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Complete Guide 2024

Termination and Layoff: A Comprehensive Guide to Proceed with Compassion and Professionalism

While they may not be easy to do, layoff announcements are a common practice in the business world. Careful planning can make the process as smooth as possible for both you and your employees. This post is written to guide you in planning layoffs with grace, humanity, and respect for the employees involved.

Differences between layoff, dismissal, and suspension

While a dismissal means terminating an employment contract permanently, a layoff means an employer temporarily suspends a position indefinitely for economic reasons, such as a decrease in demand for its products or services. Mass layoffs refers to the mass termination of employees by an employer and typically occurs during periods of economic downturn.

Layoff vs. Individual dismissal

It's important to distinguish between a layoff and a dismissal. The two are often used interchangeably, but there is a significant legal distinction. Layoff occurs when an employer terminates an employee's employment for a reason unrelated to the employee's performance or conduct.

While both layoff and dismissal result in job loss, layoff does not imply wrongdoing. Layoff is independent of the employee's will, while dismissal is typically the result of the employee's actions. For example, if an employee is laid off due to company-wide downsizing, it's generally not considered a reflection of the employee's performance. However, if an employee is dismissed for a valid reason, such as misconduct, it's typically considered a reflection of the employee's behavior. In this case, it would be referred to as a dismissal.

Employers have the right to terminate the employment contract and, therefore, lay off the employee for one of the following reasons:

  • Economic : A decrease in revenue, a drop in profits, a significant loss of clients or contracts, financial difficulties.
  • Organizational : Administrative restructuring requiring job abolition or merging of positions.
  • Technical : Automation of tasks within the company using technological equipment.


A suspension is a temporary suspension of an employee's employment contract. This can be for various reasons, such as a business slowdown or a reduction in the workforce. Employees who are suspended will no longer work for the company for an indefinite period, but their employment relationship is not permanently terminated. This means that, for the most part, employers do not have to pay their laid-off workers, whether unionized or not, for the first six months following the layoff. Afterward, the employer will be required to pay severance pay after the first six months, which can be equivalent to what was offered following a layoff.

A layoff is a temporary solution when a company is facing financial difficulties. It can allow the company to survive by cleaning up its finances and eventually rehiring its laid-off employees.


Mass layoff

A mass layoff is a termination of employment that affects a group of employees. It typically occurs when an employer decides to lay off a group of workers or close a business.

Mass layoffs can be controversial because they often involve a large number of people losing their jobs at the same time. This can lead to economic challenges for the regional economy. Rules have been put in place by the Government of Quebec to be notified in advance of such an announcement.

Under the regulations, an employer must provide written notice to the Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity up to 16 weeks before a mass layoff. The written notice must include information about the layoffs, such as the number of affected employees, the reasons, the date when the layoffs will occur, and more.

The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity may request that the various parties involved set up a reclassification committee to assist laid-off employees in reintegrating into the job market.


Applicable Legislation

You must familiarize yourself with the rules governing employee terminations. Depending on their length of service, you may need to provide written notice of termination for several weeks in many jurisdictions. Before laying off or suspending an employee for six months or more, the employer must give them written notice. This notice is one week if the employee has less than one year of continuous service, two weeks if the employee has one to five years of continuous service, four weeks if the employee has five to ten years of continuous service, and eight weeks if the employee has ten or more years of continuous service.

If the employer fails to provide a notice of termination within these deadlines, they must pay severance pay. This severance pay should be determined based on various factors, including the context, the employee's experience, as well as their position and years of service in the company.

Important Notice
In addition to provincial regulations, you must adhere to the terms of employment contracts, job offers, promotion letters, or collective agreements. These documents may entitle employees to more benefits than the minimum required by law.
  • For all the details, please visit the CNESST website : Click here
  • Federal jurisdiction businesses have different laws to comply with; please consult the Government of Canada's website : Click here


Preparing for the Announcement

1. Acknowledge and Accept Your Emotions

You may feel resistant, guilty, angry, nervous, compassionate, and/or vulnerable. These are common reactions to a stressful event. However, it's essential to keep in mind that organizational reasons necessitate this action. You will have the responsibility to communicate this news; accept that it's a difficult but necessary decision for the well-being of the organization.

2. Prepare a Question-and-Answer Document

Consider preparing a document with anticipated questions and their answers. Include questions that you think the affected employees might ask the individuals present during the announcement. It's important to respond to these questions decisively and consistently. This set of Q&A should be reviewed during training sessions for those who will be making the announcement.

3. Review the Information You Have

You must ensure that you have a good grasp of the content to successfully execute the layoff plan. Preparation is the key to success. Review the following:

  • The reason for the layoffs or workforce reduction; 
  • Documentation of severance package information;
  • The schedule and timeline for announcements;
  • The list of questions and answers;
  •  The future of the organization.


4. Prepare Your Supervisors and Managers

t's important to prepare your supervisors and managers before proceeding with internal layoffs. This will enable them to communicate the news effectively to employees and help address their questions or concerns.

