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Employee Benefits

Treat Terminated Employees With Respect

How you manage layoffs sends a clear message to remaining employees about how the company views them and how they will be treated in the future.

Q: When employees are terminated in general layoffs at the large company I work for, the drill goes like this: Supervisors notify the affected employees and tell them they have two hours to pack their things and leave the building, after which they may not return to the premises. In some cases, security staff watch the riffed workers while they pack up and then escort them out of the building. What do you think about this?

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I will probably hear from a lot of human-resources professionals and lawyers who disagree with me. But I still think this is a shabby way to treat anyone, especially longtime employees who are laid off for business reasons that are unrelated to their performance.

I know, I know: This procedure reduces the risk that a terminated employee will go ballistic and harm fellow employees or company property (such as computer files). And there are situations in which it might be prudent -- for example, the termination for cause of an employee who is known to be emotionally unstable.

But as a standing procedure for all layoffs, it sends a poor message to remaining employees about how the company views them and how they will be treated in the future.

I prefer a termination that treats riffed workers with respect, trusting them to act maturely even in a time of confusion and probably anger. They are given a choice of packing their things right away and leaving (without being monitored by security) or going home to sort out their feelings and returning the next day (or a few days later) to pack up.

Before they go, they are permitted -- indeed, encouraged -- to say goodbye to colleagues in their department and others, by phone or a drop-in visit. Sometimes a terminated worker returns later to have lunch with former colleagues.

I admit that this is trickier to manage than the abrupt goodbye-and-get-out approach. But it pays dividends for the company's reputation in the community and the morale of its remaining workers.

Send your own money-and-ethics question to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger.

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