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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.


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.

Informing Employees

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 (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.
  • University of California, Santa Cruz: Layoff/Separation forms - 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.

Employee Assistance

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.

Layoff Procedures

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.

Examples of Procedures

Recommended Resources

Employee Benefits

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.

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.

Last Modified: July 14, 2023