These are difficult times: the public looks to government to continue or expand its services at the same time government faces both the pressures of inflation and the uncertainty of revenue sources. Something has to give, and, increasingly, it appears the "give" will be in employment. Since personnel costs consume a vast majority of local government expenditures, if budgets are to be balanced (as they must), layoffs or reductions in force must be considered.
The subject of layoffs obviously is not pleasant for anyone. While layoffs clearly affect those who lose their jobs, they also affect those employees who remain, who may be asked to do more with less, and they affect the policy makers who may no longer be able to provide the services or level of services expected by the public.
When layoffs do or are planned to occur, there are a host of issues that must be addressed. What notice, if any, must be given to the affected workers? How are the workers to be laid off selected? Do the employees in the positions to be eliminated have "bumping rights" over other employees? What impact, if any, will the layoffs have on protected classes of employees, such as older employees or minorities, thereby possibly giving rise to discrimination complaints? Do the layoffs need to be bargained? What benefits are available to those who have been laid off? Will tasks formerly performed by the laid off workers continue to be performed by the remaining staff members, thus requiring changes in job descriptions and, possibly, salaries?
The following resources begin the process of providing answers. They are, however, just a starting point. Reference should also be made to personnel policies, job descriptions, union contracts, and benefit agreements. Importantly, the preparation for layoffs should involve coordinated efforts by department heads, supervisors, human resource personnel, and legal representatives. MRSC consultants, of course, remain available to offer assistance, as it is needed.
Being laid off is certainly not something that most employees want to experience. However, providing good information to the affected employees can somewhat soften the blow, help explain why the layoff is occurring, and provide useful information on what to do next. The following documents provide examples of how a layoff might be handled. Even though some of the documents are over ten years old, the information and approach they provide is still useful.
- Sample Layoff Letters and Information from Transportation District
- Notification Letter of Impending Layoff, 12/1999 - A basic letter providing notice of an impending layoff, the reason for the layoff, useful information to assist the employee in the short term, and a hope that laid off employees may someday be able to return.
- Follow-up Letter with Layoff Information, 02/2000 - A more detailed letter outlining what will next occur in the layoff process and offering information on what will happen to the employee's benefits, such as insurance and retirement.
- Letter to King County Employees regarding Layoffs, 06/2001 - An initial letter providing information regarding an impending layoff and explaining the impact layoffs will have on all county programs.
- How to write a legally safe layoff letter, by HR Specialist, 11/04/2008 - A short article that provides ideas for setting the right tone and wording for the layoff letter that will ease tensions and reduce lawsuit risks.
- Layoff/Separation forms, prepared by Staff Human Resources at the University of California, Santa Cruz - Linking to sample forms that could be used for providing notice of layoffs or information regarding separation of employment. Since the links relate to employment in the state of California, not all of the information would apply in Washington. However, the basic format and content of each notice should be helpful in drafting of documents for local use.
Being laid off likely triggers many concerns: Can I pay my mortgage? Will I still have medical insurance coverage? How do I apply for unemployment compensation? The following items provide information to persons being laid off, outlining sources of information for answering common questions.
- Sample Layoff/Employment Benefit Information to Employees of a Transportation District, 1999 - Some material is duplicated in each of the following three "information issues," perhaps in recognition that different employees need similar assistance at different times during the layoff process.
- Once you have received a formal written layoff notice, prepared by the Washington State Department of Transportation - A short list of actions a person who has received a layoff notice should consider.
- AWC Employee Assistance Program - Many employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to their employees in recognition that troubling life issues (layoffs as well divorce, death, pending retirement, financial problems, legal difficulties, etc) that concern an employee may affect how the employee is able to perform the duties of his or her job. This linked page is to the Association of Washington Cities' Employee Assistance Program.
