Target closure illustrates the risks of working notice

A Canadian flag flies on a vehicle parked outside a Target store in Hamilton, January 15, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Power

Generally, getting fired means you also get sent home — free to wallow without being expected to report back to work the next day. But that wasn’t the case for many of the 17,600 Target workers losing their jobs in the retailer’s closure of its Canadian operations. 

Workers were given working notice, meaning they’ll have to continue to work — some for up to 16 weeks — before the stores’ final closure dates. Regardless of when their last day is, all employees will receive a full 16 weeks of pay — while managers will receive additional payouts totalling up to $6.5 million.

Giving working notice may be a bit unexpected but it’s a decision that’s completely above-board legally, said Lisa Stam, partner at Koldorf Stam in Toronto. 

“Unless you have a contract provision that states otherwise, what an employee is entitled to is notice, and then the employer can either elect to provide notice or pay in lieu of notice.”

Working notice is seen more often now than 20 or 25 years ago because it is a method where employers can get value in return for pay, said Ron Minken, managing director at Minken Employment Lawyers in Unionville, Ont. 

“However, because of the risks associated with it, many companies would definitely not do it. We see it done with employees that are very long-term employees, employees that are really trusted and also industries where there is little potential for harm or sabotage by the employees.”

The potential risks depend on a number of factors, said Cissy Pau, principal consultant at Clear HR Consulting in Vancouver. 

“It really depends on the employee and it depends on the culture of the company,” she said. “I’ve seen it work both ways.

“It really depends on the company being able to evaluate that employee’s reaction to the termination, and whether they’re able to still perform their job and do a good job and not jeopardize the business.” 

Sabotage and other risks

Negative impacts on performance, productivity and morale are likely byproducts of working notice, said Stam.  

“Nobody’s going to be overly motivated if they were just terminated, so there’s always the risk that your employee is just not going to be performing, and it just may be a waste of your resources,” she said. 

“There’s also the risk of them sabotaging all of the electronic assets or going on the server and deleting things.” 

There could be some risk of property damage, defamation or harassment when employees become highly disgruntled, said Minken. Employees could also take confidential information or pass proprietary information to competitors. 

There are particular risks when it comes to client-facing roles, such as with Target, he  said. 

“Target provides product and service assistance to customers so if you have unmotivated staff, if you have unfriendly staff, staff with poor morale or a lack of motivation, then you’re not going to exceed on sales, certainly,” he said. 

“Are they going to be very pleasant to your clients anymore? Are they going to be complaining to your clients or customers? It depends on the role. If it’s a receptionist and they’re the face of the company, you might want to think twice about working notice for that person,” said Stam. 

You’ve basically told the employee she’s not wanted, so there’s a good chance of a negative reaction, said Fitzgibbon. 

“Are they going to poison whatever sort of working environment you have by becoming a source of discontent in the workplace?” he said. 

“Oftentimes, when you’re going through a restructuring, you’re trying to straighten out your workforce. And is having this person around going to bring everybody down to the point where you’re defeating the purpose?”

Whether or not working notice is a ticking time bomb depends on the employee’s personality, said Minken. 

“And you don’t know what they’re going to do until it happens.”

— This story originally appeared on HRReporter.com
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