In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, many companies have had to let go of staff that would otherwise have remained trusted members of an organisation.

Andrew Parker, Chief Technology Officer at Net Essence explains how to work alongside your IT team to protect your company’s data while maintaining dignity for your staff.

The typical person being fired or laid off during this time has probably not done anything wrong; the move is more likely to be for budgetary reasons. These are different circumstances and many of these layoffs are due to financial strain on a business as opposed to anti-competitive behaviour or distrust.

Unlike a typical departure where an employee may be leaving to a competitor or due to some sort of grievance, in this case there is likely little change in the trust relationship with the departing employee, so it would be prudent to approach the matter sensitively.

You will have a much easier time if you ask an employee to return their phone (for example) if you don’t just summarily lock them out of it and remotely wipe all data without notice. Consider giving employees enough time to move all of their personal contacts and data. Long-serving employees may have used company devices or email addresses to manage things like personal Amazon accounts, and almost certainly have used their phones for family photos, etc. The lines between company and personal devices are increasingly blurred. An employee may be using permitted “BYOD” policies to use a privately-owned phone for work email; they’d be devastated if the employer’s IT department wiped or remotely locked the device, and this could even lead to legal action or conflict as a result.

It is a matter of choosing to be empathetic first, and giving employees an opportunity to comply, as opposed to acting in a draconian way and destroying the trust relationship without cause, at a very stressful and difficult time for both parties. If your employee wasn’t trustworthy, the chances are that they would have copied your company data off their system ages ago, so it’s important to remember the human element and making the effort to make the task as painless as possible, while still taking all necessary precautions.

Our advice on handling this situation would be to start with a sensitive phone call with the employee, explaining why the situation has occurred, and that for security reasons you need to ask them to return company devices and begin the process of migrating any personal data. Brief any IT staff to act  in the same way as there is no disagreement or untoward behaviour at the root of the departure.

If possible, facilitate the safe return of devices in a sensitive way by not requiring the employee to go out during the lockdown to the Post Office. Rather, send a prepaid Courier round to collect company property securely and safely from the employee’s home.

Following the handover of devices, it is of course imperative to take the obvious steps such as disabling network / email access and applying an autoresponder message that would redirect any future incoming emails. Any software licenses or open sessions that may already be logged in need to be unassigned or disconnected. Ensure that the departing employee has removed passwords, PINs or facial recognition locks that would otherwise render a device useless, and have them sign a document stating that this has been done.

It is important that the business leadership take the lead and sets the tone as to when and how it is appropriate to proceed with laid-off employees. During “normal” times, HR and IT department policies are usually to act as quickly as possible when someone’s leaving, but such policies may not apply in these circumstances. Both those who are leaving and those who remain will observe and remember how the company acted in such unprecedented times.

Remember, this crisis won’t last forever and the people who are leaving today may well be interviewing for another job with you in a year’s time … you could regain their talent and experience. It is important to consider how you handle the current situation and how your brand, company morale and reputation will be affected as a result of your actions. Ensuring the cooperation of the person by acting with trust, empathy and good faith will hopefully make the process fairer, more straightforward and less painful for all.