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Ask HR: Do Companies Have to Rehire Laid-Off Employees?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

Seven months ago, I was laid off from a position I had held for nearly 10 years. In the meantime, I took a temporary position that is ending soon. In a recent job search, I came across a posting for my previous position. Is my company obliged to offer me the position first? Should I apply for the position? —Cameron  

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: While overall employment is high and there is a great deal of demand for talent, some industries have experienced a slowdown. You're not alone in facing this challenge. Many people are bearing the impact of recent economic shifts.

If your company has a unionized workforce, it may be required to recall laid-off workers before filling positions with new people. However, unless you have a signed contract or collective bargaining agreement with your employer, it is not obligated to offer you your previous job. But even if you aren't covered under an existing agreement, you may still have a shot at being rehired. Employers rehiring previously laid-off workers isn't unheard of, especially in today's competitive labor market with sporadic economic shifts.  

Your institutional knowledge and previous experience may be attractive to the organization. When rehiring, many organizations consider an employee's tenure, job performance, and whether the layoff was part of a company restructure or just a slowdown in business. If your company was pleased with your performance in the role, you may be an appealing candidate.

I suggest reaching out to the company's HR team to understand its rehiring policies and practices. The team may be able to share some insight on its strategy for evaluating laid-off and former employees.

Even if the previous position is not currently an option, you may still be a fit for other opportunities within the company. Being open to such opportunities will highlight your dedication to the company and your flexibility.

I'll add this: Even if your former employer isn't committed to choosing an internal candidate, it could still require you to reapply and participate in the interview process.

While it may be a difficult time, keep exploring your options and selling your brand. I hope you land a valuable career opportunity.

I manage a small delivery center that operates on nights, weekends and most federal holidays. We have a hardworking, dedicated staff. We often take a morale hit when a portion of our staff is required to work on holidays, even though workers receive double time on those days. What can we do to curb the drop in morale on holidays? —Lonnie

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: People at around-the-clock workplaces commit a large portion of their lives to their employers. Oftentimes, their schedules don't match those of their family and friends. They frequently miss out on celebrations and engaging with the people they care about most.

It is especially important to acknowledge their sacrifices and contributions to the workplace. Simply thanking employees for their work on holidays can set the stage for enhancing their workplace experience.

It's not uncommon for workers to develop strong bonds with their colleagues in these types of work environments. Creating events to cultivate a sense of community can elevate the work experience. Celebrating holidays at work helps curb the fear of missing out that special days often bring. Here are a few ideas for enriching holiday workdays:

  • Hold charity fundraisers associated with the holidays.
  • Cater lunch with foods associated with a particular day.
  • Arrange a holiday trivia contest with prizes.
  • Share personal stories of what the holiday means to employees.
  • Orchestrate educational expos to highlight the history of holiday traditions.
  • Offer gift cards and rewards to commemorate holiday shifts (e.g., T-shirts, patches, mugs).

Busy holidays don't necessarily need to be negative events for workers. See them as an opportunity for your employees to come together and make the most out of the work experience.