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The Lowdown On Layoffs

It’s been less than two years since Sept. 11 devastated Hawaii’s visitor industry, sending thousands of laid-off workers to the state unemployment office. Today, local businesses, especially tourism-related, are once again at the mercy of unpredictable political events. Unfortunately, that means their employees are vulnerable, as well.

“The impact might be smaller than after Sept. 11, because businesses shed labor very rapidly after 9/11,” says Byron Gangnes, director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization’s Hawaii Research Group. “So any potential job losses might be tempered, because employers have already shed excess labor, meaning they’re probably more lean now than they were before Sept. 11.”

It’s difficult to predict the impact of war on Hawaii’s labor force, Gangnes says, since several factors are involved. Nevertheless, local employers and employees should be prepared for the possibility of layoffs. Here are some tips for both groups:

The Waiting Game: Local residents await their turn at the state Unemployment Office. It's still unclear how the war will affect Hawaii's labor force.

Employers
Communicate. “The worst thing to do is to catch your employees off guard,” says Ann Katekaru, senior consultant at Inkinen & Associates Inc. “Keep those communication channels open, and keep your employees in the loop about how business is doing.” In the case of layoffs, inform employees of their rights, as well as the benefits to which they are entitled.

Provide a fair separation package. This could include severance pay, continuation of health coverage or other benefits, and free counseling services.

Offer as much help as possible to ease the transition. If resources allow, provide outplacement transition services for laid-off workers. Offer them assistance in honing their job-application skills. Host an internal job fair. Check with other local companies for potential job openings.

Give employees fair warning. If there are 100 or more full-time employees, and the layoff may affect 50 or more employees within 180 days, consider giving employees advance written notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, suggests local employment attorney Jeffrey Harris, partner in the law firm Torkildson Katz Fonseca Jaffe Moore & Hetherington. For more information on WARN, contact the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration at (202) 219-5577 or visit www.dol.gov.

Utilize state resources. For companies planning to lay off 20 or more employees, consult the state’s Workforce Development Division. The office’s Rapid Response Team can assist in several areas, such as job placement, explaining unemployment benefits, helping with job-loss stress, providing counseling and occupation-skills training. Call 1-877-US-2JOBS, or visit www.dlir.state.hi.us/wdd/.

Employees1
Secure health insurance. This should be the top priority for laid-off workers. Most companies offer COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), a U.S. program that allows employees to continue their policies for up to 18 months. For information on COBRA, visit http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/health-plans/cobra.htm. Other alternatives include insurance coverage under a spouse’s plan or applying for an individual plan. Some workers may also be eligible for the state’s QUEST program ((808) 524-3370, www.state.hi.us/dhs).

Get what you deserve. Workers should thoroughly discuss their rights with their human-resources department. Ask about payouts for accrued vacation, sick days or personal leave. If applicable, find out about rollover deadlines for retirement plans. Try to negotiate a severance package, be it money or health benefits, to ease the transition.

File an unemployment claim. For more information on eligibility requirements, visit http://dlir.state.hi.us or call (808) 643-5555.

Get ready to pound the pavement. Obtain a recommendation letter from your employer for future job applications. Search the classifieds; ask around; update your resume and brush up on interviewing skills.

1 Source: Altres Inc.

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