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January 02, 2002
Reassignment: an Alternative to Layoffs
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ing to avoid layoffs, companies increasingly are reassigning their employees to new duties, USA Today reports.

The changes, however, can be traumatic for the workers involved. The newspaper notes these upheavals:

- More than 750 ticket takers and gate agents with TWA who got layoff notices after Sept. 11 were given a chance to work as security screeners instead. The employees can sign on as temporary screeners and keep their hourly pay.

- Lincoln Electric has avoided layoffs since the early 1950s, in part by reassigning workers to different jobs. Some workers have moved from metal fabricating to assembly machines. Other reassignments are more dramatic, with employees on the factory floor moving to desk jobs.

Those reassigned to new jobs might have to take pay cuts. "It's difficult for people to get used to in the beginning, but it can be extremely beneficial," says Lincoln Electric HR staffer Dale Williams.

- Northrop Grumman canceled work in Mississippi on a project building cruise ships after funding dried up. The more than 1,200 employees who would have been laid off have been moved to different jobs instead. Some went to other projects in the state; others are being bused to New Orleans, where other shipbuilding facilities exist.

- The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in San Francisco reshuffled staff rather than let them go. One result: A customer service department employee is now doing business development.

"It doesn't always work. Filling jobs is not always a matter of placing bodies," says Julie Freeman, IABC president. "But there are advantages with training and morale."

The tactic is being used as employers respond to fluctuating market demands by shuffling staffers around. They're also seeking to retain skilled employees rather than recruiting again when the economy rebounds.

Reassignments can spark resentment, because some firms have used the process to reduce pay or sideline employees in hopes they will quit. Still, HR experts say the practice can save jobs. And they say employers don't want to cut too deeply, because the economy is volatile. When demand picks up, more workers will be needed.

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