HR Operations

Layoff and Reduction

Layoffs can be one of the most difficult tasks you face as a supervisor. Understanding how the process works will prepare you for any layoffs that your unit must initiate. Adequate planning and communication will have a significant effect on the employees being laid off, the remaining staff, and on clients who work with your employees.

Planning and implementation

The term “layoff” has the following meanings:

  1. For regular classified non-union and contract covered staff, layoff is the elimination of a position, the reduction of a position’s percent FTE, or a reduction in the number of months the position works annually due to a lack of work, a lack of funds and/or because of a reorganization.
  2. For regular professional staff, layoff is the elimination of a position due to a lack of work, a lack of funds and/or because of a reorganization. Reducing a professional staff position’s percent time or months worked per year are not subject to the layoff process.

(NOTE for SEIU 925 bargaining unit employees only: An increase in an employee’s percent FTE can entitle the employee to layoff rights. Before increasing the percent time of an employee in an SEIU 925 bargaining unit, please contact your unit’s HR consultant to review the process you need to follow.)

Process summary

Below are basic steps outlining the layoff process for both the employing unit and their HR consultant.

Employing unit responsibilities:

  1. Notify Human Resources of the need to administer one or more layoffs (see Initiating a Layoff below).
  2. Ensure that employees scheduled for layoff and all other staff and clients receive appropriate and timely communication about the layoffs.
  3. Take any post layoff action that is necessary to either end appointments or to ensure that reduced positions are accurately reflected in Workday.

HR consultant responsibilities:

  1. Evaluate the reasons for layoff to ensure that they are consistent with employment program or bargaining contract requirements.
  2. Assist department with planning and managing complex layoffs.
  3. Determine rehire list and/or bumping options for classified non-union and contract covered staff.
  4. Ensure that the layoff notice is properly prepared and signed by the official who has the delegated authority to do so (typically the dean or vice president or equivalent official, or that individual’s designee).
  5. Ensure that the signed layoff notice is properly delivered to the employee.
  6. Determine, for classified staff, that the employee’s layoff option selection is properly recorded and acted on.
Probationary employees

Probationary classified staff employees do not have the layoff and reemployment rights that permanent classified staff do. If a probationary employee must be let go for reasons related to funding or departmental restructuring, Human Resources prepares a special notice that informs the employee that their position is being eliminated because the department can no longer sustain it. The employee may be eligible for unemployment compensation and for insurance continuation benefits.

Regularly occurring layoffs

As a heavily grant and contract-funded research institution with many self-sustaining programs, layoffs due to funding reductions or changes in research programs are regularly necessary. Such layoffs typically involve small numbers of employees who often know about the possibility of layoff well in advance of the time that the layoff action becomes necessary. Examples include situations where:

  • A grant, contract, or self-sustaining funding reduction affects three or fewer employees.
  • Changed research project goals or the end of a phase of research mean that a position that performs dedicated, specialized tasks is no longer needed.
  • A faculty support staff position is no longer needed because the faculty member is leaving the University.
Complex layoffs

Complex layoffs are characterized by one or more of the following:

  • Involving significant numbers of employees who often hold different job classifications and/or are in different employment programs (e.g., classified staff and professional staff)
  • Requiring extensive planning and needs assessment to determine which positions will be eliminated and which employees will be most directly affected because of bargaining unit layoff seniority
  • Shifting some work to remaining staff which may require the development of new job descriptions and the evaluation of restructured positions
  • Working with Labor Relations to inform the appropriate unions as to why layoffs are taking place, how affected positions were identified, which alternatives to layoff, if any, were considered, etc. These questions may need to be addressed before the layoff process can be completed (though they cannot be used simply to delay layoff process administration)
Initiating a layoff

When planning regularly occurring layoffs, such as those due to grant or contract funding reductions, enter the request into the layoff request tool at least 8 weeks in advance to ensure the layoff action takes place on your requested effective date. Use netidyourUWNetID with your NetID password to log-in. Your HR consultant will contact you to review the layoff process.

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Managing complex layoffs

Complex layoffs require advance discussion with Human Resources and detailed planning. Learn the steps involved in preparing for, initiating, and managing complex layoffs.

Contact Human Resources

When you need to manage a complex layoff situation, your first step is to contact your HR consultant. They will make sure that:

  • You have the information and support you need to develop and implement an effective staff reduction plan.
  • The work of support functions like the Washington State Employee Assistance Program (WA EAP) and/or outplacement consultants is properly arranged and coordinated.
  • You have a communication plan that will provide staff with information that is timely, geared to their needs, and sensitive to the dynamics of the workplace.
  • Layoff seniority and employee job skills are properly considered to ensure that the positions that need to be eliminated are correctly identified.
  • You can assess organizational impacts by understanding where bumping can occur.
  • Employees have the information they need about the options and resources available to them.
  • The layoff process is properly administered.
Develop your unit’s layoff or reduction plan

Your plan will need to address some or all of the following elements. As you plan and communicate the layoffs that your unit faces, maintain a record of the actions you take and when you take them. The layoff planning elements below are divided into three sections:

  • Layoff pre-planning
  • Layoff notification planning
  • Post-layoff notification planning
Layoff pre-planning
Planning element Planning goal
Communication Ensure that all members of the organization, at an appropriate time for their position, receive communication about the reductions and the degree to which the reductions will affect them. Address any special needs like having information in alternative formats or language interpreters.

