Rumors of more potential layoffs have been circulating for quite some time at the once internet giant, Yahoo. Despite reductions in its workforce by 14% in 2014, Yahoo’s economic woes continue.  So, it was not necessarily a surprise when approximately 30 employees were laid off in late January even after statements by Yahoo’s CEO denying layoffs would occur “this week.”  The surprise was that the individuals fired were allegedly placed on the termination list by mistake.  Oops!

According to news reports published in Fortune.com and the Detroit Newstime, an anonymous source is claiming that the individuals terminated were never supposed to be fired.  Rather, these individuals were simply placed on the wrong list and managers – who were not informed of the mistake – proceeded with the terminations. Yahoo denies the rumors and has further refused to comment on whether any future layoffs are imminent.

Regardless of whether or not the terminations were accidental, this story reminds us of the importance of handling any terminations – especially layoffs – with extreme care. More often than not, news of potential layoffs spreads like wildfire and leads to rumors or misinformation before actual decisions are even made.  Here are a few tips to help ensure your layoff goes as smoothly as possible.

  1. Keep It Confidential – Ensure that only those who truly “need to know” are aware of details relating to the layoffs and take proactive steps to keep the details confidential. Lists of potentially impacted employees should be password protected and not left on desks or printers where inquiring minds might see. Believe it or not, this happens all the time!
  2. Try to Use Objective Criteria to Select those for Terminations – When deciding on criteria for selecting the impacted employees, attempt to rely upon objective criteria if possible.       Examples can include: seniority, experience, special skills, or overall job performance. Regardless of the criteria utilized, it must be applied uniformly to all potentially impacted units or departments.
  3. Involve Legal Counsel – Mass layoffs are a ripe area for discrimination claims. To help avoid such claims, it is best to involve either your company’s in-house attorney or outside counsel to review whether the criteria utilized for layoff had a particular impact on a certain group. Review by counsel should help minimize liability and make it easier to defend the termination decisions.
  4. Update Separation Agreements – When it comes to separation agreements, one size does not fit all! The Older Worker Benefit Protection Act requires the inclusion of information specific to each layoff for any terminations involving two or more individuals. Additionally, various federal agencies continue to scrutinize language included in “standard” separation agreements. Failure to take the time to review and possibly update a separation agreement to take into account changes in the law may preclude your company from being adequately protected.
  5. Develop a Game Plan for Communicating to Your Existing Employees – After the layoffs are done, you will have a nervous staff wondering if they might be next. Have a game plan in place to reassure your existing employees, and help protect them from any potential security risks resulting from the layoff.

Layoffs are never fun or easy. But, with these tips, hopefully you will breathe a sigh of relief at the end and be able to say “Yahoo”.