Whatever you call it –- reorganization, restructuring or downsizing – changes in your corporate structure often involve laying off employees. Whether you need to streamline your employee base to cut costs or eliminate redundancies, inevitably some good employees will need to be laid off.
If you need to implement a reduction in force (RIF), it needs to be carefully planned. One issue you want to avoid is accusations of discrimination against any particular group of people – particularly those in class that’s protected from discrimination in employment.
Determining who will be let go
The best way to do this is to start by developing a list of employees whom you plan to terminate based on the criteria you’ve set. For example, is your goal to downsize or eliminate particular departments or specific job descriptions?
How are you choosing those to be laid off? Are you letting those who were hired last go? Are you making the decision based on objective criteria like productivity or sales generated?
Once you have the list of people you plan to terminate, review it to determine whether more people who belong to certain groups are facing layoff than others. If 75% of the people on your layoff list are women, but women make up only about half of your employees, that could be a problem. The same would be true if a high percentage of layoffs impacted people of Alaska Native heritage, but they don’t make up a majority of your workforce.
The importance of objective criteria
If certain groups of employees are going to be impacted by the RIF in numbers that don’t reflect their numbers within your company, it’s wise to rethink your criteria. Can you use different criteria that would still get you to your RIF goals and business needs without having an outsize impact on any protected group?
Doing this won’t guarantee that no one will feel that they’ve experienced discrimination. However, if you can show that the RIF was implemented based on objective criteria and that you made every reasonable effort to avoid even the appearance of discrimination, it’s unlikely that any discrimination complaint would be successful. Consulting with an attorney throughout this process can also help you avoid damage to your reputation and bottom line by a viable discrimination charge.