how can we keep involving our laid-off staff in our work?

A reader writes:

I work at a nonprofit organization that has recently (and hopefully temporarily) laid off most of its programming staff because social distancing requirements and the dangers of Covid-19 made it impossible to provide safe and meaningful experiences for our participants. Our budget has been dramatically cut because most of our income was fees for services, so we’re planning on a deficit this year.

During the fall we plan to use the unexpected downtime to lean into strategic planning, racial equity work, and evaluating some HR and culture practices. All of these projects require participation from staff at all levels in order to be successful, and we obviously want to include some of the recently laid-off staff. Their perspectives are necessary, and we also really hope to hire a lot of them back as soon as it’s safe to resume our work.

Right now, we have almost no money left in the budget to pay folks for hours worked, though.

I know what the laws are about paid and unpaid meetings, but I don’t just want to be legally compliant: I want to do right by our staff. I could really use some guidance from you on the ethics and the prevailing sentiments about this.

I think it’s clear that ethically we need to pay folks for their participation in developing our strategic plan, because even if it’s optional and not part of their normal jobs, it’s still work that they should be compensated for. I think it’s also clear that the same goes for racial equity initiatives.

I do think that it’s okay not to pay folks to attend truly optional gatherings that are purely social in nature and intended to give the team opportunities to stay connected — and not do any work. Does that seem fair, or am I off-base?

Plus, there are other areas that feel more murky: What about truly optional informational meetings, where attendance is not at all required, but where interested laid-off staff could sign on to stay up to speed with what’s happening with the organization? What about offering laid-off staff the opportunity to have an exit interview to share their thoughts and feelings about the lay-offs — should that be considered paid work? Or what if we start an anti-racist book club? Do I need to either pay folks or not invite them to join?

Should we just decide that 100% of staff activities must be paid, and scrap all the ones we can’t afford? I’m really trying to do the right thing.

You’re right about the letter of the law — you need to pay people for attending or participating in work meetings (like strategic planning or racial equity work) but not for truly social gatherings that are 100% optional.

But I think you also need to factor in the psychological effects of all this.

First, people will 100% feel pressured to participate in all or most of these activities whether they want to or not, because they will worry that it could affect whether or not they’re re-hired. That’s not an illogical worry. Let’s say Jane attends most of these meetings and Cecil doesn’t. It turns out you only have money to re-hire a few of the staff, and Jane and Cecil are equally capable employees. Will Jane really not get extra consideration for the commitment and engagement she’s shown? Or for the great idea she contributed at the planning meeting Cecil wasn’t at? Even if you’re confident the answer is no, employees will worry the answer is yes — and so you’ll get people feeling pressured to participate in work events for a job they’re no longer employed by, out of fear that they have to.

Second, it sounds like you’re still thinking of the laid-off staff as current employees, just ones who are in a temporary limbo. But a least for now, they are former employees. There is no guarantee you’ll be able to hire them back. And it’s not in their best interests to keep them tied to the organization in all of these ways when the reality is that they need to be actively searching for other work. If you keep signaling to them that they’re still part of the staff, some of them will be less likely to job search, or to job search as actively. While it’s clear you want to do right by them, you’ve got to be careful not to give people false hope in a way that could have serious consequences for their financial security.

Right now, you’re planning to ask people to invest real energy in an organization they may not be returning to.

You’re also assuming that they’ll still be available if/when you can bring them back. But they should all be actively job-hunting now, and if that goes well for them — and you have to want it to go well — they may not be coming back even if you’re able to offer it at some point.

I get why you want to include this group’s perspectives in the work you’re doing. The racial equity work, in particular, is the kind of work where it’s tricky to move forward with a big piece of the group missing, if they do later return. But these aren’t your employees now, and for the reasons above you shouldn’t keep treating them like they are.

As for the other areas you listed — optional information meetings, exit interviews, book clubs — apply the same principles. Don’t do anything that asks people to invest real time or energy while they’re not working for you. Don’t extend offers of involvement that will lead people to believe they’re definitely coming back. Respect that while it might be better for the organization to have their involvement, it’s better for them to see this as a clean break. One way to assess all of this might be: Would you do X if you knew the layoffs were permanent and they wouldn’t be returning? (One exception might be the occasional informational meeting about what’s going on, but even there I’d think about ways to make their time investment extremely light — for example, does it need to be a meeting or can it be an email, etc.)

Last, I know being a nonprofit makes this feel different: People are often committed in ways they wouldn’t be to a for-profit business, and will care about your mission and your successes whether they’re employed there or not. What you’re proposing isn’t nearly as odd in a nonprofit as it would be to propose it in a for-profit context. Nonprofits are different in this way, especially since these are program staff and not, say, payroll or IT. But that doesn’t change any of the points above — it’s still in your former staff’s best interests to have clear delineations between “employed by you” and “not employed by you.”

{ 212 comments… read them below }

  1. Even In an Emergency*

    OP I think your heart is in a wonderful place. But I would feel so much guilt and confusion to be this involved in an organization that laid me off. It would definitely affect my job hunt and make me feel pulled in two directions. I think the best think you can do is offer jobs back as much as possible and be an excellent reference for those that need you!

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Not gonna lie, I’d be furious. First lay me off, and THEN start looking for me to put in emotional labor to help you make it a better workplace … for everyone you DIDN’T turf? That tells me exactly how much you valued me as an employee.

      Sure, that’s not how you mean it — but you can’t spin this well enough for at least some people not to take it that way.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. “Resentful” doesn’t begin to describe how I’d feel if I were laid off and then, what, baited with opportunities to remain emotionally invested? [Deleted expletive] all of that.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          For the record: I work for a nonprofit and am confident that my employer would not do this. We get reminded that we’re not even supposed to answer phones on our lunch breaks (for those of us who are hourly).

            1. Dust Bunny*

              We have pretty low turnover and a big part of the reason is that they don’t jerk employees around. Pay is meh but benefits are good and we’re encouraged to use them.

        2. TardyTardis*

          But of course you would try hard not to show your resentment, because reasons. That would just make it worse.

      2. BRR*

        I wouldn’t take it that bad but if I was laid off, the ONLY reasons I’d want to hear from my former employer is if I’m being asked to come back to work, they needed to touch base for something like COBRA or my retirement account, or if someone had a connection for another job.

        There definitely shouldn’t be any situation where laid off stay can stay up to date unless they choose to monitor your website/social media. That’s work. And I the time for an exit interview has passed.

        I would most likely just proceed without their input, which I get why you don’t like that, or set it up to pay them for a little time to weigh in (but considering the unemployment laws in your area so as not to mess that up) or figure out where they can weigh in if/when they return. This may not apply to you but at the nonprofit I used to work, I could easily see the laid-off staff wanting to remain involved and if that’s the case for you I’d make sure to not let them.

      3. Ominous Adversary*

        Yes. Especially if they tried to spin it as a book club or a feedback meeting instead of what it really is, free labor for an organization that laid you off. No thanks.

      4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        You don’t fire someone and ask them to keep working. Attending meetings – yeah, if you’re in management you have some coercive pressure there – the implication being that if the unemployed don’t come to these “optional” meetings they won’t get called back to work. That, in my humble opinion – IS UNETHICAL AS ALL HELL.

        I see a lot of AAM activity is geared toward non-profits; I’ve never worked for one, so I don’t understand the culture but assume a lot of it is “sacrifice for the cause, and it’s not about YOU”.

        But there are limits and boundaries you have to enforce as an unemployed individual – and you’ll be better off , regardless – if you take care of YOURSELF.

        1. DarnTheMan*

          I’ve worked at a few different ones and the culture can wildly vary; there’s been non-profits where I stayed until 10 PM or so to staff an event and then was still expected to turn up for my regular work hours bright and early the following morning. But there’s also been ones (including my current one) where the opinion is we’re all doing this for the cause but nothing can get done if staff are underpaid/burning themselves out so please look after yourself – your wellbeing comes before the work.

        2. Dan*

          Re: non-profits. It’s also worth pointing out that there are different types of non-profits. I work for one but it isn’t “advocacy based”. And for me, my day-to-day life resembles that of most normal engineers. Our funding isn’t donation based. But nonetheless, we’re a non-profit.

          1. J!*

            It also really depends on if you’re in a support position (IT, accounting, etc) or involved with program work.

        3. bluephone*

          Not to always tie the working world to dating but yeah, this is like your boyfriend dumping you, then haranguing you to accompany him to weddings and other +1 social events as his girlfriend still??? Or just basically still interacting with you as if you 2 were still dating??

          It’s weird, is what I’m saying.

      5. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        I agree. Even though OP seems to mean well, it would be asking for what is essentially free consulting from laid-off employees. Of course they would feel pressure to attend. This would take time and energy from their job hunt. And their job hunt should be their priority right now. If an organization needs to let someone go, they need to understand that they need to be able to do without that employee.

      6. JSPA*

        If there’s a way to get feedback anonymously, and yet somehow pay, that would be a reasonable way to solicit feedback.

        As these are people OP trusts, they could do an absentee-ballot style, “plain envelope in the stamped return envelope,” stick that and $10 in an envelope, and saying that you’re paying them for 30 minutes of their time to fill the survey out anonymously and send it back. Give them a print and download option too, if they don’t want their handwriting to be identifiable.

        Some won’t (but that’s in itself a message of sorts, and there’s no rule against paying people for work that they don’t perform. Some may send back the $10 with their answer, in the unlikely event that they don’t need it, and want to donate it back. Also legal.

      7. Brendan*

        I agree. I would feel like I am being used.
        Maliciously or not you are trying to circumvent laws by framing these free labor sessions as social activities. Outside of this being unethical you are opening your agency up to being sanctioned.

      8. itsame*

        Yeah, as someone who is currently laid off, I don’t want information from my former employers unless it’s directly related to my status as an employee. (In my case there’s resentment for other reasons directly related to how everything about this has been handled as well, but even before those issues were known I didn’t want to hear about “the good work the company is doing” unless it was “this is what we’re doing to get our laid off employees back to work.”)

      9. TIRED*

        Yeah, I can’t really wrap my mind around what I just read. This sounds like another non-profit bullshit horror story. MY GOD.

