The purpose of this paper is to discuss how a decision of restructuring and firing people in a Portuguese company was based on financial data, and how the interpretation of such data made the process quite complex. This complexity was particularly relevant in the litigation that followed. At the core of the restructuring decision was the evolution of the firm's operating income; and a central point in litigation was precisely what should be considered the operating income of the company under analysis, and how it could influence the case's court outcome.
In 2008 a Portuguese company fired people in its finance department. The main reason presented by the management to the laid off persons was the evolution of the firm's operating income, which was negative for several consecutive years. The paper, after a background analysis of restructuring decisions and financial performance, will focus on this case and the correspondent issues, that are mainly related to the concept of operating income, the style of communication between managers and affected employees, and court procedures. It will also compare the Portuguese accounting regime in 2008, with the present one, introduced in 2010 and based on IFRS, as far as the nature of operating income is concerned.
The main conclusion is that standards of accounting and financial reporting can have an important role in justifying restructurings and lay off decisions, and are quite complex to discuss in court cases related to labor laws. Also, changes in accounting systems can have a significant impact in measures of economic performance, opening a wide field of interpretation and legal uncertainty about case outcomes. Judges must have the capacity to navigate through such intricate questions, and see financial information numbers in the light of a company's true economic function.
The paper highlights the problems that can arise when financial data are the basis for layoffs. Given the nature of accounting conventions, if litigation follows, a significant degree of complexity can be brought to the legal process. Also, managers must state, in very clear terms, reasons for restructuring, and, when they stress financial performance, related indicators must have an objective nature.
The paper has value for managers engaged in restructuring processes and also for the legal professions, as far as the relation between layoffs and financial performance based on accounting data is concerned.
Martins, A. (2012), "Restructuring, layoffs and litigation: form and substance in reporting operating income", Journal of Human Resource Costing & Accounting, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 50-67. https://doi.org/10.1108/14013381211272644Download as .RIS
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