What To Do If You Get Laid Off

What To Do If You Get Laid Off

Employment consultant Martha Finney doesn’t pull any punches when she talks
about layoffs. “The very first thing we should all do is just cop to the
fact that it could be us,” she says. “If we’re drawing a paycheck, we could
be losing that paycheck. Period.” Her new book, Rebound: A Proven
Plan for
Starting Over After Job Loss is intended for those
who are nervous about their job security, or who find themselves on the
unemployment line. With 3.6 million jobs
lost since the recession began in December 2007, that’s a lot of people.
TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs reached Finney at her office in Santa Fe,
New Mexico.

What if someone tells you that you’re being let go What do you do and
say at that awful moment

Keep your mouth shut. Keep your hand away from the pen. Sign
nothing. Keep your thoughts to yourself. Ask questions. At the risk of
sounding adversarial, and I don’t like to do that because I’m a huge booster
of the HR profession, these people have a script. HR and the layoff managers
are war-gamed against a script, because they need to protect themselves
legally. If you only ask questions, in a really calm way, you can get them
to move off-script. And when they move off-script, they could say something
that you can use in your favor. Not necessarily against them, but certainly
in your favor. So don’t sign the severance package at that moment; find out
what their reasoning was behind you being selected as someone to lay off.
And expect a nondescript answer. “It wasn’t you — it’s us.” That typical
breakup line.
What if you burst into tears

I think that’s completely normal and natural. I think if you’re dealing with
a humane terminating manager and a humane HR person, their hearts are
breaking, too. It’s just painful all around.

Is it okay to express that you think the layoff is unfair, if you
think it really shouldn’t have been you

Probably not. The reason why is that it makes no difference. They’re not
suddenly going to press the rewind button and totally un-lay you off. It’s
just going to make you look petulant, and it’s going to leave a bad taste in
everybody’s mouth. And you’re going to look back and say, gosh, I wish I
hadn’t said that. It gets you nowhere, and dignity will get you everywhere.

Is there any point in writing down what’s been said to you

Absolutely. In fact, even if what is being said to you seems innocuous, if
you take that document to an attorney, who looks it over and knows what he’s
looking for, there could be something buried in that document that can give
you leverage for a more substantial severance package or even a wrongful
termination suit. It’s going to give you bargaining leverage, ultimately.
And again, never sign the severance agreement right then and there. It’s
ridiculous that it takes you much longer to buy a car than it does to lose
your job. Nobody ever expects anybody on a reasonable basis to sign any
document under duress. It’s completely realistic, reasonable to expect to
take that document home or a copy of it, so that you can look at it with
your spouse, look at it with your attorney. There are all sorts of things
embedded in a severance package that you can negotiate to your favor, even
if it means negotiating an extra month of health insurance.

Who do your files belong to Are you allowed to take them

No. Your files are company property. If you have extra time, if they give
you a couple of weeks to tidy up business, you can probably use your contact
list, because those are relationships that you carry with you, to let people
know that you’re leaving. You can set the tone for why you’re leaving
without making you sound vindictive. But in terms of company property and
documents and company secrets, those belong to the company and you should
leave them alone.

Should you tell everyone in the office what happened, or should
leave quietly

It depends upon the company. If you leave under mysterious circumstances,
people might think you got arrested! I’m always one for being open, and
letting people know what happened. You can tell people you got laid off
without sounding really venomous about it. These are people you’re going to
want to work with in your future, especially if you work in a very tight
industry, or a region like the Bay area, where people know each other for
years and years. They just cycle through the various companies. You’re going
to see these people again. So the last thing you want is a reputation for
being vicious.

What do you tell your own kids

Be honest with them at an age-appropriate level. Say good things about your
company, so that they don’t grow up thinking that employers are monsters.
Say good things about your job and how you felt about it while you were
doing it. Invite them to participate in the new phase of the family life,
without making them feel overburdened by a financial problem.

What if you think your dismissal is age discrimination Is it
going to a lawyer these days

I think so. Go to somebody who’s an expert in employee law and see. If
you’re seeing that a whole layer of employees who happen to be graying at
the temples are the ones who are being disappeared, you have yourself a
class action lawsuit, possibly, and that’s something worth exploring. The
attorney may say, not worth your effort. But it’s better to make a decision
based on information, than just making assumptions.

Any tips about health insurance

One of the experts that I talked to said that if you think you’re about to
be laid off, get your physical done while your company coverage is still
paying for it. Get a recent document that says you are in great shape, so
when the time comes for you to go out and get your own coverage, you have a
document that’s new that you can show to insurance companies to prove that
you’re a good health insurance risk. When people see how much COBRA costs on
a montly basis, the reality of that sets in really fast. There are all sorts
of ways of getting coverage, including the warehouse stores. Costco is
offering health-care coverage now. So there are alternatives. A lot of the
associations are offering something. So there are ways of patching together
coverage so you never have to be totally without.

Is it okay to take any job in the short run just to have money, or
you have to be discerning about it because of your resumé

It depends upon how badly you need money. Don’t be precipitous if you don’t
have to be. If you have to get new work right away, try to make it
consulting work that’s at your level. A great place for consulting work is
the place that just laid you off. They need to get that work done; they just
needed to trim the overhead. You can conceivably continue working at that

What do you tell a prospective employer about your layoff How
can you be

I think you can be completely honest. In fact, in this phase, if you’re not,
the employer is probably going to wonder. Don’t lie. This is the era of the
No-Fault Layoff. Anyone who judges you for having been laid off doesn’t know
what they’re doing.

Read “The American Companies That Won’t Cut Jobs”

Read “After Layoffs, There’s Survivor’s Guilt”