When is it time to put a six-figure salary and the financial well-being of your loved ones in jeopardy?

Considering the state of the economy, the short answer is never…but life is never that easy and clean.

What happens in those rare instances in which your employer is in the process of making a decision that you just can’t live with, maybe one that is immoral, unethical or even illegal. It’s easy in the abstract to say that you would take the honorable course of action and resign, but that is much easier said than done.

History has shown that meekly clicking heels and being complicit in improper activity is a non-starter. If you need further amplification just ponder the literally hundreds of Nuremberg defendants who piously justified their atrocities by reciting: “I was just following orders.” They all hung just the same.

Fortunately in my three decades in public relations, I have only been faced with this dilemma once, and yes I was ready to resign if necessary. It concerned a planned layoff of 600 employees or 8 percent of our workforce at LSI Logic, a Silicon Valley semiconductor company.

laidoff2

What is immoral, unethical or illegal about a layoff? Certainly they are gut-wrenching, but most will conclude that sometimes they are absolutely imperative for companies to survive. And that was certainly the case shortly after the Internet Bubble burst circa 2000-2001.

Bloomberg reported the story accurately when it stated: “LSI Logic Corp., the largest maker of custom semiconductors, said it will fire 600 workers, or about 8% of its worldwide work force, as it consolidates plants to cope with declining sales. The job reductions will be made mainly in Colorado Springs, Colo., where an aging plant will be closed by the end of October. A smaller facility in Santa Clara, Calif., also will be closed.”

The key is the report ran in newspapers and online September 20, 2001, the day after the actual layoff and LSI Logic’s corresponding announcement to Wall Street investors that revenues would be 10-15 percent lower than anticipated.

The real story is that the layoff was planned for September 12, 2001, the day after…

…September 11, 2001.

Sept11

Can you imagine the reaction both internally and externally if LSI Logic had the audacity to lay off 600 workers literally hours after the hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Would you want to work for a company that didn’t have the decency to wait before shedding 8 percent of its workforce only 24 hours after the country was attacked? And yet that is what the leadership of the company Human Resources Department wanted to do, and they were arguing this point passionately to corporate executives.

I literally sat in horror as the then-vice president of Human Resources (a good person overall) described how the impacted would be informed, how HR reps were in place all over the country, and that all the final checks had been cut.

When I finally was presented with an opportunity to weigh in as the director of Corporate Public Relations, I decided to hold off with my suggestion that I should personally be added to the layoff list. Instead, I diplomatically acknowledged the efforts of Human Resources, referenced the breaking September 11 news reports and suggested that the best course of action was to postpone this action until we knew more about the severity of the attacks. The decision was made to postpone until Friday…whew.

When we met again the following day, September 12, HR was still committed to proceeding that Friday, the National Day of Mourning for the victims of September 11. The nation’s flags were at half mast. The planes were not flying. The stock exchanges were closed. The baseball and football games were cancelled. This was not business as usual in America, and yet the Human Resources leadership was bound and determined to prevail.

Even though the layoff was postponed once, I was still prepared to tender my resignation if the company was going forward with the layoff that Friday. Once again, I put that proclamation in my back pocket (at least for the time being) and respectfully argued that there was a “stigma” associated with the work week of Sept. 10-14, and urged postponement until the following week.

I made absolutely no friends in Human Resources that week, and caused a lot of additional work on their part. But I could not in good conscience allow the company to permanently impugn its reputation and brand for both external and internal audiences. Besides, who would want to work for a company that would lay off nearly 10 percent of its workforce just hours after hijacked planes brought down the Wall Trade Center?

I certainly didn’t want to.

Editor’s Note: Normally I do not comment on the inner workings of the organizations in which I have served. In this case, the incident was a decade ago, names have been withheld and the company leadership has completly changed. More importantly, what should be a no-brainer decision is sometimes not a no-brainer. And what would you do if confronted with the same dilemma?

http://www.bloomberg.com/

http://articles.latimes.com/keyword/lsi-logic-corp

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/21/business/worldbusiness/21iht-techbrief_ed3__125.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_Trials

http://www.lsi.com/

Advertisements