Think globally when you’re doing business internationally.
Recently a large North American customer with operations in Australia contacted us to assist with a small downsizing. We were happy to oblige and made arrangements with our partner in Australia to handle all of the arrangements.
In North America this process would include the outplacement firm being on-site while the employee is notified of their redundancy. We would support the employee emotionally as they digest the news, helping them to exit the organization in a professional manner, ensure their safe travel home before supporting them with outplacement support.
After the termination we received a call from our customer. Indeed the employee in Australia had been made informed of their redundancy, and our partner had been on-site to assist. However, rather than being escorted from the premise, as would happen in North America, the employee had been allowed to return to her desk where she chatted with colleagues, accessed her computer and stayed in the office for several more hours. The customer understandably was a little perplexed and even frustrated, wanting to understand why the process had been changed and why the employee had been allowed to stay on site, when the custom on North America was that they would leave the premises immediately.
What our customer didn’t know was that under Australian law, an organisation can be sued if the process of exiting the employee is viewed as either "unfair" or "harsh”. There have been cases where individuals have been reinstated in their job because of the "harshness " of the exit discussion, or the manner in which individual was exited. In order to avoid legal action, the line managers must give clear, fair, exit procedures in the exit conversation along with written confirmation of these procedures. This often includes the time and ability to wrap up things professionally at their desk and have discussions with colleagues prior to departing.
While is seems in stark contrast to the way things are handled in North America, this exit process in Australia was appropriate and indeed required under law to respect of the dignity of the individual. It’s a good thing that our Partner there was deeply knowledgeable about local practices and legal requirements and highlights the importance of working with an organization that has a deep understanding of local legislation, practices and customs, and can help ensure that your employees receive the best possible support and that you are not held liable for failure to follow the correct procedures.