July 24, 2024

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A layoff guide: What to do before, during, and after getting laid off

A layoff guide: What to do before, during, and after getting laid off

As businesses prepare for a coming recession, people’s jobs are inevitably on the chopping block. Tech companies like Meta, Amazon, Twitter, and Netflix are among the most high-profile organizations laying off workers in a bid to cut costs, but across industries, layoffs are on the rise in the US, with a 417 percent rise in the number of cut jobs in November compared to last year.

Workers affected by layoffs are suddenly faced with many drastic changes all at once: the loss of livelihood, routine, and benefits (if the job offered them). They’re left to navigate separation agreements, severance packages, and unemployment benefits with little guidance. All this on top of the already arduous job search process.

Still, laid-off employees often have more power beyond what the company initially spells out upon eliminating your position. While Vox can’t offer financial or legal advice, there are general guidelines to help workers in transition. From negotiating severance packages to dealing with unemployment, here are some tips to help guide you through the days and weeks after a layoff.

What to do the week before layoffs are announced

Usually workers will have some warning about impending layoffs, either from official company communications or from office rumors, says Alison Green, creator of the work advice column Ask a Manager. Getting “laid off” means you lost your job due to no fault of your own — the company is cutting costs, restructuring, or shutting down completely. Full-time, part-time, and contract workers can all be subject to layoffs. Unfortunately, part-time workers might not have the benefit of severance packages or any other “safety net,” says employment lawyer Christopher Davis, managing partner and owner of the law firm Working Solutions NYC. “If there’s a layoff or some sort of shift in the economy, they’re really not protected.”

Getting laid off is different from being fired, where the company is letting you go based on poor performance or violating company policy. Quitting is where you voluntarily leave the job.

Federal law requires employers with 100 or more employees to give 60 days’ notice of a layoff affecting 50 or more full-time employees at a single site of employment. Part-time employees are also entitled to receive notice of a mass layoff or plant closing. Each state may have its own guidelines regarding notice, and layoffs more broadly, says Davis. If your employer does not give proper notice under these laws, you may have legal recourse, Davis says, so you and your fellow laid-off co-workers can consult with an employment lawyer. You and your colleagues can ask for attorney recommendations from family and friends or search for local legal aid organizations that have taken on employment cases. Davis also recommends doing some online searches and research of your own and making cold calls.

Use any possible advance notice to your benefit, Green says. Read over your employee handbook and determine what items or files in your desk, workplace, or computer you want to take with you. You might want to download your email contacts, secure copies of your performance reviews, or make sure you have accounted for all of your pay stubs. Double-check with workplace rules when copying any examples of your work; the company almost certainly owns that material. Green also recommends having a copy of the employee handbook accessible so you can reference policies and procedures during the separation process if necessary.

If you are enrolled in your company’s health insurance plan, make any necessary doctor appointments and refill prescriptions, Green says. “Try to get extra refills if you can do it,” she adds.

What to do the day you are laid off

Receiving news that your position has been eliminated can be shocking and upsetting. You may have gotten notice in a group call, in a one-on-one meeting, or over email. Before taking action, pause and review all of the information you have about the separation as outlined in those meetings, says Lauren McGoodwin, founder and CEO of the online job resource website Career Contessa. Companies aren’t required to offer severance, but many do, and severance details may be a part of these documents. Each individual employer can decide whether to offer severance to part-time employees. “Take a moment to decompress,” she says. “Don’t sign anything right away. Don’t react to it.”

Now would be a good time to speak to your union representatives, if you’re a member of a union, before signing any agreements. “Often, they will have specific supports in place that you can access,” Green says. Read over your collective bargaining agreement’s layoff clause, which should outline the process for deciding which positions are eliminated and whether you could potentially be rehired.

Davis says sometimes employment lawyers will offer free consults to talk through any potential legal issues or to look over your severance agreement, but be sure to clarify any fees before taking a meeting. “There’s a lot of people that have legal claims and they just don’t know it,” Davis says, “especially among those who are disenfranchised and don’t have access to the systems in power.”

If the company has sent over a separation agreement document — which lays out the conditions of the layoff — pay attention to the deadline you have to accept. Very rarely will your employer require you to sign on the spot or object to you showing the document to a lawyer, Green says, and if they do, those are major red flags. It’s also illegal to force laid-off employees over the age of 40 to sign a separation agreement too soon. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, laid-off workers 40 years old and up have at least 21 days to review a severance agreement; if they are a part of a group layoff, they have 45 days to review. Employees under 40 are often given the same duration review period. Employees over 40 who have been let go are also entitled to see the job titles and ages of the people in their department also being laid off and those whose positions have not been eliminated.

Regardless of your age, Davis recommends checking in with your colleagues to determine the demographics of the people laid off. If a majority of the people whose positions were eliminated are older than 40, are women, are disabled, or are people of color, you may have a discrimination claim.

