Q+A with HR Experts: Coping with Layoffs in Our “New Normal”

The following post was based on a live webinar, recorded on March 26, 2020. Our panel of experts (HR veteran, Mark Szypko, Payfactors’ VP of HR, Jo Rego, and VP of Compensation, Kim Taylor) answered these questions in real-time. At the time of posting, the answers to these questions were accurate, however, we understand the evolving nature of the current climate.


We’re living in strange times, to say the least.

Whether you’re making the best of a new “work from home” situation or watching your organization go through major layoffs, you’ve likely been impacted by this global pandemic in some way.

You’re probably feeling a little on edge. And, more than anything, your mind is probably buzzing with questions.

We don’t have all the answers to share with you, but we wanted to discuss some of the compensation and HR Qs that have been on your mind.

We assembled a panel of HR experts for a Q+A webinar, “How are HR Pros Coping with the New Normal?” Our pros answered questions we received directly from the comp community, so we wanted to share what your peers are wondering and how our panel answered their concerns.


1. Should we (comp pros) advise for salary freezes in the near future in an effort to preserve more jobs? Or do we think salary freezes will do little to prevent layoffs, and that those left will need to pay increases? 

Wanting to prevent layoffs is an incredibly human response to everything going on around us. No one wants to see the people at their organization lose their job, likely ever, but especially in a difficult time like this.

When it comes to making recommendations for salary freezes, it’s crucial for comp professionals to get on the same page with the C-suite. Whether that’s the CFO or the entire leadership team, you’ll want to get involved in talks with leadership to determine what makes sense from a business perspective.

You’ll also have to consider the timing of a salary freeze.

If employees are banking on a salary bump on April 3, you might have to go ahead and do that. This might be your best move for retaining talent and keeping morale high.

If employees weren’t counting on a pay bump until July, you’ve got a little more time to freeze that increase.

But if freezing seems to be the best business move (no matter when the salary increase was scheduled for), and you haven’t rolled anything out yet, now might be a good time.

Pause and watch how things unfold.

You’ll just need to craft some transparent communication to your employees on the whole situation.

Be honest about why the salary freeze isn’t the savviest business move at the moment. Everyone knows the current state of the world right now, so they’ll likely understand — as long as you’re starting up an honest conversation.

And frankly, most people will likely be glad to have a paycheck at all, even if it’s not with that 3 percent they were banking on.


2. We’ll need to lay off our industry production associates — how do we “keep the bench warm” for those laid-off employees to happily come back when things are back to normal?

Think about how you’re treating them on the way out.

Are you providing them with severance or benefits? Or are you just firing them, with nothing else?

How one is walked out the door speaks to how quickly they will be walking back in that door. Treat them with dignity and respect, and you’re likely to bring them back when things are back to normal.

Also, have a communication plan with them! Be open about the fact that you want to bring them back, as soon as you can.

And even when they’re laid off, continue to check in on them.

See how they’re holding up, make sure they’re getting their unemployment checks — treat them like a human!

Keeping that relationship positive means keeping your workforce engaged (even when they’re not you’re workforce). That’s how you create advocates for your organization who want to come back ASAP.


3. How will comp pros get a gauge on market-based pay when the crisis begins to fade? We’re not participating in any industry comp surveys this year, so how should we adjust pay scales when we get ready to hire again?

First off, participating in surveys wouldn’t help much this year. 

Any data that’s being collected right now won’t be available until later this year, maybe even not until 2021. And, truthfully, there aren’t many live sources for data period, because everything is stopped or slowed.

So, know that we’re all in the same boat there.

The best thing you can do is stay connected with organizations like your local SHRM chapters and companies like Payfactors or WorldatWork. They’ll be updating you with fresh data whenever available and likely offering predictive reports to estimate where the market may be heading.


4. Due to COVID-19, the majority of my company has been told not to return to work until further notice. We’ve also been told we will not be paid for this time AND not to file for unemployment. Isn’t it true if I’m out a certain percent of my salary, I’m legally able to file?

This will depend on a state-to-state basis, but filing for unemployment is certainly the next logical step.

FFCRA Act doesn’t go into effect until April 1, and it won’t be retroactive. So, you should be able to get a furlough — a “leave of absence” which implies you’ll be returning to your role whenever possible — rather than getting traditionally “laid off.”

Start by asking your employer more questions about why they’re asking you not to file. Maybe there’s some piece to their request that you’ll want to hear more about.

But in general, most states will protect your right to unemployment in this situation. So once you’ve had a transparent conversation with your organization, go ahead and apply for unemployment.


Want more questions like these answered on a regular basis? Then join the Payfactors Community!

It’s completely free to join and it’ll bring the comp community — and all their infinite wisdom! — right into your home office. Stay engaged with your peers, help answer their burning questions, and get thoughtful feedback to whatever’s on your mind.

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