Reduction in Force - Layoffs
This page provides resources and information on the layoff process for Washington local governments, including examples of procedures and other related documents.
Layoffs - also called reductions in force – are sometimes necessary and difficult employment actions to take. The need for layoffs may be caused by lack of revenue caused by budget shortfalls or limited work. Although layoffs affect those who lose their jobs, they also impact those employees who remain, who may be asked to do more with less, and employers who may no longer be able to provide the services or level of services expected by the public.
When layoffs occur or are planned, there are several issues that must be addressed. What notice 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 members of other protected groups, perhaps giving rise to potential 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 salaries?
The following resources provide guidance for this process. 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.
Providing good information to the affected employees can somewhat soften the adverse impact of reductions in force, 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 older, the information and approach they provide is still useful.
Examples of Layoff Letters and Separation Agreements
- Bellevue Employment Separation Agreement (2008)
- Tacoma Employment Separation Agreement (2005)
- Letters from a State Transportation District:
- Notification Letter of Impending Layoff (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 (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.
- The HR Specialist: How to Write a Legally Safe Layoff Letter (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.
Being laid off likely triggers many concerns for employees: Can I pay my mortgage? What about my other bills? 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.
Examples of Layoff/Employment Benefit Information
- Letters from a State Transportation District:
- Layoff/Employment Benefit Information Issue #1 (1999) - Providing information about the Employee Assistance Program, health insurance, unemployment insurance, and other topics
- Layoff/Employment Benefit Information Issue #2 (1999) - Offering further information about issues facing soon-to-be laid off employees
- Layoff/Employment Benefit Information Issue #3 (1999) - Answering additional questions for soon-to-be laid off employees
- University Place Resolution No. 606 (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
Failing to carefully plan for and execute a reduction in force could lead to potential litigation, union contract disputes, and public disapproval. Layoffs done correctly and with sufficient planning help employers reduce uncertainty and provide useful assistance to soon-to-be former employees who find themselves needing to move on in their careers. The following items supply example policies, procedures and references that may be helpful during the layoff process.
Examples of Procedures
- Kitsap County Personnel Manual (2023) - Chapter 13 is titled "Exiting Employment."
- Renton Employee Termination and Out-Process (2008)
- Seattle Leaving Employment Guide - Covers issues an employee leaving government service should address or consider
- WA State Department of Personnel: Employer Layoff Information and Resources - Although designed for state employees, the links provide excellent information that could be crafted to apply to local government officials as well.
- The HR Specialist: The New HR Toolkit - Resources You Need for Tough Times (2008) - Helpful articles on various issues that may arise at the time of layoffs
- Paul Hastings LLP: Reductions in Force in Employment Law (2011)
What happens to employee benefits once an employee is laid off? What forms of assistance become available to those former employees? Here are some links that address some available benefits.
- U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration: COBRA Benefits - 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.
- Washington Employment Security: Unemployment Insurance Benefits - Information on how to obtain unemployment compensation benefits, training for other work opportunities, and how to apply for new jobs.
- Washington State Department of Retirement Systems: Public Employees Retirement System Information - 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.
The following links provide information about where laid-off or soon-to-be-laid off employees may seek new employment or training.