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Virtual Layoffs Remain a Common Practice

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many employees worked from home, employee layoffs necessarily occurred through Zoom, email, or other virtual options. As we move forward, numerous articles online reflect that virtual layoffs remain prevalent in 2023. McDonald's Corp. asked staff to work remotely to communicate layoff decisions while the employees were home. Similarly, Twitter closed its offices in November to notify its employees about layoffs, and PepsiCo Inc did the same in December. Google emailed employees, immediately revoked their email access, and employees found their security badges no longer worked.

These methods have elicited mixed reactions. Some employers find virtual layoffs minimize the risk to proprietary information because employees cannot remove items from the work site. Such choices may also be less disruptive to the company's business—when employees react to the news, they cannot share it throughout the space. One expert interviewed by The Washington Post (“WaPo”) believes shutting down offices reflects sensitivity to employee needs during these fraught moments, provided the information is conveyed one-on-one. A McDonald’s source told WaPo its goal was to provide “dignity, confidentiality and comfort” to employees.

However, some employees find virtual firings impersonal and create negative feelings from current and former employees. Employees analogize it to breaking up with a partner via text, which is considered insensitive. An Amazon gaming unit employee shared with WaPo that she tried to sign on for work one morning and found her access to internal systems had been drastically reduced, except for a 15-minute "Organizational Update" meeting. When the employee attended the meeting, the manager explained Amazon eliminated her position while reading from a script. For the employee, the process felt incredibly impersonal. Other employees note the importance of being able to say goodbye to their coworkers and pack up their belongings.