can I ask my employer to lay me off?

by Ask a Manager on May 14, 2010

A reader writes:

I work for a major financial services company. I no longer wish to work for that company but don’t want to just resign. The company has been laying workers off and is planning more layoffs. I don’t want to feel like a sitting duck. I also want to leave and focus on a non-competing business that I recently started. Should I ask for a package because I wish to leave? I am hoping to get some perks and professional references if I seek a package. What would you advise?

You’re planning on leaving regardless, right? If so, you have nothing to lose by approaching your manager about the possibility of being a voluntary layoff in the next round. If they’re planning to do layoffs anyway, they may be relieved to get volunteers and you could save someone else from being cut.

That said, there’s no guarantee that they’ll accept your offer. If yours isn’t a position they plan to cut, it doesn’t make sense for them to lay you off. So you should be prepared for them not to take you up on it … and, depending on the culture there, it might be awkward hanging around much longer after you’ve told them you’re ready to leave. But it sounds like you want to leave either way, anyway.

If you’re close to your manager and have a relationship of trust, you might be successful running this by her off the record and getting a better sense of how this proposal is likely to be received. Good luck

P.S. I’m asking the Evil HR Lady, who has more experience with layoffs than me, to weigh in too.

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{ 40 comments }

Evil HR Lady May 14, 2010 at 6:42 am

Thanks! Layoffs are my things.

Yes, you can ask to be laid off. People do it all the time. (In fact, I asked once and they said no. Who would do the layoffs if they laid me off?)

But, here are the problems with asking to be laid off.

1. They might say no, but now your boss feels rejected and everyone knows you aren't engaged in your work. They know you are out searching for something new. The result is, you can lose a lot of your power in this situation.

2. They might say yes. You would think this is a good thing and it might be. I've had several people who volunteered for layoffs thinking, "Gee, I get 3 months of severance to sit home on my rear end, eating Cheetos and watching Oprah!" But they don't think past that 3 month mark. Then you've got no job and no income.

When the job market is hot, it's a pretty good gamble. Right now it's not. Could you get a new job before the severance runs out?

3. Asking leaves you hanging in limbo. Many companies don't say, "We're having layoffs June 1." You just show up to work June 1st and get called into your boss's office and that is that.

The other thing is, you may tell your boss you are interested in going and she may tell the decision makers but they won't tell YOU until they do the layoffs on a date that they won't release.

I realize this happens if you haven't volunteered as well, but people who are pretty sure they'll get laid off have a tendency to want to hold out for the severance. They end up turning down job offers or not looking as hard as they should because they have "free money" coming up.

4. Make sure you understand what the severance package really is before you ask for one. Does it cover a health insurance extension? Does your payroll process it as salary or as a bonus? (If the latter, the witholding rate is the same as a bonus. Yes, you can get it back when you file your taxes, but it doesn't give you a massive check now.)

Do you have to repay if you get a job? Can you apply for unemployment? Will the company fight your unemployment because you were a volunteer?

Anyway, some things to consider!

EHRL

Anonymous May 14, 2010 at 11:14 am

I once volunteered to be laid off because I had already been accepted to grad school and was planning to resign in a few weeks anyway when they announced a layoff at the company. They did not accept my offer and laid off 9 coworkers.

Anonymous May 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I recently asked to be laid off, and my company was great about it. Severance, kept me on the health care, and didn't object to unemployment. I will say now though that it IS a little scary. I thought that it'd look fine if I said I was laid off, and maybe make me a better candidate, but that's not the case. Be prepared for a long job search in this market, and don't think the pity story of being laid off will help sway employers at all.

De Minimis May 14, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I would be very careful with this, and only ask about it if you are prepared for the possibility of being cut loose immediately. At my last job I asked my "coach" [a senior employee assigned to be a mentor] if there was any way he could let me know the results of our year-end evaluations as soon as he could. I told him that I needed to make decisions regarding my rental situation, etc., depending on the outcome. I ended up being let go the very next day. They would have done it eventually, but it accelerated the process. I think anytime you have that type of conversation, you have to be prepared for an immediate exit.

michelle March 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm

That was a very good pointer. I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you!

