Reduction in Force (RIF)

Summary Definition: The permanent termination of employees from a company, usually due to financial constraints, restructuring, or automation.

What is a Reduction in Force (RIF)?

Reduction in force (RIF) is when a company permanently eliminates job positions, often on a large scale and usually as a cost-saving measure.

Companies turn to RIFs for various reasons (e.g., economic downturns, company restructuring, lack of work, or downsizing) so they can cut labor expenses and remain profitable. 

What is the Difference Between RIFs, Layoffs, and Furloughs?

RIF, employee layoffs, and furlough are three different cost-saving employment decisions but are sometimes used interchangeably. Here are some technical differences: 

  Reduction in Force Layoff Furlough
Definition A permanent termination of employment A temporary termination of work with the possibility of becoming permanent A temporary but mandatory leave of absence 
Is the person still employed? No No Yes
Is there an expectation that employees will return to work? No Sometimes Yes

Key Takeaways

  • A reduction in force (RIF) is the permanent, sometimes large-scale, termination of employees.
  • The most common reasons for an RIF include financial hardship, redundant job positions, restructuring, and location closure.
  • Companies should seek legal advice and establish best practices (e.g., creating a clear communication plan) for conducting an RIF.  

Reasons for a Reduction in Force

A company might conduct an RIF for several reasons, including:

  • Financial Hardship: Economic downturns, a lack of funding, or poor business performance can result in budget changes that force an employer to reduce employee headcounts.
  • Redundant Job Positions: Some positions become redundant due to new technology or changing business needs (e.g., new, automated processes).
  • Outsourcing: The decision to outsource work abroad or to third-party contractors can lead to whole teams and departments being let go. 
  • Mergers and Acquisitions: During the evaluation stage of a merger or acquisition, a company may discover it has too many employees, prompting an RIF.
  • Location Closure: Issues like supply chain problems or excessive competition can force an organization to close an entire location, thus triggering an RIF for everyone employed there.

Reduction in Force Guidelines

RIFs can harm an organization’s culture, disrupt operations, and lower productivity by decreasing employee trust, morale, and engagement. 

Consider the following to ensure the process is handled transparently, compassionately, and lawfully:

  1. Legal Advice: Certain legislation and regulations govern RIFs, such as anti-discrimination laws, WARN Act requirements, severance policies, and others.
  2. Selection Criteria and Process: The selection criteria for termination should be clearly defined (e.g., seniority, skills, department, location, performance, etc.). 
  3. Action Plan: Along with the selection criteria, an action plan should describe when and how terminations will happen and outline the responsibilities, communication strategies, and employee offboarding processes.
  4. Communication Plan: Transparent employers and RIF plans cause less hurt and disruption across the workforce by clearly explaining the reasons behind the RIF and the processes it’s using. For example, employers may hold an open-forum meeting or write a reduction in force letter or email to explain the situation.
  5. Process Documentation: To reduce legal risks and verify regulatory compliance, an RIF policy should require all decisions to be well-documented and stored properly. 
  6. Outplacement Services: Outplacement services help terminated employees find new positions and career paths. They include activities like career coaching, resume writing, networking, interview preparation, and emotional support. Offering this service can protect a brand’s reputation and mend employee relationships.

Related Glossary Terms


Maximize Productivity the Right Way 

Get out of time-consuming processes while knowing your employees are set up for day-to-day success. The costs - and headaches - of manually scheduling, tracking, and managing your workforce's time adds up fast. Use the right tools to automate where it matters, while delivering a modern, user-friendly experience for employees and their managers.

Manage with Confidence