This layoff could have been an email. Is there a good way to lose your job

Is there a good way to lay off a remote worker? 

Four years after remote work became the norm for a huge section of the labour force, it appears some companies are still struggling with the etiquette of letting someone go virtually. And amid a gradually cooling labour market and mass layoffs in several sectors, such as media and the tech industry, it’s become a common situation to be let go online.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Bell employees were supposedly laid off in 10-minute group virtual meetings, a move the union representing them called “beyond shameful.” In a news release, the union claimed that Bell’s human resources and labour manager read a notice and didn’t allow anyone to un-mute to ask questions.

“These members have been living in dread of a meeting invite to find out they’ve lost their job since Bell announced the termination of thousands of jobs almost six weeks ago,” Unifor national president Lana Payne said in the release.

CBC News has reached out to Bell to confirm the details. 

While this example of virtual group layoffs is making headlines, Bell is far from the first.

Allison Venditt, founder of Moms at Work says her organization is hearing from parents who are on more than a dozen waitlists for after school care.
Allison Venditti, founder of Moms at Work, says there are good ways to lay off people virtually, and it’s not in groups. (Submitted by Allison Venditti)

It’s “incredibly unprofessional,” said Allison Venditti, a human resources expert in Toronto who is also the founder of advocacy group Moms at Work, Canada’s largest organization for working mothers.

“This isn’t normal and it shouldn’t be,” Venditti said. “We’re losing the human in human resources.”

Legally, as long as it’s followed up by a notification in writing, there’s nothing stopping employers from terminating people virtually, even in mass meetings, said Andrew Monkhouse, managing partner at Toronto employment law firm Monkhouse Law and an adjunct professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

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Working from home has become the new normal for many since the pandemic, but for some employees, teleworking has started to lose its shine.

“But from a human resources, human being perspective, terminating people in unorthodox ways or impersonal ways, like a … mass zoom call, is very much suboptimal, and it doesn’t come across as being polite or reasonable to the employee that’s being let go,” Monkhouse told CBC News.

A short history of infamous layoffs

About 20 per cent of Canadians still work most of their hours from home, Statistics Canada reported in January. While that’s a drop from 40 per cent in 2020, it’s still much higher than pre-pandemic level of seven per cent.

And it’s not a trend that seems to be going away. A 2023 paper from the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research found that job postings saying employees could work remotely one day or more a week increased five-fold in Canada from 2019 to 2023.

The researchers found that remote work is more common in jobs…

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