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What should you do during a layoff? A Practical Guide to Navigating a Layoff

By Tara Pramme

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    Navigating a layoff

    If you’ve opened LinkedIn, or read the news the last few weeks, you’ve inevitably seen friends, family and current/former colleagues being impacted by layoffs. Having spent the last 15 years in Human Resources (mostly in Tech), I’ve walked through layoffs more than a few times and learned some practical advice for weathering the storm. 

    In this post, I will provide a practical guide for how to navigate losing your job should you find yourself on the receiving end of a layoff conversation/email, including:  

    1. What questions to ask your current employer, and steps to take in your last days of employment;
    2. What steps to take after your last day of work including determining if you’re eligible to file for unemployment, evaluating your benefits options, and taking advantage of the layoff benefits you were offered; 
    3. Evaluating how to move on, and finding what’s next.

    The most important aspect of losing your job is to allow yourself to grieve the process however is best for you. No matter how wonderful (or awful) your boss was, whether it felt like the company was flourishing, or circling the toilet bowl, losing your job (when it wasn’t your choice), can elicit a lot of emotions. If you have access to an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or mental health benefits, consider giving those folks a call so you can gain some strategies for emotionally getting yourself through this experience. One piece of advice I received from an EAP counselor a few years ago, was to try and do something for yourself that brings you joy – whether that’s playing at a park with your kids, having a glass of wine, going for a walk/exercising, or calling a friend – plan something that despite the circumstances can help you feel joy.

    An important note, I am not an attorney, and none of the information in this post should be taken as legal advice. If you feel you have been discriminated against, please consult an attorney, or if you’re based in California, evaluate your options through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (if you’re outside of California, your state will likely have a similar agency).

    When you are notified that your role has been eliminated or you’re being laid off, there are probably a million things running through your mind, and you may not have the opportunity to ask all of your questions in a 1:1 meeting. Most of your questions will likely be covered in the paperwork you’ll receive regarding your layoff benefits (which are received in exchange for a severance agreement). Some things you’ll want to look for when you receive your paperwork are the Layoff Benefits.

    Critical questions to ask during a layoff

    There is a lot of discretion when it comes to the layoff benefits each company decides to offer. There are certain federal and state requirements depending on whether a layoff has triggered Federal or State specific WARN laws, and outside of those specific laws, there is a lot of discretion each company can apply to anything else they offer. Here are some things you’ll want to look for in your paperwork: 

      1. What is your last day of work? 
      2. Is your last day of work different from the last day the company is paying you (sometimes referred to as a pay through date, or last day of employment)
      3. How many days do you have to consider your severance options? 
      4. Are you eligible to apply to other internal opportunities? Is there anyone internal who will help you with those applications? 
      5. When do your health benefits continue through? Is the company paying for additional benefits with a signed severance agreement? How do you take advantage of those benefits? 
      6. If you have supplemental insurance policies are you able to port them (e.g. life insurance, pet insurance, legal benefits etc.)? If you can port them, when do you have to notify the company or insurance carriers? 
      7. Do you have a 401(k) or other retirement plans/benefits? Do you need to roll them over, or should you roll them over? See if the company is offering financial advising benefits as part of the layoff benefits, or consult your own financial advisor. If your layoff was due to an acquisition, check out this SVIC post for how to navigate your 401(k) when your company was acquired.
      8. How do you obtain verification of employment information after you leave if you need it? Does the company have a self service option to download a verification of employment letter? 
      9. Is the company providing references? Who do you contact to receive a reference? 
      10. If you were based in the United States and required sponsorship to work, it’s worth confirming with your employer if they will be providing any additional services to you beyond what is required. It may be wise to request a meeting with their immigration attorneys and seek legal advice on your specific situation.
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    As you wind up your time at your employer, spend some time reflecting on how you’d like to share about your job loss. It’s your story to tell, and you should get to decide how and where you would like that information shared. If sharing your job loss on social media (including LinkedIn) isn’t your style, then don’t do it. Sometimes employers put together lists of individuals who lost their jobs to share with prospective employers, there is also usually an opt-out option in those lists as well. You should always have the opportunity to decide how and where your information is shared in these situations. 

    After your last day, now what?  

    After your last day with your company you’ll likely need to follow prescribed arrangements to return company assets. Ensure you have provided your former employer with your current home/mailing address so they can send you important information/tax forms in a timely manner (or ensure you have retained access to HR systems to access this information digitally). 

    Check your eligibility to file for unemployment. You’ll likely need to do this through your state’s unemployment agency (in California this is done through the EDD), and each state has different requirements. You’ll also want to check into your health insurance options and ensure you’re covered (via insurance continuation through your former employer, COBRA, state insurance options, a spouse/partner’s health insurance plans, or the various health insurance marketplaces). 

    Review your finances. It’s also a good time to review what your unemployment and severance pay are and have a conversation with a financial advisor if needed to ensure you’re living within your means while you search for a new opportunity. 

    Moving Forward

    When you’re ready, consider what’s next. Is this the time to explore a different industry? Start your own business? Take a class to develop some new skills? There are probably dozens of people who will be willing to help you with whatever is next when you are ready. If you’re reading this post and part of SVIC, you probably have at least a few people within this community who will be willing to review your resume, help you with interviews or refer you to a role at their company. Asking for help can be scary, but there are so many kind people in this world who are willing to help.

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    If you’re comfortable, consider reaching out to your LinkedIn network, former colleagues, family and friends, or the recruiter who helped you land a great job previously. You can also check into any outplacement services that are available to you either through your former employer, or via your connections. While it may take some time to find a new role, there are still plenty of jobs out there. 

    Losing your job can elicit so many different feelings; your feelings, no matter what they might be, are valid. If you need access to mental health resources please reach out to someone and ask for help. 

    If you lost your job in these recent waves of layoffs, please spend some time ensuring you have all the resources you need and are due from your employer, take some time to ask for help, and make a plan to move forward. Losing your job can be painful, even if you didn’t love it. This situation will not define you, and you will find and start another job, maybe even one that you love. 

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