Blog Post

Dear ReWorker: How Do I Rehire Employees Laid Off Due to Coronavirus?

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Dear ReWorker,

We recently had to lay off employees when the uncertainty of COVID hit. One of the first people we laid off was an employee that had performance and behavioral problems. We had multiple coaching sessions. We gave this employee multiple warnings. But nothing worked.

Fast forward six months: Things have picked up, and we have a few positions open. This employee privately messaged me and applied for an open position. How should I respond? And should we bring back other people when another round of closures could mean we’d have to lay people off again?


To rehire or not to rehire

Dear Rehire,

Once upon a time, I got multiple phone calls from a former employee asking me about open positions. The HR system listed him as ineligible for rehire, but he insisted that that was an error—that his former boss told him he’d be first in line when a position opened up.

I called his former manager to see if the notation had, in fact, been an error. It had not. This employee was ineligible for rehire for performance reasons, but the manager had taken the "easy" way out and didn’t mention this to the former employee. (It was in his severance paperwork, but obviously, he thought it was an error.) I told the manager that the next time this hopeful former employee reached out to him, he was to say very clearly that it was time to move on—the company was not going to rehire him.

You need to do the same thing. Send a clear, straightforward message: "I appreciate your application, but we will not be moving forward." Then repeat that every time this person contacts you. Make sure this is consistent within your HR system and any other records. This person is ineligible for rehire, period.

Rehiring Employees Laid Off Due to Coronavirus

Now, let’s talk about rehiring in general. Your previous (eligible) employees should be your first choices. The main reason: They require the least amount of training, and you know what you’re getting. Yes, it’s an opportunity to move people around and hire from the outside if your laid off or furloughed employees aren’t a good fit, but they should be at least considered.

As the skills gap across organizations continues to widen, it’ll be harder than ever to find quality candidates. In a recent whitepaper, Cornerstone shared that 80% of CEOs seek a much broader range of skills for their company’s workforce than they currently have. If you had highly-skilled employees that you had to let go, take the opportunity to bring them back.

For the workers that do come back, consider a few things: your new(ish) employees will need some retraining. They will be concerned about company stability and they may be on the financial edge if they’ve been unemployed for the past several months.

My advice? Empower them from day one. Be sure to provide the same quality of onboarding experience that you’d deliver to brand new workers—whether it’s refreshing their knowledge of company processes or providing them with learning materials to catch up on any new tools you’ve implemented during the pandemic. It’s certain they’ll need resources to get up to speed.

And be extra compassionate toward them. They will need support and transparency, especially if you foresee another wave of shutdowns and subsequent layoffs. They know that another slam to the economy may result in layoffs, but let them know you’ll do everything you can to avoid this—which you should.

Finally, if you’re worried about the awkwardness of reaching back out to a laid-off employee, know this: For the most part, the people who have not found new jobs will be just as thrilled to be back to work as you are to have them back.


Your ReWorker

For more advice from our ReWorker, read her column here.

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