Mneiae May 14, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Sounds like a voluntary layoff is the way to go. Evil HR Lady is probably on the money. I hope that the questioner already has something lined up.

Anonymous May 14, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I don't know why anyone would want to volunteer to be laid-off, and probably only be the one to complain later about not having a job. Having been the person who couldn't get a job, I despised those who complained and moaned over their jobs, wishing to leave.

But at the same time, if you don't want your job, guaranteed there's someone waiting in the wings ready to take it and be appreciative for it.

As I have said, I have been in a position where I wasn't working, and although I'm nowhere near my dream job, I'm glad to have some cash flow. I do, however, agree with those who are in toxic work environments who probably will be better off.

Call me harsh, but it just baffles me.

Marsha May 15, 2010 at 5:11 am

Unless it's a totally impossible situation, find something else first. Things might be different in 6 months, but right now jobs are not easily found. Sit tight and look hard.

Anonymous May 15, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Anonymous 4:59, you nailed it: There are some of us who ARE in toxic situations and would rather gamble and have the TIME to look for another job, go to interviews, etc–rather than feeling vulnerable every time one needs to take time off for so much as a doctor appointment.

Sometimes, it IS the better outcome. I have considered doing this myself, but when I stopped to think about my particular situation and my particular relationship with my supervisors, I concluded it would not be a good gamble for me.

Instead, I am looking while I am working and just trying to work with what vacation time I have.

Anonymous May 15, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Anon 9:31

I know from friends and on here there are people who have worked in toxic work environments. They put up with it as much as possible, but then there's that one "straw that broke the camel's back." That's why I put that disclaimer in there. I've heard the stories, one recently too.

Good luck with your search.

Anonymous May 16, 2010 at 12:23 am

@ Anon 4:59

Have you ever worked in an unsafe environment? Have you ever been harassed or bullied at work? Have you ever had to deal with employers refusing to pay you for your hours worked? Ever have to job the job of two or three people and work 50-60+ hour weeks?

So what if there are people looking for work? It doesn't mean that the rest of us who are working should have to put up with unethical or outright illegal workplaces.

We have a constant race to the bottom as far as working conditions are concerned here in the United States. Rather than calling anyone who doesn't enjoy being felt up or working endless hours perhaps we should be more empathetic and support them.

Anonymous May 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Anon @ 8:53

I suggest you reread what I had written and realize that I understand and know there are situations in which people are subjected to hostile and toxic work environments. Once you reread, you'll also realize you overreacted and missed that in my post. However, there are also people who complain about work for the sake of complaining about something, and those are the people I feel frustrated over. That's my frustration, especially in the state of our economy and country.

Anonymous May 17, 2010 at 2:46 pm

The letter writer already has plans to "focus on a non-competing business that I recently started", so all the concern about not having a job lined up seems to be misplaced.

The real question is whether the person has enough business prospects/savings/etc. to financially weather an immediate layoff without the perks which may or may not come with an at this point hypothetical severance package.

Kristin May 18, 2010 at 2:56 am

Right in the middle of the time about a year ago when every company was laying people off, one of my co-workers was really unhappy in her job. We knew layoffs were coming (and that they'd have a minimum 12 weeks' pay severance package). She went to HR and told them how unhappy she was and asked to be laid off.

She didn't get laid off. She ended up giving notice an hour after they did the layoffs. I think HR figured she was likely to leave on her own anyway, and that way they didn't have to pay her severance package.

Anyway, just a thought- volunteering to be laid off could work against you. Good luck!

Anonymous May 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Unless the company solicits for volunteers, it is not wise to ask to be laid off. It is almost like giving your employer a notice without having a job lined up. And, you may not be selected for the lay off. In fact, your situation at work could worsen leading you to quit. Hence, bide your time and concentrate on developing your business. When that takes off, you won't care about the severance package because you won't need it anymore.

A coworker volunteered to her manager to be laid off so that another persons job could be saved. She was ready to move on mentally to other opportunities and she had another source of income at home from her spouse. Result, she was not laid off and after several of her close colleagues were laid off, she did not feel like staying and ended up giving her notice anyway shortly after that.