Incorporate resources designed to assist employees in your communication plan; see the communication planning section below.

Preserve the functions necessary to support your core mission Identify and prioritize the functions necessary for you and your department to fulfill its core mission, the work that is necessary to support those functions, and the positions that perform the work.
Position(s) being considered for elimination or reduction including temporary positions For each position, identify the reason(s) the position was selected (e.g., the position’s work will no longer be performed; funding limits the number of people who can be employed and the work of a less senior employee is being distributed to employees in similar positions with more seniority, etc.). Anticipate that the positions/employees initially identified for layoff could change as an evaluation of job skills and employee layoff seniority is completed.
Post-layoff work distribution plan Identify individual positions and the work that will be assigned to them. Develop revised job descriptions, as necessary.
Possible job classification or grade changes that may result from work redistribution and/or changed job duties Identify actions you need to take to see those changes implemented (the need for job classification or salary grade changes will be determined by having the Compensation Office review new or revised job descriptions). Evaluate the budgetary impact of anticipated classification or grade changes.
Possible changes to organizational structure Identify changed reporting relationships based on the number or type of positions that you will have to eliminate or reduce, consolidation of functions, etc.
Planned vacations or other leaves of absence Make a record of planned vacations or other known leaves of absence. Your HR consultant will need this information to ensure that employees receive proper notice of layoff.
Items that may require special attention Identify/record the need to restrict access to sensitive information and information systems and/or the need to get customer feedback about planned service changes.
Special considerations for employees If any employees scheduled to be laid off have indicated an interest in retirement, ensure that they have sufficient notice so that they can plan the timing of retirement to coincide with the layoff effective date if possible.

Identify any professional staff who have accrued more than 240 hours of vacation time off, and make sure they understand the vacation time off payout limitations of the Professional Staff Program.

Layoff notification planning
Planning element Planning goal
Written resources
for employees
Work with HR to ensure that all written resources employees receive are assembled, checked for accuracy, and ready for delivery.
Support resources Ensure availability and arrange for the presence of any special support resources, e.g., WA EAP. Review the “Resources to help employees” section below.
Layoff notification environment Provide for private meetings with the employees whose positions will be eliminated, reduced, or restructured.
Employees who become especially upset Some employees can become especially upset following layoff notification. Anticipate this possibility and discuss it with your HR consultant, especially if an employee’s prior behavior indicates that concern may be warranted.
Post-layoff notification planning
Planning element Planning goal
Plan for employees who will move to another department through the layoff process – bumping or rehire list placement Review the Transferring Employee Checklists (campus) (PDF).
Plan in advance for tasks related to ending employment Review the Ending Employment Checklist (campus) (PDF).

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Communication planning

When confronted with the need to eliminate or reduce positions, some supervisors may be reluctant to share information out of fear that employees will leave for other jobs before the unit is ready, or that they will become upset and unproductive. Instead, it is almost universally the case that employees respond best when they receive accurate and timely information about the circumstances the unit faces. Your unit’s HR consultant can help you to be prepared to meet your unit’s communication needs.

If employees remaining in the unit after layoffs believe that management has neglected their needs by withholding critical information for too long, they may not trust management, may not support changes in work, and may look for other employment opportunities just when their contributions are most needed.

Your communication to employees should be:

  • Honest: It is accurate, complete, and direct. It conveys information that employees need to hear, even if it is not pleasant. It doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat or minimize a difficult situation.
  • Authoritative: It comes from a person employees trust to provide accurate information.
  • Inclusive: All levels of an organization are included in the communication plan. It is important that individuals or groups not feel left out when important information is delivered.
  • Timely: Information is conveyed when it is fresh and not as an afterthought. Employees should hear from their management before they hear about possible layoffs from clients.
  • Responsive: Employees should have an opportunity to comment, ask questions, and provide input to decision makers. If there are going to be service changes, provide employees with information they can share with clients. It can be disheartening to both employees and clients when employees do not have an opportunity to provide useful information in response to client questions.
Tailor your communication plan

Tailor communication to the circumstances of the layoff and the dynamics of the workplace. For example, if one or two employees must be laid off due to loss of grant funding, the employee communication will need to recognize that:

  • Affected employees are likely to know about the situation from the principal investigator.
  • Employees generally understand the reason for position elimination and are focused on finding employment and learning about health insurance coverage rather than exploring the reasons behind or justification for layoff.
  • Communication and planning are directed at helping employees understand and avail themselves of resources that can help with questions about benefits coverage, finding employment, etc.

When significant funding reductions or departmental restructuring are anticipated, employees will be anxious about their own security and look to management for information that will help them know what to expect. If this is your situation, share as much information as you reasonably can about your assessment and planning process so employees do not feel left in the dark. In the absence of real information, rumors may propagate and disrupt the workplace.

