Layoffs are unfortunately inevitable at some point or another for essentially every company. Perhaps there has been a merger or acquisition, maybe you need to try to cut costs, or the company could be restructuring or relocating. Regardless of the reason, you now have the unpleasant job of letting members of your team go.

This would be hard enough on its own, however, you need to make sure that you are making fair decisions that are based on objective criteria. So, what can you do to ensure that the layoff process is as ethical as possible?

Have the right criteria for the decision-making process

A lot of companies might place an emphasis on seniority, choosing to let go of recent hires first. However, this may also be seen as favoritism and could be challenged in court. While it makes sense to make decisions based on performance, you want to make sure that you are able to back these decisions up with hard numbers. Any manager’s opinion that plays a role needs to be aligned with supporting documentation. For this reason, it is important that you have been keeping proper records over time. 

Take the impact of minority groups into account

Once you have chosen your decision-making criteria, you need to double-check to ensure that it does not have a larger adverse impact on a particular group (for example, women, African Americans, older employees, etc.). If you see that this is the case, you will need to redo your selection criteria so that different groups are impacted more evenly. You may have to go through this process several times, evaluating from different angles, in order to make sure that you are making decisions that are seen as fair and are less likely to be challenged. 

Communicate with your team along the way

It is always good practice to communicate with your team. Under no circumstances should a significant proportion of your team be let go without any sort of notification. Even though it will be stressful for everyone, it is better for people to know that a big, difficult decision is being made. When it comes to actually deliver the bad news and letting people go, you may decide to do this in person or through written communication. Either way, it is important that you leave on the best terms as possible – this makes it less likely for a lawsuit to be filed or for someone to badmouth the company down the line.

Layoffs are stressful for everyone involved. No one likes to have to make such difficult decisions. However, if you take the time to carefully choose your selection criteria and communicate your decision as graciously as possible, you will make the process as easy – and ethical – as it can be.