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      OP, apologies if this sounds harsh, but you need to ask yourself WHY you want to do it:

      1. Is it to benefit your non-profit? Then you are asking people who you have laid off to volunteer their time. That is unfair.
      2. Is it to benefit your former employees? I don’t see how this would do that. In fact, as other commentators have pointed out, this could hurt them emotionally.
      3. Is it to make you feel better about having to lay them off? I suspect that is part of your rationale for doing so. If yes, you need to recognize that.

      While you have good intentions, none of this justifies asking people who lost their jobs to continue a relationship with the organization that laid them off, especially if you don’t have the means to rehire them. I’m sorry about that, but I recommend you move on.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        To clarify point 1, I understand these people would be paid. Instead of “volunteer”, I should have said “give up time they could have used elsewhere that could lead to a new job”.

    3. charo*

      Yes. Just the idea that anyone is being PAID at a meeting that others are at for free, that rankles. Throw the “racial” part into this and it’s really awkward. I can’t tell if that means some laidoff staff were people of color, or just that you’re white people who’d get together to discuss the issue. But either way, listen to the answer here.

    4. Nonprofit Nancy*

      OP definitely has the strong nonprofit perspective that I’ve seen all through my career. Of course people still care about the mission, but you need to be wearing your “source of people’s livelihoods” hat when you think through these things. People will definitely be hurt that the equity training was in the budget but not their salaries, or that you have time to pay them for some things but not others.

      1. Badger*

        Exactly. I think something I’ve encountered folks seem to have difficulty switching between the mission hat and the business hat.

    5. Amaranth*

      I’m also curious how this would impact any unemployment benefits. Can they really make a case for being laid off if they still get any kind of pay from the organization?

      1. Happily Self Employed*

        That is indeed one of the questions they ask on the unemployment website when I certify for benefits. (I am getting PUA based on my business being dormant, but they didn’t change the certification process.)

  2. JokeyJules*

    I think the most time-consuming and arduous thing I would be willing to do for a former employer is a survey – but not a long one. Maybe that’s a route to go? send a survey link, indicate it’s optional, and pose questions there for honest feedback.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I agree, a survey is about as much as you can honestly ask of former employees. And put some real work into the survey, so that it encourages your former staff to be honest and forthcoming.

    2. WellRed*

      A survey asking how the company they are no longer working for can do better in the future? Yeah, maybe, but I think it’s still not cool.

      1. Sylvan*

        Maybe, but some people would be happy to complete something like that. I would, if any former employer sent out brief, anonymous surveys. Plus, you could probably get more honest feedback from former employees than current employees.

        1. Annony*

          Yeah. But make sure to make it truly anonymous and does not have an optional name space. As Alison was saying, you don’t want to make them feel like participating will affect their chance of being rehired.

    3. LCH*

      i was thinking anonymous survey too. not sure what sort of non profit, but if it has members or clients, they could also take the survey.

    4. The Happy Graduate*

      +1 on the anonymous optional survey – I truly can’t imagine anything else going down well for reasons pointed out in Alison’s answer, and as mentioned earlier you’d definitely get more honest answers which would ultimately be more valuable.

    5. Glitsy Gus*

      That was my thought too. As long as it wasn’t too long or involved, I would be happy to fill out a short, anonymous survey from pretty much any of my previous employers on how to improve things, especially if there was a real push for inclusivity and such in there. More than that would be a bit much.

      I agree with Allison on most of this. Book clubs and such might lead to folks thinking that if they do the clubs and activities thing then they may be more likely to get on the rehire list, so I would be careful there. I know it sucks, but, until you know you can hire them back, it’s best to just let your employees handle their own lives. Be available to give great references and supply any HR type stuff they need quickly and efficiently, but other than that, let them move on. If they can come back later, great! But no one should be counting on that right now.

  3. RozGrunwald*


    LW, I hate to break this to you but your laid-off staff are out looking for new jobs (or at least, they should be) and that’s where they need to be putting their time and energy. Your desire to re-hire these folks is admirable, but since you don’t know when, or if, that’s going to happen, they need to move on with their lives and find other employment. If a friend came to me and said, “hey, my former employer is asking me to participate in some meetings they’re having, unpaid, in case they decide to hire me back in the future” I would ask them to consider how doing that helps or serves them. And I think the answer is clear: it does not. That’s time they could be spending networking, or sending out resumes, or applying for jobs online.

    Legality aside, this ask is pretty tone-deaf. I do not think you’re going to get a very positive response. This is the kind of thing that will end up as a viral “look at my dumb employer” story on social media, with your name attached to it. Please reconsider this.

    P.S., I am not at all surprised that this letter is coming from someone who works at a nonprofit. My own experience with nonprofits was that there were a lot of blurred lines between “this is a job” and “this is my life” that trickled down from senior leadership to the line employees.

    1. miro*

      “I am not at all surprised that this letter is coming from someone who works at a nonprofit. My own experience with nonprofits was that there were a lot of blurred lines between “this is a job” and “this is my life” that trickled down from senior leadership to the line employees.”

      This especially.

      1. Sarah*

        And if you don’t treat your job as if it’s your life, are you really even committed to the cause?

        Ugh. Maintaining boundaries in the nonprofit space is a whole separate exhausting exercise that I would love to see Allison’s perspective on.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Exactly this. Most employers value mission-driven employees, but none more than NPOs.

        OP, those former employees have a new mission now – finding a job. It’s wrong to ask them to continue to support yours, even if you pay them for their expertise. Please don’t fan those flames of hope and/or frustration.

      3. Agnes*

        Don’t do this. It is incredibly insensitive. You are still comfortably employed-they aren’t.

    2. The Original K.*

      “How does this serve you?” is great framing, and I agree with you that what OP is suggesting doesn’t serve these people. Admittedly, I’m coming at this from the perspective of a very recently laid-off person (today is my first day unemployed), but I see no benefit to spending time or effort helping my former employer, especially if they’re not going to pay me. I already have those people as contacts so there’s no networking benefit, and time spent doing that stuff is time I’m not spending working toward finding a new job. These people don’t work for the organization anymore – the transaction between them and the org is over. The laid-off staff may value the org’s mission, but they shouldn’t be asked to do so at the expense of their own livelihoods.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be fair to the OP, the letter says much of this would be paid. Still not the right move, as I wrote, but she’s not proposing most of it be unpaid.

      1. RozGrunwald*

        Sorry, that wasn’t what I took away from it at all. There’s also this phrase from the letter:

        “Right now, we have almost no money left in the budget to pay folks for hours worked, though.”

        So to me, regardless of the LW’s wishes, bottom line, there probably is no mechanism to pay people. I can’t separate ability to pay from the desire to pay; if the first is not present, the second doesn’t matter.

        1. Ominous Adversary*

          Yes. And, “I do think that it’s okay not to pay folks to attend truly optional gatherings that are purely social in nature and intended to give the team opportunities to stay connected — and not do any work.” They’re not part of the team anymore!

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          From the letter: “I think it’s clear that ethically we need to pay folks for their participation in developing our strategic plan, because even if it’s optional and not part of their normal jobs, it’s still work that they should be compensated for. I think it’s also clear that the same goes for racial equity initiatives.”

          1. Flossie Bobbsey*

            I also read this as the OP not paying for much, if any, of this. I read this same line as the OP acknowledging that if she were framing the meetings as developing the strategic plan or working on racial equity initiatives, that would need to be paid, but because there is “almost no money left” to do so, she’s looking for other ways to get the same exact feedback from former employees that feel more optional for employees, like the suggestions she recognizes as “murky.” Hence why it would be an anti-racist book club instead of just a general book club. Those are the events intended to elicit the feedback she wants, as opposed to the additional purely social ones she suggests.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Ah, this explains why some people are reading the letter so differently. That wasn’t my read at all, but I can see why some people are taking it that way (and that could be correct).

              1. Observer*

                And even if you are right, how do you think the laid off staff is going to read it?

                On top of the fact that they shouldn’t be asking for this kind of commitment from people anyway.

        3. The Original K.*

          This was how I read it too – she wants to pay, she knows she should pay, but the funds aren’t there.

          1. Yvette*

            Me too. I did not get the impression that this would be paid, in fact this “I do think that it’s okay not to pay folks to attend truly optional gatherings that are purely social in nature and intended to give the team opportunities to stay connected — and not do any work. Does that seem fair, or am I off-base?” Leads me to believe that LW is looking for a way to classify these meetings so that those involved would not have to be paid.

            If that is not the case I totally agree with Red Reader the Adulting Fairy “Not gonna lie, I’d be furious. First lay me off, and THEN start looking for me to put in emotional labor to help you make it a better workplace … for everyone you DIDN’T turf? That tells me exactly how much you valued me as an employee.”

      2. Annony*

        Even if it is paid, working for a couple hours might not result in them earning extra money since could be deducted from their unemployment benefits (depending on the amount). I would make sure that anyone who is offered paid time to participate in these initiatives is aware of that so that they don’t feel screwed over.

      3. Observer*

        Yes, but NONE of it should be unpaid.

        It would be a bad idea for all the reasons you laid out even if all of the time were paid. But, the second you get to even a single “voluntary” unpaid activity? That’s beyond out of line. And it WILL justifiably make a lot of people very angry.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      That’s a bit harsh, but I do agree doing this isn’t really a good idea right now for so many reasons.
      Even if they do get paid for the meetings, it’s really confusing for Unemployment reporting and may hurt people financially more than it helps.

  4. Cheese_Toast*

    I know some non-profits are truly interested in the well-being of their employees, but if I was laid off for COVID reasons and my former employer tried to pull any of this with me, I would be very suspicious that they have no intention of hiring anyone back, and are dangling the vague prospect of re-hiring to try and get free work out of me.

    I think a lot of folks have seen employers in this time try to squeeze blood from a stone, and we all need to be wary. OP, this may end up backfiring in ways you did not predict.

  5. What's with Today, today?*

    I’d be furious if I was laid off and then asked to attend anything for the former job.

    1. RobotWithHumanHair*

      Agreed. I want absolutely nothing to do with the place that had endless platitudes about bringing us back, then unceremoniously dumping us – right as the $600 UI payments expired, too.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Yes. You laid me off and still expect me to be involved? No way. I’d take it as an offense.

