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opinion piece

BLOG – Which legal framework for truly effective outplacement?

By Eric Galand, Legal Advisor, Federgon & Member of WEC’s Career Management Group

Published on 8th October 2020

In an increasingly volatile and uncertain economic context – not least the one caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – organisations inevitably face change in activity patterns. When layoffs are unavoidable, career management services can play a critical role in accompanying the process and helping both organisations and individuals to navigate this transition through outplacement.

Outplacement services can for instance cut the time that elapses between termination of employment and entry in a new occupation by half. You may wonder why outplacement is not made mandatory by law then. Surely it would make the transitions more effective!

Looking at the example of Belgium, the legal framework for outplacement can be shaped in many ways. The first initiative dates back from the early 1990s and outplacement was then voluntary. In the 2000s, several new pieces of legislation were put forward, and the framework keeps evolving. All those initiatives have brought value added, be it by making individual and collective outplacement mandatory, by including quality standards for the services provided or by implementing funds to finance those policies. Comparing the evolution of the outplacement activity with the entry into force of these various initiatives, there is a clear increase in the amount of people supported and therefore more laid off workers have found their way back into employment.

Outplacement services have a proven record in helping individuals transition to a new job. Yet, the service is provided at a time that is particularly difficult, for both the employer and the employee. It is therefore important that both parties know exactly what to expect. A clear legal framework plays a key role in guiding employers and employees through this difficult time and easing the transition process.

Mandatory outplacement alone is not enough though. Certain criteria should be fulfilled to ensure that the outplacement process is truly effective and leads to new opportunities for individuals. Ideally, the legislative framework should be put in place proactively. Adopting a legislation as a reaction to a urgent situation would risk missing out on the objectives of the process. The current sanitary crisis is once again demonstrating the importance of accompanying employers and workers in difficult economic times. It should therefore be seized as an opportunity to set up a practical and effective legal framework for outplacement before we actually see those lay-off happening.

Secondly, the legal framework should include sanctions. To ensure that workers will indeed find new opportunities through the outplacement process, all parties involved must have clear responsibilities. The employer must be sanctioned if he does not provide the required outplacement services; the employee must follow the programme set and the outplacement firm must follow the rules in place.

Finally, any legal framework for outplacement must include guidelines regarding the quality of the outplacement services offered. In Belgium, the legislation foresees a certain number of quality criteria that outplacement firms must abide to. Such criteria are essential to guarantee a professional outplacement service that truly meets the needs of workers and therefore enables them to re-enter the labour market.

Labour market transitions are more important than ever in the context of the Covid-19 crisis and the career management sector can play a critical role there through outplacement services. A legal framework is an essential component of truly effective outplacement as it sets the rights and obligations of all parties. By having clear responsibilities, employers, employees and services providers can all contribute to a quality and effective process that eventually benefits the entire labour market.

This post is part of a series of blog contributions by members of the World Employment Confederation’s Career Management group exploring the value added of career management services to people, organisations and society, in particular in a world of work disrupted by the Covid-19 crisis.

WEC’s Career Management group was founded by leading global career management firms LHH, Randstad Risesmart, Right Management and Intoo and keeps expanding to national federations in countries like Belgium and Poland. For more information about WEC’s activities regarding Career Management, visit our dedicated webpage.

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