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Recently, we've heard a lot about Microsoft's stack ranking system and Yahoo's "Quarterly Performance Review" system.

My Question:

My Concern:

  • Making an exception, even for terminal illness, might start the company down a slippery slope and force it to make other exceptions for other kinds of hardships.

EDIT: @Greg McNulty just submitted a comment that deserves more exploration.

someone terminally ill just got let go here. Seems harsh. – Greg McNulty 4 mins ago

It is harsh.

  • But it would also be harsh to lay off an employee whose two children were paralyzed in a car accident.
  • And it would also be harsh to lay off a single mom who's living paycheck-to-paycheck while supporting three children, all under the age of 7.

Hence, my fear of the slippery slope.

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    I'm confused by the introductory paragraphs about performance review, then the use of the term "layoff". You lay people off because you need to employ less people due to lower sales volume or whatever. You may choose the poorest performers to lay off, but that's by no means the only strategy. Sometimes you lay off an entire department or location. If you are asking "should a terminally ill person be exempt from being fired because they had a poor performance review?" please clarify that, otherwise I fail to see what the review system comment is about. – Kate Gregory Nov 14 '13 at 18:53
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    I wonder if severance pay is a factor. – user8365 Nov 14 '13 at 19:05
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    ** comments removed ** This post is turning into more of a discussion than Q&A. While asking directly, "Is X ethical?" can lead to extended discussion and debate, it's very possible for these questions to be reworded to focus on the deeper problem. My suggestion is also to edit and focus on just the question and leave out opinions. This may help make the post sound more objective. – jmort253 Nov 18 '13 at 0:00
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Let's leave aside the whole question of whether, at a human level, you or anyone wants to be laying off a terminally ill employee ("Hey Fred. You know how you thought your life couldn't get any worse? Well, guess what.")

The main reason is that terminally ill employees aren't costing the company any money. Usually most of their 'wages' are being paid for by the health insurance provider. If the illness is terminal then they are probably not going to return to work, and so firing them will save the company no money, now or in the future.

Other good reasons not to lay off terminally ill employees include: if the employee is on sick leave now, then it may be illegal to lay them off during that period. In most jurisdictions it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of an illness. Even if the employee should be laid off regardless of whether they were sick, the company is going to have to be very confident that it can demonstrate that if a lawsuit is brought.

Also, most companies care about their public image, and their reputation with their employees. Laying off a terminally ill employee isn't going to do anything to help either one. That goes double if laying them off terminates their healthcare coverage.

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  • and dependent on company/locale they may well have different rules/laws for handling terminally ill workers for example medical retirement. – Neuromancer Nov 14 '13 at 19:29

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