    3. CastIrony*

      I was even furious about coming back to mine! Okay, not really, but I sure dreaded it. I was enjoying my clean break!

  6. TCO*

    OP, if you’re looking to improve your organization’s culture and equity, this isn’t the way to do it at this time. Anything good that comes out of your work could easily be damaged by the damage you might do to employee morale and well-being.

    1. Quill*

      It is also an especially bad look for there to be any perception that people are working for less than their previous circumstances (even if they’re being paid at their former rate) on a diversity initiative.

      History of unequal pay and all that.

      1. R*

        That’s what I got from this too, besides the egregious overstepping everyone else has already mentioned), like we know why you’re doing all this anti-racist training now, considering, you know, the world, but it also feels as if this was written in a very… non-black/non-BIPOC manner, scrambling to ramp up their ‘sensitivity’ in the organization after laying off most of their staff and ‘oh we really want to pay you… but we have no money but we really want to pay you, you know.’ Especially the ‘anti-racist book club’, I don’t know, something about the way it was written just sounds like someone not in an affected group rushing to try to quickly learn. I’m so very curious to know the mission of the non-profit, or if they had some pushback in this more recent string of accountability-holding more companies have had.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, it reads like a bit of a management public image scramble, but the implementation and the hope that people who need to be looking for stable, long term work will come back out of the grace of their little hearts to do more work (paid or not – there are going to be many issues either way based on part time employment, etc) because they care so much about the mission… it’s NOT going to make things look (or be) any better.

          “We WANT to be able to pay you,” is what, in creative fields, is known as ‘for the exposure.’

          “We will pay you x per hour,” is better but in this situation it has so much potential to run afoul of the current state of unemployment and honestly OP and the other management should spend the time studying how to create diversity and equity initiatives that don’t rely on the labor of the marginalized people they’re supposed to aid.

  7. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I 100% agree with Alison.

    But I’ve also worked at nonprofits, and people who work at nonprofits tend to have a weird relationship with the place. I’ve seen people get fired and then years later end up rehired, because they wanted to come back. I’ve seen people leave for full-time jobs in completely different fields and stay on 2 hours a week to stay connected because they miss everyone. Or they ping pong back for a few months every few years when they find themselves between jobs. Or they were full-time, left, and turn up as a volunteer every year for their favorite big event.

    What I think would be important to do in this case, is to let the employees who want to have this relationship with you, approach you. Don’t approach them!!!! And if they do approach you, make it very very clear that in the event you are able to rehire people, you will be rehiring solely based on prior paid performance, not how they behaved while laid off.

    1. Smithy*

      This makes a lot of sense and also is sensitive to the mindset that a lot of nonprofit employees have – where they may genuinely have a desire to be there/help out.

      One suggestion I have to be direct those kinds of staff to any genuine volunteer programs you may already have. At my nonprofit, lots of HQ people wanted to “help” more direct service delivery programs impacted by COVID. However, when they actually saw what the volunteer needs were (i.e. make a mask to these specs, tasks that require having a car, providing support in XYZ languages) it helped crystallize that what was needed was work they either didn’t want to do or had prerequisites they couldn’t meet. Where I work, it’s also very clear that for the most part being the very best and most eager volunteer in any of those areas – while highly appreciated – would in no way impact the evaluation of your overall performance.

      If there are staff that are lost due to being fired and need or want to stay in touch – than connecting them with genuine volunteer opportunities hopefully contextualizes that they are no longer an employee.

    2. BRR*

      I wouldn’t allow the former employees who approach the organization to be more involved. I think both the laid-off employees and the employer both need to set and observe boundaries for everyone’s benefit.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I’m also really unsure of the legality of someone volunteering to do the job that they used to get paid for. I think that’s shaky legal grounds.

      1. Smithy*

        Since nonprofits can rely on volunteer staff, I wonder how the law applies to a nonprofit specifically offering someone’s paying job back as volunteer?

        That being said, because nonprofits can and often do engage with volunteers – if this organization has defined roles for volunteers, then I’d focus former staff there if they are looking to engage or contribute to the mission.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          I’m pretty sure that this is thoroughly illegal. If I remember correctly from previous discussions on this blog, if someone is also volunteering for an employer they work for, it has to be completely separate from what they do for their paid work. And laying someone off and then bringing them back as an unpaid volunteer doing similar work is not a loophole.

          If someone is laid off and still wants to volunteer for the cause, I wonder if it makes sense to direct them to similar opportunities run by other organizations. That keeps the line between employee and volunteer crystal clear, and also makes it a lot harder to believe that working without pay will help them get hired back first if things improve.

      2. JSPA*

        not shaky; completely illegal.

        In theory they can volunteer for something completely different, if that “something” has always been volunteer work. (Accountant staffing the dunk booth at the fundraiser fest, possibly bartender riding the parade float). But you can’t just shuffle jobs and call some of them “volunteer” now.

        And if the people who were laid off from the hands-on jobs skew demographically different than the upper echelon staff who were kept, to “vision”? OP does not have to ask them to know if they’ve noticed the essential unfairness of the situation. They have. Those situations (and they’re legion) are 100% “this is a situation where the problem can be seen from the top and fixed from the top if the top chooses to see it and fix it.”

        1. Person from the Resume*


          The LW says they laid off the “programming staff” which probably does skew younger, at least. But if COVID means that there is no programming to be done that is the logical place to look to lay people off.

  8. Mama Bear*

    If OP offers anything that’s less than their job back, they need to at least 1099 these folks and not string them along for no pay. Be real clear on both sides that it’s just a contract gig and don’t be offended if the employees say no. Also, if OP pulls them back in for pay, OP may impact their ability to continue to receive unemployment.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      At least in California, you report any income and the state subtracts that from your unemployment payments. The OP would have to see how it works in their state(s.) I also agree that this needs to be a paid consulting gig. My last piece of advice would be that the currently paid staff should educate themselves on the issues they wish to address before starting down the road of asking laid-off staff to weigh in on how that would work.

  9. ladymacdeath*

    Great answer, Allison. This sort of heavy-lifting social justice and equity work needs to be paid. The emotional labor of it frankly requires it, let alone the fact that your participation may be considered in your rehiring.

    I’m in a similar situation where a internship I was apart of a couple years ago is currently restructuring and wants feedback about how they can do better especially around issues of equitable hiring and fair pay. Up until now, they’ve mostly been hiring people who can be supported by their parents throughout the program because they paid so little (therefore, hiring mostly upper-class, white interns).

    They’re going to be sending out an optional, anonymous survey to past participants soon, which I think is the most they could ask of us, given that every single person my year raised this as a classist and racist issue in our exit interviews (and saw absolutely no change). They seem serious about making big changes, but it is frustrating to see this kind of movement years after issues were raised by literally dozens of interns.

    1. Observer*

      Sometimes these things take a long time to germinate. And someone seems to have gotten SOMETHING our of your suggestions, since they are doing this voluntary survey anonymously.

      1. Arvolin*

        In my experience, it’s a lot easier to send out an anonymous survey than to create any real change. I’m not impressed, particularly since this is years after a lot of complaints about injustice.

        1. Observer*

          Well, sure. I’m not about to give them a standing ovation just yet.

          Their first step is being done right, so that’s good. The real test is going to be how they handle the feedback they get.

          1. ladymacdeath*

            I’m inclined to agree with Arvolin. Considering that we were giving feedback in-person around this issue years ago, why ask for anonymous feedback now? They already know the issues we raised then (and the same issues have been raised every year).

    2. Lana Kane*

      I wanted to highlight this, becasue it’s an often-overlooked issue: “This sort of heavy-lifting social justice and equity work needs to be paid. The emotional labor of it frankly requires it, let alone the fact that your participation may be considered in your rehiring.”

      As a society we tend to view work aroiund social justice as a hobby, or a passion project, or something you participate it on your time or on top of your regular work because you will get something out of it (which, we all know, rarely comes to pass). Not to mention how emotionally difficult it can be to do this work – emtionally difficult enough that it can impact your health, as well as put you at risk for being targeted by coworkers or higher ups who don’t agree with you. It must be paid, and ideally it would be paid on top of your regular salary. It should not be any other way and should be budgeted for.

  10. A Simple Narwhal*

    I appreciate OP’s desire to keep their (former) employees engaged, and maybe I’m just weird, but once I’m no longer with a company, I have zero desire to hear about or be involved in that company any further. Granted, I’ve only left one company with fond regret (all others have either been bad jobs I’ve been happy to leave or formerly good jobs that went through bad times) but to me it’s “you paid me to be here and be involved, you’re no longer paying me, I no longer want to be involved”. And even if I was hoping to get my job back after a furlough, “optional” meetings would stress me out for all the reasons Alison mentioned.

    Disclaimer: I’ve never worked at a non-profit, so that’s a perspective I don’t have.

    1. RozGrunwald*

      Yes, I think this is where nonprofits and small businesses, in particular, fall into errors of thinking.

      Employment is not a benevolent relationship, from either side. The employer needs labor. The employee needs wages. The employee provides labor, in return for wages. The employer receives that labor and compensates it according to the terms that were agreed upon when the employee went to work. A workplace isn’t a family; it isn’t a best-friend hangout collective; it isn’t a crusade people are required to sacrifice their lives to participate in. At the core, employment is a simple exchange: labor for dollars. Laws, feelings, customs, practices are just nuances of that. And so, in that context, the LW’s request does seem somewhat egregious. Laws aside, it seems like what the LW is proposing would be attempting to maintain a psychological hold on former employees who have no tangible tie to the organization other than past employment. I don’t think that’s cool.

      1. afd*

        For a nonprofit you may genuinely be very interested and supportive of the cause. So it’s a little different. But I do think that you owe your professional self the idea that once you’re working there, and not just a supporter or a fan or a volunteer, you have a normal employer-employee relationship. There just could be some push back against that.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      You’re not weird, I feel the same way. I have also never worked for a non-profit, but…I give you my 2 weeks notice so that you, the employer can get from me all the information you need so that when I leave, you will not be left not knowing how to take care of my job duties. If employer is not prepared for this, that is not my problem. If employer is short staffed, and can’t handle the extra work, that is not my problem. If I am contacted after I am no longer employed asking for help, I will consider it, for payment and under my own terms and time table. And if I was laid off, employer can F off.