As soon as you get the news of the layoff, start the application process for unemployment insurance. The specifics around filing for unemployment differ from state to state, but if you lost your job through no fault of your own, you are eligible. Part-time workers can claim unemployment so long as you worked the minimum amount of hours or made over a certain threshold as determined by the state you work in. In some states, if you receive severance pay, you can’t collect unemployment or may be eligible for a lower amount. In other states, such as California, you can collect unemployment even if you earn severance pay. Check with your state’s unemployment office for specific guidelines around how much you’re eligible for and what you need to apply (usually, Social Security number, ID number, mailing address, phone number, company name, and address). It’s a notoriously confusing process, and you’ll have to file continually until you find a new job.

You may want to email any clients or professional contacts outside the organization to let them know you’re leaving the company. Read over any nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements and ask your soon-to-be-former manager if it’s okay if you alert these contacts, McGoodwin says. If your boss declines, McGoodwin advises posting about the layoff on LinkedIn or a social platform where those contacts are likely to see.

What to do the week after you’ve been laid off

After you’ve had a chance to thoroughly read any materials sent by the company, determine exactly what they’re offering versus what you need, McGoodwin says. Is your severance paid out as a lump sum or a continuation of your salary over a certain period? Will your health insurance benefits be continued, or will you have to pay the entire premium through COBRA? Is the company willing to pay for other assistance, like a career coach? “Let’s say they’re giving you a single lump sum,” McGoodwin says. “How much of a runway does that give you before you need to job-search again? Because maybe you need to go back and try to negotiate for a larger lump sum. Or maybe you’re okay with that lump sum, but … because your whole family uses your health insurance, you really want a longer continuation of the health insurance benefits.”

Your needs can help guide your negotiations with the company regarding the terms of your separation. Think about what you’d be willing to do without in order to get what you want. If the company is offering three weeks’ pay for every year you worked at the business, but you’d rather have an extension of health insurance coverage, you can suggest dropping to two weeks’ pay for every year and continuing health insurance coverage. If you haven’t been offered severance pay at all, always ask for it, Davis says. The company may outright refuse any negotiation, McGoodwin says, but it’s worth asking.

When discussing the terms of your separation, bring up any concerns you have, Green says. Say you reported discrimination within the last year and now you’re being laid off. You have reasonable grounds to suspect it might be retaliation. Or if you’re the only person from a different demographic on your team and you were the only one laid off, “it’s not unreasonable to wonder about that stuff,” Green says. You may be better positioned to negotiate for more favorable terms on your severance.

One fairly standard aspect of severance packages is what’s called a general release of claims. “That says in exchange for accepting the severance, you agree that you’re not going to sue the company moving forward for a whole array of things: harassment, discrimination, disability law violations,” Green says. “That is normal.” So don’t be concerned if you see this type of language.

If you suspect you’ve been laid off based on age, race, or gender, or if you recently reported harassment or other wrongdoing, you may want to talk with an attorney. Should you not sign the exit agreement, you won’t get any of the pay or other benefits outlined in the document.

Regardless of whether your company is offering a severance package, you’ll want to have a set plan for health insurance. If your company did not offer you insurance or you weren’t enrolled on their plan, your health insurance coverage will not change. Laid-off workers can continue coverage on their company plans through COBRA but may have to pay the entire premium. You can also enroll in a plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

With livelihood logistics out of the way, update your resume, LinkedIn, and portfolio so you can let your network know you’re searching for a new job. McGoodwin recommends sending an email to professional contacts or mentors that includes a resume and your LinkedIn profile as well as a message explaining the type of job you’re looking for, your skills, and if they have any leads or connections. “That way they can say, ‘Do I know someone within that world that I can help connect them with?” McGoodwin says.

Reach out to your former manager and ask them what the company will tell future reference checkers about your performance and the reason you left, Green says. “A layoff itself is not something that should be held against you,” she says, “but if you are selected for your layoff in part because of your performance, you do want to know that so that you’re not blindsided if it comes up in a reference later.”

Ongoing strategies to aid your job search

In the weeks following the layoff, structure will be your greatest asset. “Schedule your day for job searching the same way you would schedule your day when you are doing a work project,” McGoodwin says. Rather than spend five consecutive hours firing off applications for roles you don’t really want, dedicate two or three hours applying to exciting positions.

Have a friend or mentor look over your resume and cover letter to provide feedback, Green advises. (Even better if they have hiring experience.) For those who have been out of the job search for a while, getting advice and strategies can ensure you’re using the most up-to-date approaches, especially in the age of social media.

Think deeply about what you want your next role to look like. If you were burned out from your previous position, it can be helpful to think about aspects of a new job that would help lighten your load, like a role that doesn’t require early morning hours or one where you don’t manage a team.

The next few hours of your day can be devoted to networking. As unappealing as it might sound, most jobs are never publicly advertised and many positions are filled through networking. Reach out to a friend-of-a-friend or slide into the DMs of someone who works in your field and ask to learn more about what they do. Don’t forget to keep in touch with former colleagues or contacts from your former job, Green says.

The rest of your to-do list can be administrative tasks like updating your portfolio and responding to emails. Make sure you’re taking some time for yourself, too, to get some fresh air and spend time with people you love.

Layoffs can be painful and potentially feel shameful, but the elimination of your position has nothing to do with your value as an employee or as a human. Take some time to feel hurt, but remember, no one will judge you for having lost your job, Green says. “It was personal to me,” she says. “It was business to them.”

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