I´m a big football fan, and one of the things I hate the most is seeing a quarterback get hit on the blind side (the opposite of his throwing arm) because there´s nothing worse than a hit you don´t see coming.
Along those lines, I received an e-mail last week from a recently laid off employee. Lamenting the loss of her job, she asked if I could help her find information on how to recoup the nearly $400 she´d deferred into a commuter benefits account but had to forfeit upon her termination.
I double checked with a benefits attorney, then gave her the tough news that yes, the funds forfeited to employer, as she was no longer with the company. I felt bad for her, having been completely blindsided by the layoff and then it seemed getting insult piled onto injury by losing funds she probably could sorely use right now.
It got me and a few EBN colleagues thinking. Obviously, employers must comply with WARN (Workers Adjustment Retraining and Notification Act), which requires employers with 100 or more workers to provide employees, bargaining representatives and local government officials with 60 days advanced written notice of a mass layoff or a plant closing.
But more specifically, can/should employers communicate far in advance to employees about the benefits they lose (commuter benefits, FSA funds) and the ones they can take with them (retirement savings, HSA funds) if they are laid off? How far in advance? And does such notice make a company appear unstable or give away that layoffs are being considered?
Is giving them the information and tools to protect their money more valuable than causing some uneasiness about whether they might be the one to get a pink slip? An article in an upcoming issue of EBN will address these questions and others, but I´d like to hear your thoughts.
Meanwhile, communication expert Hugh Braithwaite, president of Braithwaite Communications, offers the following tips in communicating effectively during a layoff:
* Be complete. If there are holes in the facts of your story, employees will fill-in-the blanks with what they believe the facts should be. That´s how rumors get started.
* Be consistent. If you tell a different story every time you tell it, information will become muddled and there will be mass confusion. That´s how rumors spread.
* Inform affected employees first. This should be common sense, but employees being laid off should hear the news first and in person if possible. Respect and compassion are essential. Prepare an "exit kit" for each laid-off worker that contains an official letter, hand-outs with frequently asked questions, confidential agreements, references, contact sheet, and severance and benefit information. Be as thorough and complete as possible -remember, the more comprehensive you are, the less you are leaving to the imagination.
* Inform retained employees. Review the situation, be prepared to answer questions, and provide resources for follow-up questions and concerns. Depending on the size of the layoff, a series of regular employee communication sessions may be necessary instill confidence and maintain a sense of community.
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