    3. Kim*

      FWIW, I have only ever worked at non-profits, and I’ve still had the same attitude as you any time I left a job.

      I wonder if there are some people outside the non-profit sphere who are assuming many of us feel some great debt to the organizations we work(ed) for and would be happy to come back and work for free. But I have never met ANYONE like that in the non-profit world. Everyone I know treats them as jobs, same as everyone else. (but maybe I hang with a particularly jaded bunch of people, ha!)

    4. Humble Schoolmarm*

      A lot of former teachers will come back to former schools show support at graduations, concerts, fundraisers etc. Those who will come back and coach a club or do other teaching-related work exist, but aren’t terribly common in my experience. Sharing materials with your successor in your off time isn’t uncommon, but s usually a one off.

  11. Bratmon*

    Sometimes I see an AAM letter and think “Thank God I don’t work in a nonprofit.” This is one of those times.

    1. lydon*

      That’s a shame. It’s really rewarding, and every non-profit I’ve worked for has been well and professionally run, and a generally pleasant place to work. I understand the impulse based on this letter – but at the very least the (very wrong, IMO) approach comes from a place of wanting to do the best for people in a sucky situation and treat them with fairness and respect. I’m not saying every non-profit I’ve worked at has achieved that, but they’ve all tried – which hasn’t been the case for my private sector employers. It’s a great sector, that gets a weirdly bad rap.

      1. Ali G*

        Same here! The 5+ years out of my 17-year professional career I spent at a for-profit was truly the worst part of my career. And it wasn’t because I couldn’t “hack” it. It was because the people in charge were awful humans who only cared about how much I could make for them.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. Plenty of nonprofits are well run, just as plenty of for-profits are badly run, and many, many people find nonprofit work far more fulfilling (I certainly did). Caring about the mission of your organization adds a complication that you generally won’t have to the same degree in other sectors, but for many people that’s a positive, not a negative.

        Can we not slam an entire sector or paint it all with one brush? It’s really not accurate.

        1. Dan*

          “Can we not slam an entire sector or paint it all with one brush?”


          I work for a non-profit that doesn’t look like the “stereotypical” places. (I mean that in the context of what we do and how we’re funded). Whatever preconceptions people have about “working at nonprofits” need to get checked at the door, because the generalizations don’t apply. Some things are true, but not all of them.

          I did similar work for a for-profit, and management there was always concerned with how much money was attached to a contract. Management at the non-profit actually gives a rip about the work product itself. Yes, we have to balance the books (we’re reminded that we’re also a “not-for loss”) but there is no such thing as a profit margin or a shareholder.

        2. WoodswomanWrites*

          Thanks for that perspective, Alison. I’ve worked for nonprofits for nearly all of my many years in the work world and it’s overall been rewarding, with great colleagues and work-life balance rather than the nose-to-the-grindstone overwork that is a common stereotype. When one nonprofit I worked at started to move in a direction that demanded a lot of extra work and wasn’t appreciating staff, the board of directors did a clean sweep, from the CEO through the senior management team, and corrected course to return it to a good place to work.

      3. Nonprofit Nancy*

        I agree, on the whole I have always been grateful not to work for a for-profit company! Sometimes folks in nonprofits can be a little naive, which is what I think we’re seeing here, but on the whole I have found a very meaningful (and financially sustainable, if just barely) career.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Sadly agree. I’ve worked at really toxic places, but at least they cut all contact when someone leaves.

    3. Smithy*

      To AAM’s point – there are many well run nonprofits, and many poorly run for-profit businesses. However, as a nonprofit lifer, I do think that letters like this indicate that as a professional sector a number of motivations for this kind of work are personal. Whether it’s an organization’s specific mission, or even just a larger desire to “do good” the personal connection staff can have to this kind of work can be very deeply felt.

      In mentoring in this sector, I think there are a couple traps that can make a lot of good intentions and impulses into problematic workplaces. Organizations and larger movements should survive if one person leaves. Not investing your professional energy in a flawed or struggling organization is typically not letting down a cause (putting aside concerns of abuse, harm, etc.). Along those lines, I think that this LW’s management needs to be particularly mindful that calls for “help” on issues of DEI may hit people where they may be highly motivated to “want to help”.

      1. BRR*

        This is very well put. As another nonprofit lifer, I’ve worked with organizations and individuals with varying levels of passion for the cause and both have their issues. And while I could also seeing this letter as being from a small business, I think the mindset of “thank god I don’t work at a nonprofit” is because you tend to get “too much passion for the work” largely in nonprofits. There are just far more nonprofits than for profits that have a purpose that overlaps with people’s personal passions.

        My current employer has its issues and none of them really are from the programmatic side. It’s departments that you would find in any business like IT that people have their gripes with.

        1. Smithy*

          Absolutely – IT, HR, “management doesn’t know how to manage” – a lot of very garden variety workplace issues.

          Where I think being mindful of this dynamic is helpful, in a way similar to knowing your industry or organization’s jargon. When you read this more as “nonprofit speak”, it’s easier to tease out a workplace response. In my personal corner of the nonprofit world, moving from organization to organization every 2-4 years is relatively common as a way to advance. But there are also lots of people I’ve worked with who’s spent years at a place and partially see that as a mark of their dedication to a particular organization/cause. Therefore, talking to someone about how sometimes you need to leave an organization for a pay/title bump – being aware of the emotion that might be brought into the conversation is helpful in framing the conversation more constructively.

    4. cody*

      I’ve only ever worked for non-profits and these sort of attitudes are actually not a common as people think. In my experience, the size of the employer is a bigger indicator of unhealthy attitudes towards employment than the non-profit status. Small non-profits, like small businesses, can be crappy to work for, but the big ones function pretty well.

      1. Dan*

        I work for a large non-profit, but started my career (doing similar work) at a small for-profit. At a small company, if your manager has it out for you, you may not get much of a raise. At at a large company, pay tends to be formulaic, so if your manager wants to shaft you on pay, he has to explain it to HR, and it’s a much tougher conversation.

        One big upshot at a large company is that if you don’t like your boss, you can get an internal transfer and find a new one. At a small company, if you don’t like your boss? You probably have to quit.

      2. Arvolin*

        For what it’s worth, I generally preferred working at smaller companies. If nothing else, larger companies can have more specialized roles, and I generally liked doing a variety of things. I am very definitely not saying that all smaller businesses are good to work for, although I won’t name names.

    5. Joielle*

      Eh, I’ve only ever worked in nonprofits and state government, and most of the time I’m reading AAM letters thinking “thank god I don’t work in the private sector.” I’d much rather work in a slightly austere but mission-driven environment than have to deal with corporate nonsense. Luckily you and I have both found the environment that works for us!

  12. WFH with Cat*

    OP, I know it may be difficult, but no matter how connected you feel to your former staff members, or how much you would value their input into the org’s strategic planning, racial equity work, and other issues that your team is delving into, it would be truly unfair to ask them to attend meetings or events or engage in discussions about the organization’s operations, policies, etc. They really need to be focused on getting thru these difficult times and looking for new jobs! I wish you, the organization, and your former employees all the best of luck moving forward.

  13. ThinMint*

    This was a very thoughtful and thorough answer. I always appreciate the nuance you bring to your responses, I learn a lot.

  14. I, personally, would decline!*

    Dude, you’re nice for keeping people in your heart and on your mind like this, but… please don’t do this. You’re essentially asking a hungry person to smell your food and tell you if it smells delicious.

    1. MayLou*

      I don’t know, I think it is closer to asking for input on the menu for a dinner party the OP isn’t sure they can be invited to. Everyone hopes they’ll be invited, and if they are it’ll be a good thing they got to have input on the menu. But they might not be, so it is better not to discuss the menu with them.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        Good analogy! Especially because the employer might ask something like “Humble, you have a peanut allergy. Does everything on the menu work for you?” Meaning would people with peanut allergies in general be good with this menu, but I will hear “Can you eat the things on this menu, Humble? Because we’re totally going to invite you to dinner and you shouldn’t bother making other plans for that night.”

  15. Person from the Resume*

    Just don’t. I think you are well intentioned, but you didn’t furlough these people with a return date in site, you laid them off. They are no longer your employees and you shouldn’t treat them as such. They are former employees and possible future employee, but Alison is right they are currently unemployed and should be job hunting hard themselves. You trying to keep them extremely looped in is not helpful for the clean break some of them need to move on. I get that it makes your rehire process is your are rehire them next year easier when your known quantities are still unemployed and can return to work for you, but you don’t know for sure that you will be able to rehire them. Plus like Alison said they may feel obligated to participate in everything to stay on the good side in the hopes that they are selected for rehire.

    If you wanted their participation in the strategic planning, racial equity work, and evaluating some HR and culture practices, you needed to get it from them before they were laid. They are former employees now and you are much smaller organization; you need participation from all staff who are currently employed.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes to your first point. If these employees were on furlough with a definitely return date not too far in the future, the whole thing might feel different. Like if you knew you had a grant coming in and would be able to staff back up in October or something, then keeping furloughed employees emotionally invested and helping to shape the future of the organization would make more sense. But these are employees you’ve laid off, who have no return date, and have “we hope to hire you back at some unspecified point in the future” as the basis from which to operate, and treating people in that position as still formally linked to the organization is asking for trouble.

      (Not sure if there are legal/unemployment complications for paying furloughed employees for a few hours of work, though.)

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I see in other comments that asking people to do paid work while on furlough can be legally problematic, so never mind. I think the emotional component is really different if there’s a definite return date, but it still isn’t a good idea to ask of people who are not current, active, fully paid employees.

    2. AcademiaIsWeird*

      Was coming here to say this! The way you are interacting (or would like to interact) with these laid-off employees sounds more like a furlough where there’s an expectation that they will be back and need this information to stay engaged. If they’re laid off please don’t do this. It would be more appropriate under a furlough but I mean…they’re not employees anymore. Leave them alone if you can unless it’s to help support their job search or similar.

