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More On... Employee Resigns - Walk Them Out the Door Or Let Them Work a Notice?...

As with everything liability related, it always comes down to consistency...

Last week we broke down a commonly occurring HR issue - once an employee resigns, do you walk them out the door immediately, or let them work out a notice?   In addition to the usual considerations driving your decision on what to do (is the employee a malcontent, going to work for a competitor or needed for the transition period), we also broached a bigger question - should you pay the employee for the two-week notice provided, if you elect to walk them out of the workplace the same day?

A trackback to the post by the Workplace Prof Blog underscored an additional consideration - if youExit are going to treat people differently once their employment is scheduled to voluntarily or involuntarily end, you need to make sure the differences are business-related.  The Workplace Prof Blog post cited a recent ruling where five Boston health workers received monetary awards stemming from a 2000 discrimination ruling, for what one of the employees said was "being treated like a criminal" when they were laid off 13 years ago.

From regarding the cited case:

"Today the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that five black women who worked for the Healthy Baby/Healthy Child Program run by the Trustees of Health and Hospitals and the City of Boston were treated differently than a white man who was laid off at the same time.

After a series of appeals and reviews, the payments, with interest dating back to 1994, will more than double the $20,000 to $30,000 each woman originally would have received.

Gloria Coney, Marlene Hinds, Victoria Higginbottom, Belinda Chambers and Betty Smith lost their jobs in July 1994. Given no notice of the layoffs, they were monitored as they gathered their belongings and not allowed to speak to their co-workers. One woman had her lunch bag searched while she packed, a court summary says.

Coney "felt humiliated, mortified and angry at being treated like a criminal," the document says, and she believed her employer had acted on a presumption "that black women steal things."

A white male worker was told in advance that he would be laid off and was allowed to walk around the office freely before he left.

The city argued that because the white man's job was different his layoff was carried out in a different manner."

In the original post, we focused on the voluntary resignation, and the considerations managers make to decide whether to allow the employee to work out a two- week notice.  If you haven't checked out that post, check it out and give the comments a read as well - lots of smart people checking in on the issue. 

Oddly enough, one individual checking in (Scott) wondered aloud why more people aren't allowed to work out a notice when reorganization impacts their position.  Good question, and I'd have to say that anytime multiple people are impacted by a reorganization, we always plan for the worst (the employee that might try to lash back at the company by harming physical or intellectual property), which means all impacted employees generally are asked to leave once the news has been shared.

The story just underscores a simple point regarding how you treat people once you know they'll be leaving the company.  Consistency is key.  Don't like employees going to work for a competitor hanging around after they voluntarily resign?  Fine - make sure you show all of them to the door.  Start slicing and dicing it in a finer fashion, and you might run into litigation similar to the case shown above - regardless if there are good reasons for the differing treatment for individual employees.

Of course, just because people sue doesn't mean they are right.  But litigation cost money and invokes risk, so you might as well avoid it when you can.

Try and have a macro plan and stick to it.  Case by case is fine, but the macro plan should rule the day in this area most of the time.


Anthony Zaller

Great post! I would also like to add that under California law, earned vacation time is considered wages, and vacation time is earned, or vests, as labor is performed. Therefore, employers are required to pay any earned but unused vacation at the time of termination. More information about California's unique requirements can be read at the state website here:

Dave Crisp

I have the dubious distinction of having overseen more than 100 layoffs totalling more than 9000 people. In the vast majority of cases, we asked people to work for significant periods of time, often several months, after being given notice. We'd always be on the lookout for the very few who would behave badly and we'd hustle them out the door instantly with half or less of the severance the others would be getting - but those would be literally one or two people in several hundred. The others would often actually work harder - to make sure they got good references, but even more so just out of pride that they wouldn't let the team down and they'd show us what they could do. And it paid off because often within a couple of months we'd need some of those who got notice because of turnover or re-starting some line of business. People will behave well almost always if you show them you have faith in them.

Evil  HR Lady

This is a subject I am passionate about. You are laying people off, not firing them for cause. Therefore, you do not treat them as criminals. You do not send security to watch as they pack their stuff. You do not prevent them from speaking to co-workers.

Sure, if there's a documented problem you are careful. Security should be notified prior to all layoffs just in case someone freaks out, but they shouldn't be hovering.

Treat your employees with respect, even when severing them.

I'm a huge fan of severance packages, but unlike Dave, I'm not a fan of advanced notice, unless absolutely necessary. (An outsourcing, for instance, where they have to train the outsourcers, or a plant shut down where it's obvious or required by law.) Why? Because it prevents people from moving on with their lives.

Notify them, send them home, give them severance and help them find a new job. That's my philosophy. (Although, I admit, I haven't conducted 9,000 layoffs. 2,000 layoffs, but not 9,000. Dave is more evil than I am, and that's hard to do.)

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