Here are some points to keep in mind when meeting with your supervisors and managers:

  • Prepare them for the announcement : This involves reviewing what will be said and how it will be said. It's also essential to provide them with a script or a template they can follow.
  • Answer any questions they may have : This includes questions about the process, the reasons for the layoffs, and what will happen to the affected employees.
  • Review company policies and procedures : This is especially important if the layoffs are due to workforce reduction. Supervisors and managers need to be familiar with the policies and procedures governing layoffs so they can explain them to employees accurately.
  • Provide them with resources : There are many resources available to assist supervisors and managers during this challenging time. If you engage a career transition and outplacement firm to support the laid-off employees, they can likely intervene to train and prepare your managers and supervisors for these announcements.
  • Give them time to prepare : It's essential to give supervisors and managers enough time to review the information and make necessary preparations. Don't expect them to be ready if they are only informed a few hours before the announcement.

5. Seek External Support

During a layoff, an organization may offer external support to assist employees affected by the announcement. Providing outplacement services, often called career transition or redeployment, is an excellent way to support employees following such an announcement.

Career transition services can provide support and guidance to employees during a challenging period. These services can help employees update their resumes, prepare for interviews, and navigate the job market. Career transition services can also offer valuable resources for networking and job search strategies. Many career transition firms also provide counseling to help managers and employees manage the emotional impact of a layoff.


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6. Identify the Meeting Location

In the case of an in-person termination, ensure that the room where the announcement will take place is private, meaning it has a door leading to a separate room and no windows overlooking work areas. There should be at least two chairs and a desk or table for use in the private room. If possible, the chairs for the notifier and other company staff should be easily accessible from the room. All you'll need for the announcement are a phone, tissues, and a pen. If you don't have access to such a room, choose a less frequented, quiet, and neutral location out of sight of other employees.

7. Plan the Meeting(s)

Choose a time that will minimize disruptions to the company and allow the employee to exit the building relatively privately. When deciding on the location and timing of the meeting, make sure to include other individuals who may need to be present at the meeting. Typically, termination meetings involve the affected employee, their manager, an HR representative, and if necessary, a security team member. If you're engaging a career transition firm, make sure to inform their representative of the time and location so they can be present to meet with the affected individual(s).

8. Review the message to be Communicated

Think about each person you'll be meeting and try to anticipate their reactions. Practice saying the words aloud before the meeting. Conduct a role-play with a colleague, manager, or HR representative if possible. Otherwise, close your door and speak aloud. This will help you control your emotions and stay focused on delivering the information clearly and concisely. Remember, the goal is not to debate or argue with the employee—simply state the facts and let them know what the next steps are.

Confidentiality is essential when it comes to terminations. Before the announcement, do not share information about the announcement beyond the management or HR team.


Expected Reactions

The most common reactions to termination are pain and disappointment, sometimes accompanied by anger. Employees typically exhibit passive acceptance of the situation and quickly become concerned about what comes next. They may seek help or support. Allow the employee to express their feelings freely. Many employees feel the loss of their association with a group, not just their job. The employee may break down in tears. Allow those overwhelmed by their emotions to cry. Don't try to stop them by promising special treatment or creating false hope. Silence is usually the most encouraging response on your part. Most people recover fairly quickly. Offer tissues and water.

During times of change, many employees will tell you they had anticipated the possibility of layoffs. These individuals may be very interested in questioning you. They might express relief that the period of uncertainty is finally over. Here are some of the expected emotions:

1. Sadness

Tears are a common reaction. The person crying is releasing their emotions and will be able to move on much more quickly than someone who keeps everything inside. Console them, show empathy, but don't apologize for the company's actions. Apologies imply that the company did something wrong. Reinforce that the decision was difficult but necessary for the long-term well-being of the company. Let the person cry, show respect, offer tissues, and give them time to collect themselves in private.

2. Shock

These employees remain silent and seem to be in a state of shock. Clear physical signs that someone is feeling anxious or scared, such as pale skin, sudden sweating, and shallow breathing, are evident. They may repeat a certain phrase over and over, such as "You can't do this to me." They may only be able to answer yes or no to questions, and it can be challenging to engage them in a deeper conversation. If an employee is anxious or fearful about being terminated, it may be helpful for them to verbalize these feelings. Someone in a state of shock may inadvertently harm themselves due to the threat that termination poses to certain aspects of their life.

3. Euphoria

Although rare, this reaction is met with apprehension by all. Reactions can range from yelling and obscenities to threats of legal retaliation, and even physical violence. Physical violence is extremely rare but does occur on occasion.

Violent reactions may indicate serious issues and the need for professional assistance. In the unlikely event that an employee becomes hysterical or violent, remain calm and immediately follow emergency procedures. Let the employee know that you will not tolerate violent or aggressive behavior. Don't be defensive; be firm. Let them know you're calling for help.

If you strongly suspect (based on previous behavior) that violent behavior might occur, the company can make arrangements to ensure on-site security. If you anticipate the potential for violent behavior, arrange the room so that you, as the responsible party, are near the door.


Announcing the News: It's All in the Delivery

1. Greet the employee

When the employee enters the office, stand up to greet them and close the door. If possible, sit next to the employee rather than behind a desk. In the case of a virtual meeting, try to delay the employee's entry into the virtual meeting room until all relevant participants are connected. Get straight to the point of your meeting. Small talk is not appropriate at this moment. The employee will likely be very anxious and deserves to know what's happening.