  16. NotAPirate*

    Don’t mess up people’s unemployment by paying them to attend a workplace improvement meeting for a place they no longer work.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Commenting to add, this will also make people feel like they have to attend, because there’s some part of the COVID unemployment deal about if the company offers you your job back, you have to take it. People are going to feel they can’t say no because that is turning down work, and will also put unemployment at risk.
      Please respect what these former employees are dealing with and don’t use them like this. No matter what the spin “keeping them engaged” makes it seem like, you want them to work.

    2. Laid Off In Coronaland*

      100% this. Speaking from experience, unemployment is a lifeline right now for a lot of people. To offer them paid time to attend a few meetings means not just asking them to invest time and energy into the meetings themselves (to benefit an employer they may never be invited back to) but ALSO imposing on them the extra hassle of dealing with the additional unemployment paperwork that paid time will create, including the possibility of losing some benefits depending on their situation and location. All for a job they no longer have.

  17. Mike*

    Are these employees actually laid off, or just furloughed? If furloughed, my answer would be very different. Of course you still have to accept that they might be job searching and unable to participate, but a furlough already has those built-in signals about future employment that a layoff does not. But for truly laid off employees, I agree it’s not right to ask this of them.
    However, as a nonprofit, can you extend some of these conversations to the community at large? Perhaps asking various stakeholders beyond your employees, including volunteers and donors, to participate in strategic planning and racial equity work would give you the broader scope you’re looking for. And if you can do that, I would feel more comfortable inviting the former employees to participate on that same level, making it clear that the employment relationship is unfortunately finished, but you would welcome their input as a volunteer or donor if they are so inclined to participate and remain engaged with your organization on that level.

    1. miro*

      Yeah, the furlough/laid off distinction is important here. OP seems to be thinking of this as if they’re furloughed, but it’s unclear how much of that is just wishful thinking about being able to hire back people they laid off.

      I think your idea in the 2nd paragraph is a good one, Mike

    2. WellRed*

      I was furloughed for three weeks I(non consecutive). I was not paid and collected UI for those weeks. No way in hell did I want to be asked to do any work and I would not have appreciated my UI being put at risk. Whether these people are furloughed or laid off, they are not being paid. Period.

      1. MayLou*

        This is a difference between countries – I was furloughed for a couple of months in the UK when I was not able to do my job from home and it was against the law to do it in person. The government covered 80% of my usual wages so that my job was protected. That’s not standard practice for furloughs but it was very widespread for Covid-19 furloughs. I agree that it makes a big difference. I had no doubt that I’d be going back to work once I could, my job was secure and in the meantime my income was not much lower than normal.

  18. theletter*

    I feel like the organization’s energy should really be put into getting back to financial security before any thing else. Are there grants that you could look at that would allow you to reconfigure your practice so that it’s Covid-safe? There may also be grants available that would allow you to pay participants for temporary work on strategic planning/racial equality.

    As for social ‘outings’, I think the best and safest thing you can do is to encourage any laid off staff that you are still in contact with to host their own online ‘alumnus’ meetings or private message boards where they can vent and/or share job-hunting tips.

    In terms of keeping them in the loop as far as news goes, I think treating them as former employees (because that is what they are) is really the best way to go. If you have a general newsletter for people outside the organization, ask them if they’d be interested in subscribing, and leave it at that. Anything else would be taking away too much energy from their job search, and possibly lead to issues with information disclosure.

  19. Rayray*

    When I was laid off from a job, as far as I was concerned, our relationship was over. I got my severance check and never looked back. I get that companies do what they have to do, but if my livelihood is cut off with zero warning, then I don’t care for you even one bit. I don’t know if employees on this place got advanced notice or severance or what, but you cut them off and they no longer owe you anything. They need work in order to pay their bills, not solely for the warm fuzzies. They are actively job hunting or maybe they are taking a break to either stay safe during the pandemic or just relax for a few weeks.

    I sure as heck would not attend meetings with an employer that laid me off. If they offered to hire me back permanently, I’d consider the offer but I wouldn’t attend meetings or offer assistance. I’d give a maximum one week for them if they had questions like passwords or whatever they could need, but after that, I’m done. If I don’t get a paycheck, you don’t get to talk to me or expect me at meetings.

  20. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Oh no. Please don’t do this.
    Please rethink your whole concept of “keeping laid off employees engaged.”
    What you are really doing is having laid off employees do work.
    You are treating the non profit like it is still a fully functioning entity with people who are working remotely.
    It is not.
    There is little money and few people.
    That is what you have to work with.
    If people want to contribute time and energy to the nonprofit, let them come to you.
    There is no mentally healthy, financially legal way for you to ask these people who were laid off to come back, do major work on future planning and then see what happens.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      *Especially* if you are asking your employees of color to come back, do your equity work for free, and then not be re-hired. That will blow up in your face down the road, and rightly so.

  21. prof*

    And now imagine being one of this non-profit’s few or only former employees of color, and being asked to do this for free. Esh….such a bad idea.

    1. The Original K.*

      YES. The emotional labor ask is huge, and not paying for racial equity/diversity, equity, and inclusion work is a big problem anyway. There are threads all over social media where employees of color have basically been asked to solve racism at their companies on top of their regular jobs, for no extra pay, or to talk about their experiences with racism – so basically, lay bare something very painful and personal for a) no pay, and b) no guarantee that it will make any difference with the company’s culture. DEI work is work and should be paid for; there are DEI consultancies that do it.

        1. Observer*

          But the “anti racist book club” is one suggestion of an activity that they were NOT expecting to pay for. Which, YIKES.

        2. Fiona S*

          No, OP said they would WANT to pay them. But oh noes, tthere isn’t the money, so maybe they could get round it by framing it as an “optional” unpaid activity.

          Which is really, really gross!

    2. Observer*

      Yeah, I was thinking about that.

      Also, any other member of a marginalized group not well represented in the organization.

  22. Lili*

    FWIW: I’m in a somewhat similar situation to these laid off employees. I’m a teacher on paid summer vacation right now. Layoffs are very likely for September, and I’m one of the newer hires, so I’d be one of the first to go, depending on what subject areas the principle chooses to prioritize. We’ve had 3 “voluntary” meetings this month, and almost everyone showed up (virtually), especially newer staff, out of anxiety. I rearrange my entire day on 24 hours notice sometimes, hoping my department/position/work will be recognized and kept when the time comes. We are, by contract, ALWAYS supposed to be paid for these type of meetings, but the budget is low as it is. These are meetings I might choose to participate in for free, especially given that they are remote, if my scheduled allowed for it and they truly felt optional… but they don’t. I hate it. I love my job, but I hate this violation of our contract and the pressure without any promises.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      OMG! I’m so sorry Lili. They really should be paying you for all this time. It’s not fair.

  23. lost academic*

    Sorry, OP, but no. You need to exclude them at this time from your thinking on this except to the extent that you are considering hiring them back full or part time, or are interested in paying for them to do something at a fair hourly rate. Even with the second option, there is not going to be a perfect way to offer the former employees the option to do paid work, even of a training type, and honestly be able to make it not look or feel like an obligation on either end. And if they have found other work or have other nonpaid obligations like with family in these times, they may simply not be able to commit even a few hours to something like that, which can be very upsetting if they would like to be rehired in the future. So no: don’t do this. These aren’t furloughed employees and even then, I would not see it as a good idea. You can do all these things if/when you can hire them back.

    Also consider that you are likely to have to hire entirely new staff down the road when you are in a position to do so. Did you then just unfairly advantage former employees in that process by giving them these opportunities to stay a part of the organization without being compensated that an outside wouldn’t have? There’s an argument that their past work experience with you would advantage them already (as it should) but they don’t work for you right now and you need to make that line clear to them, to the rest of your organization and most of all to yourself.

  24. MissDisplaced*

    I guess I’m not really clear about this, but are the people furloughed or permanently laid off?
    Because there is a difference. When we had our temporary furlough weeks we were absolutely prohibited from engaging in ANY type of work for the company (had to be a total disconnect from the network) or we would not get unemployment compensation for furlough week(s).

    And if they are on permanent layoff, they are now former employees and you would have to 1099 them, which will likely reduce their unemployment compensation to almost nothing for whichever week the meeting is held. For a lot of people, that might create even more of a financial hardship.

    I get that you would like to include them if you think they’ll eventually be brought back (it’s a good intention), but this really brings up some sticky and confusing situations for people to report their unemployment accurately when claims are being put on hold if the UI office thinks something even *might* be questionable. I don’t think I’d attempt to do this right now.

  25. Ali G*

    OP needs to get real and understand that these people, even though they are “temporarily” laid off, likely will never work for the org again. If the nature of their work is such that it can’t be done now, and there is not money coming in to pay them, nothing, except an end to the pandemic is going to change that. If OP hasn’t already been straight with the laid off staff that they likely won’t have jobs any time soon, they need to now.
    Also (this wasn’t really a part of the question), OP by engaging these staff, you are essentially strategic planning for an org that doesn’t exist anymore. You need to look forward, not back at what you used to do. If any of the staff have expertise you would need for the future org, then hire them back and pay them to do a new job. Otherwise, these aren’t even people that your strategic planning would benefit from including.

      1. RozGrunwald*

        Yes, excellent point.

        When organizations go through major upheaval like this, it’s totally normal for the staff left behind to go through a grieving process. That takes time and emotional work to get through. Ali G’s comment makes me think that maybe the LW has unresolved grief about this situation that’s leading her to continue drawing people back into the organization? It might help the organization – and the LW – to think instead about, how do we process the big changes that have had to happen, and how to we re-engineer the organization to meet these new challenges, rather than hanging on to the past?

    1. Sara without an H*

      OP by engaging these staff, you are essentially strategic planning for an org that doesn’t exist anymore. You need to look forward, not back at what you used to do.

      Good point. As I read the post, I couldn’t help thinking that there was a fair amount of denial going on in the OP’s mind. They’re running a deficit this year, don’t know when they can resume their paid programs, and don’t know how the shutdown will affect demand for those programs.

      OP, and her organization, need to start thinking about future directions post-pandemic. Their former constituency may not be there when life returns to “normal,” and they need to plan for that, not try to resurrect the old organization.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Yes. There is wishful thinking from the LW that the post-COVID organization will be what it once was. No one should expect that. I do think that is coloring the LW’s quandary.

