to go away and get a new job. If you thwart the person, anger and violence is more important.
6. Don't panic.
I've been directly involved in the layoff of thousands of people- union and non-union. When we feared someone might be a threat we had security standing by. Sometimes, someone you would never expect freaks out and screams and cries and throws things. Sometimes, the person you expect to freak out says, "Awesome! I was going to resign next week. Now I have a new job and severance!"
Expect the unexpected, but don't panic. Most people are adults and will take the news sadly but well.
7. Keep the termination meeting short and direct.
Only the direct supervisor should notify the person. If that isn't possible (for instance, if the manager is affected as well), then it should be the next supervisor up the chain. There should always be a witness-preferably HR or the manager's peer. The meeting should involve a short explanation of the reason for the layoff, confirmation that today is the last day, and the paperwork. That's it. The employee should be offered the opportunity to come back later to collect personal effects and ask questions, but the meeting ends in less than 15 minutes.
If you do these things, you can lessen your chance of a bad reaction. Of course, a layoff should be your absolute last resort, but they can be done with a minimal chance of disaster. And everyone keeps their shirts on.