During these times of economic uncertainty, as employers are being faced with unexpected but critically necessary layoffs in order to stay-in business, small and large businesses should take a holistic approach toward downsizing to avoid future litigation problems. Far too often, women and people of color are the first to face the razor sharp blade of the work-force reduction ax, whether intentional or not.  Employers should look at not who to lay-off, but who to keep. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, the author theorizes that companies often reduce workers who are recently hired into managerial roles in non-core business areas such as human resources, marketing, and human relations, most of whom are women and minorities. In a factory or production setting, women and minorities may compose a large section of the workforce, resulting in those workers being the first to be let go.Large scale employers of 500 or more who anticipate that “mass layoffs” are necessary, should create a diverse team to make layoff selections in order to address problems with unconscious bias. As decisions regarding layoffs are being made, it is important to ensure fairness and equality. Unconscious biases include social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups. During these times, employers must be aware of their biases, either conscious or unconscious, when selecting which employees to keep. I’ll talk about “unconscious bias” in next month’s newsletter.   

For now, here are 7 steps to keep in mind if your company is considering layoffs:

1.  Regardless of the criteria your company or business uses for downsizing decisions, look at diversity numbers before proceeding with layoffs.

2.  Conduct adverse impact studies prior to every layoff, i.e., make sure you are not just automatically wiping out every female or person-of-color you have hired in the last five years.

3.  Conduct cuts and layoffs based on performance and performance evaluations.

4.  Lay off the managers or employees with the poorest performance.

5.  Evaluate each manager or employee on their merits.

6.  Reposition and retrain to maintain managerial diversity after making performance-based cuts.

7.  Think about your workforce more creatively; think about the talent you have and want to keep, but again, be aware of unconscious bias. 

Remember, maintaining a diverse workforce now may help you avoid future costly litigation in the future. (See, How “Neutral” Layoffs Disproportionately Affect Women and Minorities; Harvard Business Review, 2016, by Alexandra Kalev)