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What you need to know before proceeding with layoffs

The information presented in this text is for general guidance only. It is recommended to seek the advice of legal experts and HR professionals for guidance tailored to specific situations. Last updated on 2023/08.

Most companies will, at some point, need to implement one or more layoffs. The process of laying off an employee is a delicate matter that requires a respectful and thoughtful approach while complying with labor standards. Here are some key points to consider before proceeding.


Apply the same care to layoffs as to hiring

When you lay off an employee, the way you handle it has a significant impact on how the company is perceived by the rest of the staff and by the laid-off individual. How layoffs are carried out is a good indicator of the company's principles. So, put as much effort into it as you do into finding candidates.

After all, a layoff is just as significant, if not more so, for an employee as hiring. In this regard, even employees who are laid off are potential ambassadors.


Be prepared for the meeting

If possible, avoid laying off someone by phone or email. Plan for a quick and direct in-person meeting. Depending on the circumstances, a second person may be necessary. In this case, it would be preferable to involve an impartial party, such as the HR manager and a career transition consultant.

Prepare the necessary documentation before the meeting. You can provide it to them at the end of the meeting, with as much written information as possible. You can include, for example, the following actions to be taken, such as returning equipment, signing the document, etc. By providing as much written documentation as possible, you can shorten verbal exchanges, and the meeting can be concluded more quickly.

This is the ideal approach because the employee's attention will have greatly diminished once they have been informed of their layoff.


Determine the best timing

The announcement of the layoff usually falls to the immediate supervisor. The supervisor knows the person, their performance, and their personality well. Therefore, they are the most suitable to handle the matter. It is good to choose a neutral location that is not conducive to the scrutiny and eavesdropping of other staff members. It is better to carry out the process at the beginning or middle of the week, ensuring that the laid-off employee will have access to their career transition and career management coach before the weekend.

It may be prudent to meet with the individual in the late afternoon or even early in the morning, first to ensure the security of the premises and then to maintain the employee's dignity by allowing them to leave discreetly.

The employee may be required to leave their job immediately after the decision has been announced, or they may be asked to continue working for a certain period.

Furthermore, it is rarely necessary to prevent a laid-off employee from gathering their belongings and saying goodbye to their colleagues on their own. Additionally, if you have provided them with a severance package, give them time to review it before expecting a response.


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Legal: the requirement of notice

In most cases, employers must provide their employees with at least two weeks' notice. They must pay this amount as a severance payment without requiring the employee to return to work.

However, some employers may request that the employee continue to work during the two-week notice period.


Notice and/or Severance

The Act Respecting Labour Standards stipulates that if you layoff an employee, they must have received written notice. This is intended to help the employee prepare for the end of their employment.

However, the employer will not be required to provide notice if:

  • The employee has been employed for less than three months
  • The contract is for a fixed term
  • The employee has committed a serious offense
  • The termination of employment results from an unforeseeable cause

Within the time frame set by the Act Respecting Labour Standards, the employer must provide notice of layoff to their employee. This time frame will be determined based on the employee's length of service:

  • Between 1 year and 5 years: 2 weeks
  • Between 5 years and 10 years: 4 weeks
  • 10 years or more : 8 weeks

The Civil Code of Quebec stipulates that the timeframe must be "reasonable." In some situations, the timeframe provided by the Act Respecting Labour Standards may not be sufficient to be considered "reasonable" under the Civil Code of Quebec.

To determine if the timeframe is reasonable under the Civil Code of Quebec, the following factors are considered:

  • The nature of the employment and its requirements
  • Working conditions.
  • The duration of the work performance

The employer may choose to provide a severance to the employee instead of informing them in advance of their layoff. This payment will be calculated based on the amount of money the employee would have earned during the notice period. The employee's benefits must also be maintained throughout the notice period.


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