You do a blog long enough and everything comes full circle. Back in January 2008, I took out my crystal ball and suggested that reductions in force (RIFs) and lawsuits would soon follow.
We all know what happened next. The economy crashed and discrimination claims at the EEOC peaked at their highest levels in more than 20 years.
So here we are 11 years later. A whole generation of HR professionals have never experienced a significant downturn. Are we headed there again in 2019?
I’ll leave that to the economists and politicians. Two weeks ago, the stock market was topsy-turvy. Now, we seem pre-occupied with the partial government shutdown. And at least in Connecticut, new Governor Ned Lamont has a plan for growth, growth, growth.
But it’s worth considering whether your company is even prepared for a downturn, even if it still is many months away.
Again, we can first look to history. As I said back in 2008:
What is a reduction in force? Really, just a lawyerly way of saying “layoff”. Back in the early to mid 1990s, lots of companies went through them. And the number of lawsuits arising from those reductions went through a major peak in 1995 or so.
But these types of lawsuits rise and fall with the economy. When the economy is good, lawsuits go down. When it’s not so good, they go up. One reason is that when people can find another job quickly (i.e. the unemployment rate is low), then tend not to sue as much.
And even back in 2008, I noted that things might be different for employers and indeed they were. The rise of the internet-fueled lawsuits have been a reality. Here was my prediction back then:
One more factor suggests to me that more lawsuits are on the horizon — it’s much easier for a few employees to band together than in the past. Previously, people would have to use their existing networks to find laid off employees to hear their stories (indeed, outplacement firms were a good source for employees looking to talk with other laid off workers). But now, with the rise of social networking sites, it seems only a matter of time before a group of employees will form a Facebook or MySpace page to compare experiences. Employees from around the country can share information instantly, making it much easier to figure out if there are trends associated with the layoff that may give rise to a lawsuit.
Just as Uber or the employers in Connecticut facing class action lawsuits that one firm puts on their website have found out.
What’s an employer to do? I’ll tackle that in my next post.