If employees do not know of the situation, determine how soon you can tell them about it.

Anticipate that employees whose positions are being eliminated or reduced will want to know how the decisions about which positions to eliminate were made.

Group dynamics

Group meetings can be effective if affected employees get along and trust each other. However, if the group is not very cohesive or if there is a history of conflict, consider meeting individually so that employees will feel free to air any concerns they may have.

Prepare for workload concerns

Employees will want to know how service or performance expectations will be adjusted after a significant staff reduction. Be prepared to tell employees how you plan to make adjustments to service standards and/or expectations. Be sure to share that information with affected clients.

If employees do not see management acknowledge that “things are different” and that expectations of them are therefore different, they are likely to feel that the burden of the reductions is falling on their shoulders and that management has not developed a comprehensive plan.

Plan for employee response

We all react differently to information that will affect our employment adversely. Some will immediately begin to marshal financial resources and develop an action plan for a job change. Others may be daunted by the challenges they will face and experience fear, shock, anger, grief, a sense of helplessness, depression, or difficulty focusing on tasks.

Employees who remain after staff reductions may also need support. They may experience guilt if close friends have lost their jobs. If management has not adequately addressed revised service plans, employees may be angry and frustrated. They may not deliver services effectively and share their frustrations with customers and employees in other units.

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Planning checklist

The checklist below contains various elements to consider and necessary actions for planning and implementation of staff reductions. Due to the unique nature of each individual situation, some items may occur simultaneously, in a different order than in the list below, or not at all. Be sure to read through them and recognize which are applicable.

Layoff preparation
  • For less complex layoffs: as soon as you know layoffs will be necessary, enter a request to initiate layoff for each affected employee into the layoff request tool.
  • Notify your HR consultant as soon as you become aware that you will face a complex layoff situation.
  • Identify all positions that may be affected. Review the job description and identify the essential experience, skills, and/or knowledge that are necessary for each position.
  • Evaluate how work assignments are structured and assess whether the current structure most efficiently meets unit goals and objectives, including cyclic periods of more intense work demands.
  • Develop new or revised job descriptions that reflect restructuring required by reductions. Include essential knowledge, experience, and training.
  • Utilize services of your Human Resources Service Team and the Compensation Office to determine the job title/classification assignment for any new or revised position. Ensure that your revised work configuration plan is consistent with your budget.
Communication planning
  • List all the individuals who need to know about the planned staff reductions and develop a communication/notification schedule. Include senior management, business partners or customers, directly affected employees and other employees in the unit.
  • Ensure that each affected group receives timely communication.
  • Anticipate any communication challenges or concerns and discuss them with your HR consultant and/or WA EAP.
  • Ensure the availability of appropriate decision makers who can explain the rationale for the reductions and who can respond authoritatively to employee questions or concerns.
  • Identify any information systems or other security issues related to the reductions and consult with appropriate technology or other support units to mitigate them.
  • Discuss any support requirements you anticipate, like assistance from WA EAP, with your HR consultant.
  • Remind classified employees scheduled for layoff to provide your HR consultant with a current resume. This will help the HR consultant determine what employment options may be available. Employees who have had active duty military service or are an unmarried widow or widower of a veteran with active duty service should provide their HR consultant with a copy of their official military discharge documents so that applicable active duty service can be counted toward layoff seniority.

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Resources to help employees

Below, you’ll find additional information that we encourage you to review with any employees scheduled for layoff.

Time off balances

Let employees know what their current time off balances are and what their projected balances will be as of the effective date of layoff. Ensure that employees know what will happen to their time off and or compensatory time accumulations (for example, professional staff are not paid for more than 240 hours of vacation time off, regardless of the final vacation time off balance).


The benefits summary for employees at layoff can help employees with questions about insurance coverage following layoff, including medical/dental and life insurance, retirement plans, and other benefits. Employees may also send questions to Employee Workday Help.

Laid off employees who work for the UW for at least eight hours a month will continue to receive the employer-paid portion of medical and dental benefits for up to twenty-four (24) months following the layoff effective date. The opportunity for such work is based on the need for workers and is not guaranteed. To ensure benefits are kept current, employees who are working as a temporary employee following layoff should notify Employee Workday Help.

Employee Assistance Program

The Washington State Employee Assistance Program (WA EAP) supports PEBB-eligible University of Washington employees and their household members to help identify and resolve personal concerns to promote individual and workplace wellbeing. This benefit is free to employees and their household members. Call 877-313-4455 for assistance, 24/7.

UW employment resources

Encourage employees to review UW job listings.

Employees scheduled for layoff may also wish to consider exploring temporary employment opportunities at the University through UTemp Staffing.

Unemployment compensation

Individuals who meet eligibility criteria and who are laid off from the UW may be eligible for unemployment benefits. For more information, view UWHR’s Unemployment benefits webpages along with information provided by the Employment Security Department regarding unemployment benefits in WA state.

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