- University Place Resolution No. 606, 12/01/2008 - Clarifying and authorizing the city manager to extend certain vacation and sick leave cash out and other assistance to employees affected by the city's reduction in force
An employer probably could take a minimalistic approach to a layoff, "Don't plan on coming back to work on Monday, or ever again, for that matter." Such an approach, however, would certainly harm whatever good feeling might exists between the employee and the employer and it could lead to litigation, union problems, and public disapproval. Done correctly, with planning, an employing agency can reduce the pain and provide useful assistance to a soon-to-be former employee who finds him or herself needing to start over. The following items supply sample policies, procedures and references that may be helpful during the layoff process.
- Clallam County
- Secs. 4.8 and 4.9, 03/2000 - Layoffs from Clallam County Uniform Personnel Policies and Procedures
- Article 17 - Layoff language from the collective bargaining agreement between Clallam County and the Washington State Council of City and County Employees, Local 1619MP (Managers and Professional staff)
- Layoff/Recall and Severance Package, from the collective bargaining agreement between Clallam County and Teamsters Local 589
- Renton Employee Termination and Out-Process, 03/19/1991, Policy and Procedures Manual, Policy 300-19 - Although dated, the procedures set out in the policy continue to have value today.
- Seattle Exit Guide for Employees Leaving City of Seattle Employment, 2010 - Obviously this is a guide for employees who are leaving employment with Seattle, but it also is an excellent source of information as to issues an employee leaving government service should address or consider.
- Shoreline Layoff Policy, 03/2012 - Amends city's layoff policy to provide for consideration of a person's ability to perform and qualifications, as well as length of service, among other things, in determining which employees should be laid off.
- Employer Layoff Information and Resources, Washington State Department of Personnel - Although designed for state employees, the links provide excellent information that could be crafted to apply to local government officials as well.
- Implementing Reductions-in-Force: A Primer, Employment Law Bulletin, Winterbauer & Diamond P.L.L.C., No. 12, 12/2000 - Reproduced with permission from Winterbauer & Diamond P.L.L.C. This article is a condensed version of "Reductions in Force: Reducing Staff without Increasing Litigation," Employee Relations Law Journal, vol 26, no. 3, Winter 2000. For more information contact Winterbauer & Diamond, 206-676-8440 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The New HR Toolkit: Resources you Need for Tough Times, The HR Specialist - Helpful articles of various issues that may arise at the time of layoffs.
- Reductions in Force: Eliminating Staff without Creating Lawsuits (Available through MRSC Library Loan)
- Surviving a Significant Reduction in Workforce - What's Your Plan?, prepared for the Association of Washington Cities by Bruce L. Schroeder, Summit Law Group, 1999 (Available through MRSC Library Loan)
- Layoff Procedures, Policies and Contract Provisions, compiled by AWC, 1999 (Available through MRSC Library Loan)
Union employees may have different rights regarding layoffs than do nonunion employees. The following article provides information on layoff issues to consider when negotiating new or amended union agreements.
- Preparing Contracts for an Uncertain Future, by Bruce L. Schroeder, Summit Law Group 20th Annual Labor Relations Institute, 05/2000 - Consolidations, volunteers, layoffs, and revenue shortfalls (Available through MRSC Library Loan)
What happens to employee benefits once an employee is laid off, and what forms of assistance become available to those former employees? Here are some links that address some of the benefits.
- COBRA Benefits, U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration - COBRA generally requires that group health plans sponsored by employers with 20 or more employees in the prior year offer employees and their families the opportunity for a temporary extension of health coverage (called continuation coverage) in certain instances where coverage under the plan would otherwise end. This page provides links to various articles and materials useful to the understanding of COBRA and its requirements.
- Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Washington Employment Security - Information on how to obtain unemployment compensation benefits, training for other work opportunities, and how to apply for new jobs.
- Public Employees Retirement System Information, Washington State Department of Retirement Systems - Information regarding state retirement programs useful for laid off employee who choose to retire and for other laid off workers who require information on what options they have regarding their retirement benefits
Job Search Information
The following links provide information on where a laid-off or soon-to-be-laid off employees can seek new employment or training.