The ethics of firing in the time of coronavirus

29.6.20 The Jerusalem Post


While firing a worker is rarely an easy decision, it is often a necessary one for the very survival of a business.

Beyond the corona epidemic’s obvious cost in terms of human life and medical impact, the emotional toll and economic havoc can in no way be minimized. Tens of millions of people across the globe have lost their livelihoods, often with little or no advance notice.

There is no disputing that this is a deeply challenging time for employees but also for employers, who have been forced to let workers go after years of dedicated work together.

While firing a worker is rarely an easy decision, it is often a necessary one for the very survival of a business. Yet despite the fact that taking such actions is certainly justified – particularly in these times – there are definite moral and ethical calculations that must be made surrounding this decision.

The decisions that come into play when deciding an employee’s fate are guided by several factors, some of which are beyond his or her control. Those factors may be tied to financial allegiance to a company’s owner or its stockholders and investors. While those allegiances must be respected, financial considerations alone cannot guide all decisions. The decision must also take into account relationships with clients and suppliers and, no less so, the employees themselves. A company’s success is dependent on the dedication of these employees, and to ignore that in times of crisis is both irresponsible and unethical. Certainly there is a hierarchy when analyzing these factors, but each and every one must be looked at before deciding to end a working relationship with an employee.

The ethics of firing requires several further points of consideration.

Firstly, recognizing that this can be a life-altering decision for the employee, the employer must not take it lightly. An employer, regardless of the size of the operation, must seek out all possible avenues to avoid firing employees. Even if this might require concessions from either party, if there are options that are short of all-out firing, they must be explored and considered. Ethical practice is based on a biblical principle that the “other” must be viewed as a “brother or sister” – we must look at the pain being experienced by another as though it were our own. A dedicated worker cannot be viewed as a file or a number, but as a fellow human being whose emotional pain is ours.

There is also an ethical concept of debt and “payback” whereby we owe our deep consideration to those who have helped us in the past. Good workers are those who invests more than the value of their particular salaries. When that is the case, they deserve that we return that dedication with a sense of enhanced compassion in times of economic challenge.

YET WE fully recognize that there is often no choice but to let a good worker go.

Even when that difficult decision has been made, there are ethical questions to be addressed. For example, an employer might have to choose between firing a small number of employees or imposing pay cuts on the entire staff. Here ethics says we ask that all share the burden.

Similarly, when an employer has to choose between two (or more) workers as to whom to fire, it is legitimate to ask who among them will be better positioned to find a new job and more quickly. This requires analysis of factors such as age, gender, health, etc. A worker who has been with a company for a longer time also deserves greater consideration.

As part of the process, every consideration must be given to the emotional needs of the employee. Workers should be given the chance to speak out in defense of their rights and needs, even before a final decision has been made. Empathy must be the guiding principle for how we act, and we must do everything possible to put ourselves in their mindsets.

Of course, ethical practice mandates that an employer ensure that all monies due to a fired employee are provided in due course and, where relevant, assist in identifying and securing government or other assistance. And the ultimate display of empathy would be to do whatever possible to help the person find new and gainful employment.

Throughout all steps in this deeply painful process, we are compelled to remember that we are dealing with people for whom unemployment could be devastating. They deserve to know that their pain is shared and that their challenges are not being overshadowed by our own.

Our hope and prayer is that by being guided by ethical and moral practice even in these most trying of times, we will be blessed to quickly be taken out of this time of crisis and soon return to accepting new workers in a period of growth, prosperity and good health.

לקריאה נוספת:

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עוד בצהר לאתיקה

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