How do we let employees go in a compassionate way?

In Blog, COVID-19, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by Fatima Dainkeh

I know this is a hard time, I know this is a difficult time, and I know that some companies, whether small or large, have to make certain decisions, such as letting some employees go. But the way we’re doing that is not okay. Let’s talk about how we could be doing better. 

Before you let someone go, explore all of your options. Could this person potentially work part time? Could this person potentially be a contract worker? Do you have a long-term plan to bring this person back to your staff? All of these are options that are important to explore. And I know because of the current crisis we’re in, it can feel like we don’t have time for this, or there are so many important things happening, but trust me; in the long run, it will be worth it. 

When you finally come to the decision, please explain the decision to people. Don’t just send an email saying “you’ve been let go,” without properly explaining why that is. It would be nice for someone to receive a call or face-to-face meeting to say “here’s why we’re letting you go. It’s not because of your work ethic, but because of the current situation that we’re in right now. We have to do this.” There are a lot of resources online that give us a template of how to form that email, how to send the message out to people, so that they understand why you made that decision. 

Transparency is going to be key, and while we may assume that many people already know that they’re going to probably be let go, giving people that courtesy and recognizing that the work that they’ve done is important and that you appreciate what they’ve done is super important. 

After you’ve explained why you’ve made the decision to let an employee go, please be sure to provide resources to them. It is unfair for someone to walk out of that door and for them to know that’s their last day and not know what’s next. So if you’ve already made a decision and you say “we’re going to have to lay you off, or furlough is an option,” explain what those terms mean. What benefits will exist, what benefits will not exist, and do they have a choice in that? Beyond that, you want people to know that there are resources in the community. If most of your staff members work in the same city or state, now is a good time to crowdsource all of the resources that exist. If you have a lot of employees that work out of state or out of the country, you can still crowdsource. What does it look like to ask employees to share all of the resources that exist, to make sure that people feel like they’re taken care of. 

If you’re going to offer a severance package, make sure that people know what that means. Make sure that before they sign on the dotted line, you’re explaining to them what it means to accept a severance package. Another thing you can do is provide a recommendation letter. If you have an amazing employee and you hate to see them leave but because of the current situation and our crisis, you have to do it, make sure you offer them a recommendation letter. In fact, giving them that recommendation right there and then and saying “if anybody has any questions or if you need any support, I’m there for you,” is so helpful. Obviously it’s not going to take care of all the other things an employee has to go through afterwards, but it’s helpful for them to hear that.

I hope those tips were helpful. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a way for us to start thinking about how we’re treating each other. More importantly, for us to realize we’re not disposable. Just because someone cannot currently work in your workplace because of what’s happening, it doesn’t mean that they’re not of value. 

We’d love to hear: what are some things you’re seeing being done that you appreciate? How are people supporting your employees even if they’re not physically or currently working with them? What are some things that you don’t appreciate or could use a little support? Contact us at [email protected] to let us know what you’re seeing. 


If you’re curious how we can help your team, contact us here.

For more tips and information about resources during the COVID-19 crisis, click here.

You can also submit your DEI questions that we may answer as part of future #AskSGO videos at [email protected]