      LW is also acting like these former employees were furloughed and not laid-off.

      And there’s a disconnect too: LW says “Right now, we have almost no money left in the budget to pay folks for hours worked” and also says: “ethically we need to pay folks for their participation in developing our strategic plan [and racial equity initiatives], because … it’s still work that they should be compensated for.” She wants to pay them, but has almost no money to pay them. I kind of suspect the LW was hoping to hear from AAM that it was okay for them to participate unpaid because that money won’t materialize out of thin air.

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        The LW means well, but she’s trying to reframe what should be paid work as option, unpaid socializing.

  26. PivotPivot*

    Are these furloughed employees actually getting unemployment benefits? When I worked for a non-profited years ago and was laid off, I didn’t receive any unemployment because as a non-profit, they didn’t have to pay it.
    That being said, if they are not being paid unemployment benefits, they definitely should be looking for new positions. To dangle that carrot of a possible position as a benefit for being involved in non-paid meetings, is unworthy of your non-profit’s mission and goals, I would think.

    1. Jennifer*

      Whether they are getting unemployment or not they should be looking for new positions. Unemployment pays next to nothing now since the extra $600 payment has ended.

    2. Me*

      This is the first I’ve heard that non-profits are exempt from paying into unemployment. I work for government which is technically a not for profit and they absolute must pay into unemployment.

      Are we sure it’s legal for non profits to skip unemployment and not just something a crappy one did?

      1. Me*

        I looked it up and as best a my non lawyer self can piece together, while the do not have to pay into the states unemployment insurance they DO have to reimburse the state if someone claims unemployment. So they aren’t exactly off the hook.

  27. Colorado*

    You are coming from a place of good intentions and that’s admirable, but please don’t do this. I don’t work in the non-profit sector but I am a dedicated employee who is passionate about our purpose and this would be a big mind f**k to me. Leave them alone, don’t mess with their unemployment by asking them to attend meetings for a company they no longer work for. It’s like getting your heart broken and then the other person asking if we could still be friends. It’s just not a fair thing to ask of people in a vulnerable situation.

  28. Jennifer*

    I have to say, your heart may be in the right place, but if I were one of these laid off workers, I’d be pissed! I don’t want to go to any informational meetings with an organization that laid me off. All I need to know from you is if you’re rehiring me and when.

    If I was actually friends with someone outside of work, of course I’d want to hear from them, and a nice, “Hi, how are you holding up?” from other former coworkers is nice. I got a few of those on Linkedin when I was laid off. But I don’t want any official communication from the organization unless it was telling me my new start date. Just sayin’.

    People are trying so hard to be saviors nowadays and have good intentions but they don’t stop to think about what people actually need.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      And not your fundraising newsletter! I have worked for many nonprofits both as an employee and a contract worker. In all cases I’ve been added to the general mailing list, which includes all the begging letters. It’s especially galling when doing contract work because there’s often the strong implication that they want all/some of the fee back! These are all organizations with wonderful missions, woeful professional boundaries, and questionable management. Most nonprofits fit that description, frankly. From this letter, I bet OP’s org does, too. Great people, great mission, big mess.

  29. Jennifer*

    Wow, I’m still aggravated by this letter. I don’t want to say intentions don’t matter because they can sometimes, but we live in a time where people are trying to educate themselves about social justice issues, which is a good thing, but they do that sometimes by draining all the energy from people in marginalized communities who are struggling with the very issues people want to learn more about so it just gets exhausting. They say they want to help but it’s more about assuaging their own guilt. In this case, the “marginalized community” would be the unemployed. Please just stop.

  30. Lurking Tom*

    I currently work at a nonprofit whose mission and staff I love dearly, and I agree with the general sentiment here. If I’m laid off, the next time they’d hear from me is either when they call to rehire me or when I need a reference. If they need work done while I’m not employed, I’ll happily draw up a contractor agreement, but I won’t be starting any work until that’s signed.

  31. Aquawoman*

    There’s a saying to the effect that you can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that caused the problem. Re-examining racial equity just cannot begin with asking people of color (other people, too, but BIPOC people especially) to do free work. I personally believe that at least 90% of organizations looking at racial justice and inclusion need to start by paying a Bipoc-owned organization as a consultant/expert.

    1. Ferret*

      The letter writer specifically mentioned the racial equity work as the kind of work that they would pay for though. You ca criticise the LW without misreading them or making stuff up.

      “I think it’s clear that ethically we need to pay folks for their participation in developing our strategic plan, because even if it’s optional and not part of their normal jobs, it’s still work that they should be compensated for. I think it’s also clear that the same goes for racial equity initiatives.”

      1. NotAPirate*

        The writer said they don’t want to pay for social events: “I do think that it’s okay not to pay folks to attend truly optional gatherings that are purely social in nature and intended to give the team opportunities to stay connected — and not do any work.”

        They also said it’s an “antiracist” book club.

      2. Observer*

        Yes, except for the anti-racist book club. Yes, it would officially be voluntary and “social”. But really? No way in the universe is if going to be seen that way – and in truth, it is not truly voluntary.

      3. boo bot*

        Even though the OP is rightly planning to pay people for those things, I am still a little concerned by this: “During the fall we plan to use the unexpected downtime to lean into strategic planning, racial equity work, and evaluating some HR and culture practices….we obviously want to include some of the recently laid-off staff. Their perspectives are necessary…”

        To me that reads as if either:
        (a) they laid off people who are necessary for strategic planning and HR, in which case I think it’s appropriate to invite them back as paid consultants. OR

        (b) they laid off people of color disproportionately, and now they need the perspectives of laid-off staff because they don’t have enough racial diversity left to credibly do any kind of racial equity work. In which case, I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask unless you’re offering to hire people back to their original jobs at the same time.

  32. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    My first thought after reading the title of the letter was “you don’t”. And even after reading your letter, my first thought was still “you don’t”. These people were laid off. They are no longer your employees so you need to stop thinking of them as such. I know you’re not doing any of this maliciously, but trying to include them in work activities is kind of mean. If you’re able to bring them back at some point, great. But if it’s not in your budget to pay them to work, just don’t. It’s not fair to them. By giving them a tiny bit of work here and there, you’re providing a tiny bit of hope that they’ll be hired back when in reality it sounds like the place is in no position to do so.

  33. WellRed*

    You want to do right by the staff? Pay them. Otherwise, don’t ask/invite/anything else,these people to help out unpaid.

    1. AnonInTheCity*

      Honestly, don’t even ask them to do it if it’s paid. Don’t ask them at all. If they’re earning anything it will mess with their unemployment payments and they can’t refuse work while on unemployment because THAT will end their benefits also. Unless you’re paying them their full salaries, don’t ask them to do anything while they’re laid off.

  34. midnightcat*

    These people do not work for you.

    You cannot and should not ask them to do things as if they do.

    I’m surprised you’re not using the downtime to focus on fundraising.

    1. lulu*

      This. You keep talking about keeping the staff engaged. People on the pay roll are staff. People who have been laid off are former staff.

  35. Bryce with a Y*

    It makes sense to keep in touch with these folks as part of your professional network, and it makes sense to give these folks a higher priority if you can rehire them and if you think they’re truly the folks you need, as in, “Hey Jo, we’re looking for a widget waxer, and I thought I’d reach out to see if you’re interested in coming back.”

    But what the original poster is looking to do doesn’t make sense because, in my opinion, there seems to be no certainty as to whether these folks can and would come back, especially right now for obvious reasons.

    What’s more, this situation speaks volumes about how solid the organization’s succession and policy/procedures are. If these employees won the lottery, or even if one had to leave for non-work-related reasons (caring for loved one with illness/disabilities, spouses finding their dream jobs in California), how would you handle these? The point is, what would you do if none of your employees was interested, and if you could fill none of their jobs when things recover?

  36. TCO*

    A good use of the org’s “downtime” would be to figure out how to embed equity, strategy, and culture work into its day-to-day work on an ongoing basis. These are not things that can just wait to be addressed when there’s time, and then overlooked again when work picks back up. This is especially true of equity work.

    Yes, there will be periods when equity, strategy, and culture work take up more time–when you’re developing a new strategic plan, or undergoing staff training. I get that now seems like a good time to do that more intensive work. But the most important part is figuring out how you’ll carry on these efforts all the time with all staff, both with existing and future employees. OP may need to restructure staff roles before rehiring people if the current setup doesn’t allow enough time for equity, culture, and strategy work.

    1. #nonprofitlife*

      So important. I’ve been thinking so much about this and need to raise these points with my boss.

  37. WantonSeedStitch*

    Yeah, my first reaction upon reading the subject line of this post was, “you can’t.” I think it’s reasonable to WANT to feel like these people are still part of the team. After all, you probably didn’t want to lay them off, and miss both their work and their presence! But the truth of the matter is that even if you’re paying them, you’re still asking them to put in effort that might be better spent on finding a new position that isn’t a hypothetical maybe-in-the-future-if-things-turn-around. Not to mention the fact that what you pay them would likely end up decreasing their unemployment benefits and they might actually end up losing money, depending on taxes and so on, or at least not making any more money by working for you than they would make by NOT working for you.

    The best thing you can do for these people is to be prepared to give them glowing references (if they have earned them) if asked. That, and possibly using your own networks to help them find other opportunities, if you really want to put in some effort. The best thing you can do for your organization is fundraise so you hopefully won’t have to let anyone else go.

  38. Sylvan*

    Sorry, OP, but I think it’s best to let laid off people move on to new jobs by not requesting involvement from them. Leave them be unless you can offer them a new position.

    Someone above suggested sending them a short, anonymous survey, and I think something like that could be alright. It’s clearly optional, it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes, and it doesn’t take any real work on their part. You probably shouldn’t ask them to do anything more than that.

  39. I'm just here for the cats*

    Meetings and such like that they should be paid for their time. However I’m wondering if they could send a brief survey to the laidoff workers? I guess it really depends on how long they have been laid off. If it was March and they get this in August I would be like no way! Especially if they haven’t been communicating much. But if the workers were just laid off then it might look better.

    Another thought is could they send a survey to everyone? Not just employees but like volunteers, venders, participants, etc. And put in the email that it is going to everyone, not just employees. That might make it feel a little less obligatory.