2. Deliver the News

When delivering the news, be direct and honest. Tell the employee that they are being terminated and explain why. It's important to be clear about the reasons for termination to avoid confusion later on. Avoid using vague language or making promises that you cannot keep.

It's crucial that you convey this message clearly. While it may seem harsh, it's the right approach. Employees can be so upset that they won't absorb what you say. The clearer you are, the easier it will be for them to grasp. At this stage, you're likely to witness various reactions from the employee. You've communicated the decision; your role now is to listen.

3. Respect Their Emotions

Be prepared for strong emotions. The employee may react with anger or tears. While it's important to remain professional, it's also normal to show empathy and compassion. After all, this is a difficult situation for everyone involved.

4. Answer Questions

Give the person time to react and ask questions. Even if you feel uncomfortable and can't wait for the meeting to end, respect the employee's feelings.

Make sure to address any questions they may have. If they're unsure about the next steps or what will happen to their benefits, make sure you have the answers on hand. The goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible, so do your best to provide helpful information as well as your support.

You should be ready to answer questions and repeat the prepared responses. Avoid going beyond these responses, especially if you're unclear on a point, disagree with a position taken by the organization, or simply don't know. Let the employee know you'll get an answer and follow up as soon as possible.

5. Provide Written Documentation 

Remettez à l'employé les documents dont vous disposez, qui détaillent tous les avantages et les conditions de la séparation. Il n'est pas nécessaire d’aller en détail sur ces informations à ce stade. Il est possible que chaque employé reçoive des informations plus détaillées de la part des Ressources humaines. Veillez à ne pas offrir une aide que vous ne pouvez ou n'avez pas l'intention de fournir. Si vous prenez de tels engagements, écrivez-les afin de pouvoir y donner suite plus tard, mais n'essayez surtout pas d'alléger votre culpabilité en vous surmenant. Dire moins maintenant et faire plus tard peut-être une meilleure stratégie.

6. Inform the Employee About Career Transition Services

If you have enlisted the services of a career transition firm to support the employee following this separation, inform them about the existence of this service and the benefits they can derive from it. This program can provide the employee with the support and resources they need during this period. Provide them with documentation related to this service.

7. Recognize Contribution

Express your gratitude to the employee for their contribution to the organization. While this may be a difficult conversation, it's important to remember that the employee is experiencing a loss. Recognizing their contributions and thanking them respectfully eases the transition and allows both parties to move forward.

8. Introduce Them to Career Transition Experts

Career transition firms may be present on the day of the termination to support both the organization and the terminated employee. Inform the employee that they can meet with a career transition coach to discuss the next steps in their professional transition. This is an important step to ensure a successful separation, both for the employee and the company. If the announcement is in person, direct the employee to the coach in a separate office. If the meeting is virtual, it is advisable to leave the coach in the virtual waiting room and admit them later. This meeting should be conducted privately, between the coach and the employee affected by the announcement. No representatives of the organization should intervene during this meeting.

Important Notice
The impact of a termination is powerful. Employees can react with anger, sadness, confusion, disbelief, numbness, fear, or a host of other reactions. The news of job loss affects people in different ways - sometimes in very surprising and unexpected, even extreme, ways. The best advice is to stay calm and maintain control of the situation. Acknowledge the feelings and help the person stick to the facts.


To Summarize

Throughout this meeting, your role is to communicate the decision. Once the announcement is made, be a patient and attentive listener, allowing the employee to vent their frustrations and hostility while sharing their anxieties. Acknowledge, either by nodding or by rephrasing, that you hear what they are saying and accept it as a legitimate reaction. Active listening is the most compassionate response. Address their questions. Keep the meeting brief - no more than 10 to 15 minutes. Here's a list of best practices:

  • Choose a private and quiet environment to deliver the news.
  • Be direct : start immediately.
  • Anticipate the person's reaction.
  • Acknowledge the person's emotions.
  • Know the boundaries of your role. Direct the person to HR or career transition resources.
  • Know emergency resources.
  • Stick to the script; refocus on key topics.
  • Present the company's stance in a realistic and neutral tone.
  • Offer assistance, whether it's from a career transition firm or an HR consultant.


The Survivors

Once the announcement is over, several employees in the company will feel guilt. During the grieving process, surviving employees may experience guilt over how the announcement has affected their colleagues. It's essential to recognize that layoffs are challenging events even for survivors. Employees who have survived a layoff may feel anxious, insecure, and even guilty about their good fortune. They may also harbor anger towards the company or their managers for subjecting their colleagues to this ordeal.

Prepare to communicate the news to the remaining employees. The main goal of this communication is to provide a sense of optimism and renewed direction. A period of layoffs and downsizing is never easy. Separate short-term impacts from long-term positive expectations. Emphasize that layoffs are an undesirable but necessary part of the plan to get the company back on track and outline future growth plans. Open the door for employees who want to discuss. Ensure they feel supported and have the necessary support and resources to move forward. If your organization has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), encourage your employees to take advantage of it.

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