The effect of a background rotation on the decay of grid-generated turbulence is investigated from experiments using the large-scale ‘Coriolis’ rotating platform. A first transition occurs at 0.4 tank rotation (instantaneous Rossby number Ro ≃ 0.25), characterized by a t−6/5 → t−3/5 transition of the energy-decay law. After this transition, anisotropy develops in the form of vertical layers, where the initial vertical velocity fluctuations remain trapped. The vertical vorticity field develops a cyclone–anticyclone asymmetry, reproducing the growth law of the vorticity skewness, Sω(t) ≃ (Ωt)0.7, reported by Morize, Moisy & Rabaud (Phys. Fluids, vol. 17 (9), 2005, 095105). A second transition is observed at larger time, characterized by a return to vorticity symmetry. In this regime, the layers of nearly constant vertical velocity become thinner as they are advected and stretched by the large-scale horizontal flow, and eventually become unstable. The present results indicate that the shear instability of the vertical layers contributes significantly to the re-symmetrization of the vertical vorticity at large time, by re-injecting vorticity fluctuations of random sign at small scales. These results emphasize the importance of the nature of the initial conditions in the decay of rotating turbulence.