Retrenchments go online as more work from home
With many working from home, firms have been laying off workers over videoconferencing, making a painful process seem more callous
After working at a multi-national corporation for more than 20 years, a man was terminated over e-mail in April. A subsequent meeting over videoconferencing platform Zoom lasted less than 15 minutes as he could not reach an agreement with his employer. The company said it would courier his belongings to him as he would not be allowed into the building.
With the pandemic wreaking havoc on jobs, more people around the world are being fired or retrenched through electronic means which has led to unhappiness between the parties.
The man's lawyer, Ms Muntaz Zainuddin, a partner at IRB Law, told The New Paper her client was upset with how he had been terminated despite working there for so long.
Ms Muntaz said: "He felt the company did not value or respect him, and he immediately assumed the retrenchment package was unfair. It was how impersonal it had conducted the exercise that led him to have suspicions about whether his package was fair."
His situation is not unique.
The Daily Mail reported last month that Uber had laid off more than 3,000 workers in a three-minute Zoom call. And The Business Times reported in April that fashion start-up Zilingo had also laid off employees via Zoom.
Experts said companies have been taking retrenchment exercises online as many are still working from home, and employment lawyers said they have received more inquiries about retrenchment packages.
Maybank economists believe that retrenchments could reach 150,000 to 200,000, which means the unemployment rate could go beyond 5 per cent.
Mr Ian Lim, a partner at TSMP Law Corporation, said remote retrenchments may be inevitable at this point.
He said: "While far from ideal as it risks making a painful process more cold and unfeeling, such remote retrenchments may be unavoidable for now, with the majority of employees still working from home and with managers unable to meet them face to-face."
Ms Muntaz said while uncommon, the firm has also seen inquiries from employers asking how best to conduct retrenchment exercises online, with concerns about privacy and how to handle confrontations remotely.
She added that the parties involved should be mindful that whatever is discussed over video may be recorded. This makes it even more important that they act in a professional manner.
Mr Alvin Goh, executive director at the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said compared with e-mail, phone call, and mail, videoconferencing tools may be the best available option as it allows for face-to-face communication.
However, he cautioned that retrenchment exercises should never be done on a mass scale, as it may impact the company's reputation for future talent acquisition and staff morale.
Assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress Patrick Tay, who is also MP for West Coast GRC, suggested that companies should have follow-ups before and after the layoff.
Mr Tay, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, told TNP: "It is best to have one-to-one communication so it does not leave the affected employees with a bitter aftertaste after the severance .
"Workers who are still with the company are also looking at how the exercise is carried out and watching the employer's actions and decisions closely."