  40. Anon for This, but regular commenter*

    As an adjunct professor who just had my hours (and thus pay) cut in half ten days before the start of term with no compensation for all of the prep work I put in transitioning classes to online over the summer*… stay the hell off your staff’s back. If you can’t pay them, don’t bother them. Do not, under any circumstances, make them feel like they have to contribute to your organization. In fact, don’t let them.

    (*not only was I not compensated for time spent transitioning classes to online, full time staff who were paid over the summer were given some of the materials I developed and put into the LMS when I was still scheduled to teach.)

  41. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    I am wondering why now is the time for cultural revamp, strategic planning, HR review, etc. Is it just because you have time for it right now, with the programming shut down?

    It seems strange to be doing all this stuff around culture and HR and equity when most of your front-line workforce is gone. It seems strange to be doing strategic planning, when circumstances prevent your business from operating, and there is no way to predict when or how that will end.

    I get the sense that management has time on their hands that they are looking to fill….

    1. Ashley*

      I think a good balance would be laying the prep work for how to structure this review and process when staff are back and things have been operational again for x months. (Give people a change to get their feet under them again.) That way you can be ready to do much needed work but have the players in place to do it.
      Another thought is if you are nonprofit are there any stratigic planning meetings that can happen with volunteers? Or are there activities you want the Board to address the could be reviewed?
      Basically plan for what you hope staff to be involved with in these planning sessions for when they are back on the payroll and in the meantime what pieces can you knock off the to do list with other groups?
      You can’t really count on the exact same staff returning so you could also start looking at hiring and recruiting practices in light of some of your bigger goals.

    2. Manana*

      Yes, that really stood out to me as well. It’s like they are treating racial bias training like a rainy day activity, equivalent of cleaning out an old supply closet or getting new drapes. This tells me that not only should fired employees not be asked to attend, but that even in the best case scenario this “training” is haphazard, poorly planned, and with little support from the top (which is where this type of training needs to begin and be the most effective and adopted.)

  42. OptimisticIntern*

    So, I’m relatively new in my field,but I interviewed a non-profit that had a similar situation due to covid and budget cuts that led to many of the staff being laid off, and many students interning having to cancel their program. This was complicated as many of the interns had a stipend that rivalled wages, and those that did not were reliant on this organization to finish off their degree. The organization reached out to the collaborative groups that it worked within to place current workers in a role as close as one they already held, made it clear what sister-organizations had openings, wrote excellent letters of referral and promised to give good references. At the same time, it emphasized how they were not failing their core mission and that part of advocacy is self-advocacy; you have to take care of yourself to be a participant in any community movement.

    It was unfortunate and many people still wanted to volunteer, but due to the personal nature of the organization they were selective about who they allowed to volunteer (iirc no former staff, just some students who basically had to) and insisted on many of the laid off persons redirecting their energy. The organization already had a newsletter, so they were able to continue receiving that without it being a performative inclusion. Any meetings regarding the future of the program were handled mostly by the remaining administrative staff with some consultation, and fundraising became a more immediate concern if they were to do that. Part of the core mission statement involved selfcare (this was an advocacy group for victims of assault and their family members), and it isn’t self-care or empowerment to keep auditioning for the approval of an organization that cannot adequately compensate you (Even if you need help or are a valuable volunteer). Because of the nature of the organization, they also dealt with a lot of crisis management; this meant that they’d been semi-prepared for dramatic cuts and had experienced them before, as well as previously absorbed other community organizations (and potentially considered being absorbed into other structures).

    All this to say, that while the mission is important in your NGO/NPO, you have to consider who you are serving and if those serving will have more longevity for your cause in seeking work outside of your organization (the answer is yes!). Enabling them to cut strings and press forward during a time of duress, and make no mistake it is a time of duress for anyone in any helping profession, is an act of integrity and compassion. No organization dealing with diversity or racial issues is free from burn out, and to be a better fighter for your overall cause will require adaptability, resilience, and confidence in prioritizing themselves. Please don’t confuse your laid off staff by making them question their commitment to your cause, and make it clear that there is no guilt or obligation or act of service they need to perform and follow Allison’s advice. Networking in these fields is so important and emphasized that even if you say it’s truly optional, everyone will know their lack of attendence at an “anti racist bookclub” may be shooting themselves in the foot for a future hiring opportunity. Even if that’s not your intention! People want to do their best and they truly align themselves with your cause when they are hired. Let them find new sources for that passion and energy.

  43. Smeralda*

    An anti-racist culture comes from the attitudes and expectations at the top, not from the worker bees joining a book club. This is your work, don’t slough the emotional labor off on your unemployed staff. Educate *yourself* and others in positions of power at your org. Call out racism when you see it in your staff, should they return. Don’t reward men for talking over women, make a conscious effort to elevate the voices of PoC in your org. Make sure your pay is equitable across race and gender. Create a dedicated lactation room. Replace Columbus Day with a floating mental health day. If you’re ever recruiting again, broaden your recruitment to affinity groups for students of color at universities.

    Management is the sole entity capable of improving culture.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      ‘If you want to make your workplace disabled friendly you don’t do it by making the disabled staff build ramps’

  44. LeahLeahBoBeah*

    Oh goodness- I never thought I’d leave a comment on AAM, because I now work for myself and read out of curiosity more than anything. But this question— before I left to freelance, I spent 15 years in nonprofits, and boy is this question emblematic of a problematic culture that harmed me significantly.
    The biggest thing the LW needs to understand is how manipulative the nonprofit “mission” culture is for the boundaries and identity of staff. Nonprofits routinely use mission passion/engagement to pressure their staff into essentially breaking employment law on the DL. It’s wretched, even for staff who have 100% buy-in on the work— you set up all these scenarios where people feel pressured for the sake of the mission, the team, or the population served to do unpaid work. Even when you say it’s optional- it’s so loaded. Being blind to how loaded it is is a serious problem for a nonprofit manager. The best managers put down those boundaries for staff and stick to them, none of this “optional” game— if people aren’t being paid, and paid fairly, you have no right — morally or legally— to “offer” opportunities for their participation as “stakeholders”. It’s damaging, it discriminates against staff members who need to maintain different priorities in this reality, and it actively fosters burn out and disengagement.

    1. Sara without an H*

      +1000. What you describe so eloquently is the poisoned apple at the heart of too many mission-oriented organizations.

  45. RED One*

    The LW is asking for a lot of free labor from laid off program staff to help the organization understand problems with equity and inclusion. It is highly unethical. It creates a situation where people continue to invest time and energy into an organization that may not be able to ever hire them back, instead of on finding their next job. You can’t have it both ways, either people are laid off and don’t work for you – or – they are employees and you pay them. Those are the options.

  46. employment lawyah*

    how can we keep involving our laid-off staff in our work?
    Ethically? Not much: since they are LAID OFF, and, ya know, not getting paid, then you can’t “involve them in work.”

    Basically: Treat them like the independent public citizens that they are.

    You can so some stuff, though. You can post your meetings online, somewhere w/ open public access, without requiring tracking. Those who wish to do so can opt to watch them. You can hold any public meetings you want. But don’t reach out, text them, pressure them, or “involve” them in anything special.

    Legally, you have a bit more room–actually, quite a bit of room. You can probably make rehiring contingent on all sorts of things, if you’re ethically OK with it. But it’s a tricky area and I don’t care to tell you how; you should ask your lawyer if you want to go there.

    1. Observer*

      Well, no you can’t make hiring contingent on “volunteering” or joining specific “social activities” or taking part in employer organized activities.

      1. employment lawyah*

        Generally speaking, you’re wrong.

        Much of this is in the phrasing and the details. Businesses can’t make people work for free. But they can (and do!) often select for people who have “demonstrated an unusual level of commitment to the organization and its mission” or who are “abreast of current challenges, goal, and concerns,” etc. This is especially true for nonprofits, who just loooooove to selectively hire interns, a/k/a “people who have worked for free.”

        The result can land anywhere on the scale, from “fine” to “slimy but legal” to “illegal.” But while there are a few things they can’t do, your statement is much more wrong than right.

  47. Jennifer Thneed*

    > truly optional gatherings that are purely social in nature
    > and intended to give the team opportunities to stay connected

    No. No gatherings of any kind, optional or not, purely social or not. Where were you planning to have these gatherings? Maybe if it’s in a park somewhere (give everyone a hula-hoop and tell them they have to stay 2 hula hoops away from eath other?) but the weather is bad everything in the US (derecho, wildfire smoke, or just plain high summer temps) so can you do that? This is important: THE VIRUS IS AIRBORNE and gatherings like this is how it spreads. You laid people off because of THE PANDEMIC. Now you want to encourage them all to gather together and possibly spread the virus around? Anyone who is responsible with their and others’ health will not want to attend, and they will really wonder just how irresponsible your organization is to request it of them.

    1. boop the first*

      Yeah, I wasn’t leaning to hard into this because meetings could just as easily be online, but this is what I was wondering too, why all the focus on gatherings right now?? Who’s idea is it to start planning events for staff, former or otherwise? Is a book club essential right now?

  48. B*

    I have no doubt the LW’s intentions are pure. However, this right here is the end of discussion for me:

    “All of these projects require participation from staff at all levels in order to be successful…”

    If, to be successful, the projects require participation from the staff that you laid off, then you either need to hire them back or accept that the projects you’re undertaking cannot be successful right now.

    It seems pretty intuitive to me that you can’t do strategic planning without program staff, and you don’t have any program staff. So you either need to rehire your program staff or postpone strategic planning until you have the capacity to do it.

    This is a tough time for a lot of organizations, so I get it. But it sounds to me like your organization is trying to make lemonade when you don’t even have the lemons.

