When the travel start-up Pana held a meeting for all of her employees on Zoom, they explained that some staff members would be fired and that there would be two more calls that morning – one at 09:00 for those who were fired and one at 09:45 for those who would not have.
Employees would know which meeting the invitations they would receive via email would attend.
Sales manager Ruthie Townsend was invited to join the 9:00 am call but, due to the shock of the news, she couldn’t remember which call it was for those who were about to be laid off and which one it was for those who had been detained.
“Since it was such a stressful situation, it was difficult to work out what was going on, so I got confused. I joined the 9:00 am call because that was the invitation I had, and once I realized I had been fired, I deactivated my video quickly, “he says.
Ms. Townsend was on the phone with 15 of her colleagues and the company executives followed these employees through the benefits, the severance package and the subsequent steps.
The company, based in Denver, Colorado, had been affected by the collapse of travel due to the coronavirus epidemic.
But there had been a feeling that the layoffs would be a last resort, and Mrs. Townsend had no idea what would happen that morning.
This type of shock is unfortunately on the agenda, as companies are reducing staff numbers to cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus.
Before crisis managers usually met staff face to face to give them the bad news.
Video conferencing tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams (MS Teams), are now used to replicate the formality of the meeting.
Chris Malone, an audiovisual technician at the Sparq event company in the UK, feared for his role when it was explained to him that a human resources representative would be on his next call to MS Teams along with his line manager.
His instincts proved correct because he was told he would be fired.
For him, the use of a video call made the meeting formal, but more embarrassing than a meeting in person or a phone call.
“I think if I did it on the phone, it would mean that you don’t have to watch someone but when you have a video call, you get dressed to make it formal and appear presentable.
“Even if it’s a video call, the pressure is there – and since you’re not in the room with them there is no natural chemistry, connection or body language that you can read and there is a little delay, you’re waiting for someone else to say something, “he says.
However, Malone believes that an individual video call is still the best way for a company to communicate the unfortunate news to an employee under current circumstances.
For Ms Townsend, there were more or less advantages to having more than 15 people in the same call.
“I don’t think one way to make someone redundant during videoconferencing is ideal. If it’s one on one, it will still be very difficult and your boss will see all your emotions. I liked the group setup because I deactivated my video and I didn’t have to say anything, “he says.
However, she believes that the group’s setting prevented her from asking important questions at the time.
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Sarah Evans, partner of the JMW law firm, explains that communication before any announcement is essential for employers.
“What many big companies can do is conduct large Zoom meetings, to make an announcement to the same people at the same time, so there are no communication problems around,” he says.
This would clarify that layoffs or layoff plans for employees are being considered and would also clarify what this means for the company and how they intend to follow up on people.
It is imperative for employers to provide employees with the time necessary to absorb information, ask questions and offer people the opportunity to be voluntarily fired or fired.
“In cases of redundancy, it would be at least a couple of meetings to consider opportunities to avoid redundancy and consider alternatives, and there is no reason why this can’t be done on Zoom,” he says.
The use of videos, phone calls or in person is not a legal matter; it’s just a matter of etiquette.
However, the group call, which Ruthie Townsend had experienced in the United States, would not have been authorized in the United Kingdom.
“That wouldn’t cut him off from British law, since you have the right to individual consultation. There’s nothing wrong with a group call to announce potential layoffs, but you shouldn’t make people redundant in the same video call,” says Evans.
If this were the way a UK employer had acted, the employee could have filed an unfair dismissal case.
The ability to record video calls could also prove problematic in these cases.
Peter Binning, partner of the Corker Binning law firm, explains that, in general, anyone should seek consent before recording a call of any kind.
However, regardless of whether or not consent has been requested, a recorded conversation may still be admissible in an unfair dismissal case.
“Anyone wishing to use the evidence must be able to demonstrate that it was properly recorded and authentic, but it would be a matter for the court to decide whether such evidence should be allowed,” says Binning.
And those who want to poke their noses at people by deliberately participating in a Zoom call in which someone else is fired would surely break the law – since there are a number of crimes on interception of communications in the regulations.
While video can create new problems, it is the best replacement for a meeting in person.
“It will be more uncomfortable to look someone in the eye and the level of emotional frustration and anger will be more visible, but it is essential to convey the message openly, fairly and transparently to another person,” says Stuart Duff, an expert in leadership psychology. at the counseling in business psychology Pearn Kandola.