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Think twice about ‘quiet firing’

Open office interior with empty workstations


First there was “quiet quitting,” a phenomenon in which employees reduce the effort and initiative they put into their job until they’re doing the bare minimum. Then, that was quickly followed by the idea of “quiet firing,” or effectively reducing an employee’s hours and/or responsibilities until they resign.

Ostensibly, quiet firing would be most effective with hourly workers, as any loss in hours would trigger a concurrent loss of income. However, even salaried employees can be driven to quit if they’re passively neglected and given low value work or an unfavorable schedule.

Quiet firing may seem like an attractive option on the surface. As an employer, you’d get to avoid an uncomfortable conversation and (potentially) feelings of responsibility for terminating someone’s job. But the real goal, for some, is to avoid unemployment compensation claims because employees who quit generally don’t qualify for benefits.

While quiet firing may feel justified, or like the path of least resistance, such a maneuver is actually riskier than it’s worth.

Here are several ways “quiet firing” can go wrong:

  • Reducing an employee’s hours could be construed as disparate treatment and/or an adverse employment action in a discrimination claim.
  • If an employee quits as a result of a reduction in hours, or other intolerable conditions, that could be construed as a constructive dismissal. Such an employee could make a wrongful termination claim.
  • An employee who quits as a result of a significant reduction in hours may still be eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Morale issues are often contagious. Disgruntled employees can stir up bad feelings, fear and mistrust in management before finally walking out the door.

Instead, when faced with an employee who is not performing up to standards, employers should adhere to established best practices: coaching, communication, and when necessary, documented discipline.

A clear, straightforward approach is better for team morale and organizational risk management.

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