  49. Books and cats*

    Wow, I think I’m in a good position to comment on this. I’m currently furloughed from a non profit! We shut down in March, I was furloughed in May. I believe in what I did, but I it’s not my life. I’ve been sort of looking since June, but I have time and options, so no hurry. I would be furious if you asked this from me. I don’t work for you and you told me that when you furloughed me.
    I know funding has been cut and the money is going to be an issue going forward.
    My, also furloughed, coworker sees this job as her life. These last few months have been a terrible struggle for her. I’ve broken my own work/private life line to be there for her. She has held onto hope we will be called back “any time” now. She’s a single mom and no options but to work. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time and energy trying to convince her she needs to job hunt, NOW! Calling her to ask for participation in a new, on going project, in my opinion, would be cruel. She would see it as needing her and that you would be calling people back soon. Please don’t do that to your FORMER employees.
    From the mention of a book club it sounds like you might work in a library. So did I. If that’s the case, just announce public activities and your former employees will come if they choose, as members of the public! And, personally, I think you should stop inviting them to social events that are made up of only coworkers. This just keeps them tied up emotionally to your organization. If they wish to keep a relationship with someone that can be done on their own.
    I know I sound harsh, but sometimes reality is just that…Harsh!

  50. Fieldpoppy*

    I do strategic planning work — that is my job. All of our clients are not for profit in one sense or another, mostly in health, education and community services. I agree that input from people who understand the organization and mission is a super helpful part of strategic planning, especially if you are trying to surface ideas about possible partnerships, what work is most essential, etc. In this situation, I would be looking for ways to get the input from people who know your organization and are no longer there.

    But! As Alison and others have pointed to, you seem to be seeing them as still your team but kind of in limbo. They aren’t. At this point, they are former employees. You don’t want to create a coercive situation where you offer a tenuous connection to a job that isn’t going to reappear.

    I would scrap all optional activities that keep people connected, unless they are driven by, led by and enacted by the former employees. (I.e, if they want to hang out with each other). I would take them out of the equation of something like racial equity training because that is for the benefit of the organization. And I would offer them an opportunity — completely optional, with great appreciation and acknowledgement of the awkward opportunity it puts them in – to participate in PAID strat planning *in a focus group of their own*. I would not mix this group with current employees or partners or clients (partly because they will feel weird and unsettled and partly because they may have a hard time staying future focused — which you should expect).

    You want good facilitation, acknowledgement that it may feel awkward or conflicting and it’s completely optional, and you want to pay them. You want to position it as tapping into their expertise, not as treating them as part of the team or invested in the future of the organization.

  51. Observer*

    OP, your heart is clearly in the right place. But your letter shows some real culture problems that your staff will almost certainly not tell you about – in fact they might not realize it in the moment.

    You don’t seem to be cognizant of the power differential here, which is a problem to start with. And you are telegraphing that you expect people to have a very high level of PERSONAL commitment beyond their actual role in the organization. A personal level of commitment that would questionable to ask for even if people were actually fully employed by your organization – which they are NOT.

    You also seem to be putting a lot of the burden of the work that you apparently need to do on the backs of your program staff. Your desire to do some racial equity work is admirable. But an anti racist book club that people need to attend on their own time, unpaid, is NOT the way to do that. It would be bad enough if this really and truly were totally voluntary, and you were offering it to ACTUAL staff. But no matter how you dress it up, this is NOT voluntary! Because everyone knows that any person who fails to join the “voluntary” book club without a “good enough” reason is going to be marked as a racist or at least actively “complicit” with racism.

    It also happens to be a very inequitable idea – the people who are the most likely to be suffering from structural injustices and racial inequity are also going to be bearing the biggest burden here. And these are also the people who are going to feel the most pressure to join, on the one hand, and to be the most likely to be hurt if they do not join.

    Which all speaks to the issues of unreasonable expectations, blurred boundaries and obliviousness to existing power differentials, as well as being a problem on its own.

  52. boop the first*

    Maybe this is a non-profit org that is extremely passion-driven and all of the employees would have done the work for free if you weren’t paying them, like maybe every day was a bowl of laughter and joy and fun and everyone thinks they should be paying the employer instead because it’s so fun, I don’t know?

    Otherwise, whoa. Thinking that fired employees will want to keep updated in everything that’s happening in the organization read a little self-absorbed to me. Thinking about my past jobs, I wouldn’t want to do any of these optional events even when I was an active, conscientious employee, let alone someone who was snubbed beforehand. Book clubs, even with active coworkers? Yeah, I don’t know, maybe.

    I have to assume the business is just a front for a super-fun social club for this to seem relatable. Are these meet ups also safe?

  53. Alexis Rose*

    there is nothing stopping you from building in a review mechanism to whatever strategic plan you come up with. Then, when you have PAID employees back on staff you can engage them in commenting/participating on the aspects you want these furloughed/laid off people to comment on. You can move ahead with overall planning, but you’ll need to review your strategic plan as we settle into whatever the world looks like either post-covid or in getting used to living with covid long term.

    Even without a pandemic, strategic plans benefit from a review every once in a while and not just at the end of their life. Are we meeting our goals? Why not? is it because the goal itself needs to change and wasn’t realistic, or because we haven’t done enough in achieving it.

  54. Sharon*

    Think of these furloughed/former employees as “general public.” They should be welcome to participate in anything open to the general public (volunteer opportunities, book clubs, etc.), with the same communication/invitation given to the general public, but that’s it.

  55. DataNerd*

    Sounds like my former employer that organized volunteer events for corporate employees in the Bay Area. Makes me want to be like “I told you so” because I once asked if having 95% of funding come from one source was a financially stable decision and they were like, of course it is. Gotta say, if this is that org, this is what happens when you’re a nonprofit that views corporations as your clients rather than nonprofit partners or their participants.

  56. Kristia*

    Didn’t read all the comments so I don’t know if this was mentioned. But another reason to not do this is you could totally screw up someones unemployment. If you require them to attend a 2 hour training, they have to claim those hours which could severely cut the amount they’re getting in unemployment which is already likely not very much.

    1. Manana*

      THIS! 2 hours of meeting pay could mean losing hundreds of unemployment benefits for the week or month.

  57. Manana*

    Please don’t do this. I was laid off in early March by a company but because they are hoping to hire people back they haven’t taken me off Slack, email, etc. It sucks. I don’t want to know about team meetings, new hires even if they are at different locations doing a totally different job than me, the operations of this business. They are not paying me for the attention and mental energy expended on this! Even in a non-profit, at the end of the day the only reason these people were ever involved is because they were being paid. Don’t screw up their unemployment benefits, don’t mess with their job searches, don’t ask anything of them that you wouldn’t ask a stranger on the street. While it’s not your or your organization’s fault that circumstances led to lay offs, it is absolutely in your power to not make it worse for these folks.

    1. WFH with Cat*

      Ugh. I can’t believe they left email, Slack, etc. active for people who have been laid off. That’s a terrible business decision regardless of whether or not they are hoping to rehire people.

      I hope you’re not feeling pressured by your former employer to continue reading. much less responding to, emails, messages, etc. (If so, they are definitely out of line, and, as I understand it, they have to pay you for that time.)

      If you are reading emails and messages out of some sense of commitment to the org, please stop. Regardless of when/if they hire you back, you’re already suffering the pain of being laid off and, as you say, you really do not need to keep expending time and energy on your former organization. Please let it go. Block, ignore, delete … Whatever it takes.

      One thing that might make it easier to make a clean break: Call/email your former manager and say that they inadvertently left your email, Slack, etc. up and running, and remind them to remove your access. Maybe you’ll find out that the IT gal was sacked right after you and they had no idea you were still able to see all those annoying emails about new hires, etc. Or, if your manager whines that she wants to stay connected with you because they hope to rehire soon, say thank you, please email me at my personal/job hunting email when that happens! And then tell her again to please remove your old access, since you don’t feel comfortable receiving internal communications for an org you are not currently working for.

      Best of luck moving forward. I hope you find yourself in a wonderful new job soon.

  58. Minimal Pear*

    This sounds a lot like the place I was furloughed from in June–I don’t think it actually is, but I suspect they’re somewhat similar companies. Anyway, I can say that at my workplace, a lot of us who were furloughed/laid off would feel kinda put upon if we were asked to come back for unpaid activities.

  59. Alex*

    I’ve worked for (and loved) mission driven orgs and nonprofits, and I’m here to say that this is an out-of-bounds ask for you to make of former employees. I loved my jobs, believed in the work, but when the contracts were over, I wasn’t going to do free work. Don’t make your former employees do free work, especially equity work which is already a heavy lift for many people. Plan for the organization you have going forward, not the one you had in 2019.

  60. jonquil*

    ” and we obviously want to include some of the recently laid-off staff.”

    I don’t think that is obvious at all. In no other circumstance when we lay people off do we then try to include them in planning for the future of the organization. Understandably, the realities of COVID have been hard to wrap our minds around, but a layoff is a layoff is a layoff (unless this was furloughs, as others have noted).

    Now is not the time for wishful thinking. Honestly, if things are so bad that you had to lay off essentially all your program staff, what your organization’s leadership should be spending its time on is starting conversations with similar nonprofits about the possibility of a merger. We are experiencing a pandemic during a presidential election year and the donations are just not going to be there to keep every nonprofit alive in its existing form. Best of luck– I know the challenges are immense and you are doing your best.

  61. I Need That Pen*

    Personally as a many times laid off employee – a) no I wouldn’t help you and b) as Alison mentioned, this might give me a glimmer of hope that you’re going to hire me back because I did help you and when you don’t because you can’t, I won’t ever work for an organization “like that” again. You’ll damage your own pool in a sense.

    This has hit us all hard, but false hope hits us even harder. Regrettably you had to lay off people with extremely valuable input, insight, terrific work ethic, and a braintrust that could never be measured.

    That’s business.

  62. Dancing Otter*

    Not only do you risk antagonizing your former employees, but you also risk having them tell all the world about it.
    My mother’s old school district pulled something not even as bad – they offered enhanced retirement packages to get rid of older (higher-paid) teachers, then asked them to volunteer to tutor – and some of those retirees are still bitching about it twenty years later.
    What will it do to your fund-raising efforts if your clients and/or supporters hear about this in the most outrageous terms from their former contacts at your organization?
    In the era of GlassDoor, LinkedIn, and other social media, how will your reputation affect future efforts to hire? (Assuming you survive to staff back up.) Will your current employees take this as a signal of your regard for *them* and start leaving?

  63. Amethystmoon*

    #1 My company does the phishing tests as well. I understand the need for them. If we support staff dared complain about the content, it would not go over well. At best, it would just get glossed over.

Comments are closed.