Anonymous June 14, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I would like to know how to handle a retail job in which I haven't worked for 3 months, yet I have been oncall every week. Seems like a win-win for the employer. Should they lay me off??

Anonymous June 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm

I'm really glad I came across this blog. I am preparing to propose to my boss that she lay me off. I'm in a toxic situation, and during my review she told me about a dozen times that "the job changed." Well it's changed to something I'm not qualified to do. I don't know why they're keeping me around, and in the meantime my boss likes to use me as her personal punching bag. I asked her if she would need to cut staff, and her response was "I don't know." I feel proposing they lay me off will get me out of there and onto my next move, which will be out of state, plus get them whoever it is they think they now want.

Anonymous September 3, 2010 at 2:54 am

Hi, my boss told me that she would laid off all employees, and knowing that most of them are not legal I decided to be nice and I asked to be laid off, so the other lady can keep at least 20 hours to work. Today, I stopped by my work, and I was informed that my boss just laid off me and other employer and she kept the other people working, and when I am going to be re-hired I will loose my FT yr around position and benefits. Is this legally right? I am really upset that she preferred to leave a bunch of illegal people to work and she laid me off when I have valid documentationt to work. Please tell me what shuld I do.

Anonymous March 2, 2012 at 10:58 am

Can I ask my employer to lay me off if there are no layoffs taking place. If so will I receive unemployment. It will be due to medical issues and stress. Job is over whelming.

Ask a Manager March 2, 2012 at 11:07 am

There’s no incentive for your employer to lay you off if they aren’t cutting positions. There’s also a financial disincentive (the cost to them of your unemployment benefits), and they’d need to lie on the unemployment paperwork, which they’re not likely to do. It sounds like you’d need to resign.

ken March 9, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I have been working with this company for over 14 years. last week my manager as me if i want to volunteer quit. for some unknown reason they don’t want to put me on layoff. when i decline, they cut my hours by 25%. the co. going to get rid of 2 of my co-worker. my guess is they want to get rid of me because my seniority. they want to hire new employee so they can pay a low salary. i know they will try to make my work difficult. I’ll be doing a 3 person job by myself. they probably going to terminate for poor performance. please advise, what can i do???

Natasha December 4, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I am currently in a similar situation, and am trying to figure out a way to ask my boss to lay me off. We’re on good terms, and i’ve been with them for nearly 9 years. Its a small family business, but his mother has been putting me through hell and back, with little insults, badmouthing me behind my back, and basically using me as her personal punchbag. She’s created such a toxic environment, that a couple of months ago i had a nervous breakdown, and havent been the same since. I got a doctors note that i can no longer work here due to stress, and need to talk to my boss about being laid off. Any suggestions on how i should approach this? How long of a notice should i give him? Thank you

Natasha December 4, 2012 at 2:52 pm

P.S. I want to be laid off before the end of the year, and figure out what to do next after taking a few weeks to get myself back to normal…

Jamie December 4, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I’ve never heard of asking to be laid off. There is no incentive for the employer to do this – in fact there’s a huge disincentive as you would receive UI.

Layoffs are for restructures (including eliminating positions) and for budget cuts.

In other instances you either quit or are fired. Asking an employer to lay you off is asking them to protect you from all adverse consequences when you quit.

I can’t imagine any employer agreeing to this – there is no upside for them.

Ask a Manager December 4, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I agree with Jamie, unless your company is in the process of doing layoffs. That was the situation with the original letter in this post — Natasha, is that the case with your company as well? It’s not clear to me from your comment.

Jamie December 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I didn’t reread the OPs letter…ITA if they are already doing layoffs it’s a different thing altogether.

Natasha December 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm

They are also having financial troubles

Natasha December 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Jamie, me getting Employment Insurance has technically got nothing to do with the employer. Its nothing coming out of his pocket. The doctors note that i can no longer work due to stress, is a legitimate reason to be laid off (and i know he will do that because he’s not heartless….) I’m just trying to figure out a way to approach him with it… Also, i know they’ve tried to screw one of our guys out of getting his 2 week compensation when they laid him off, so im worried that i may have a battle ahead of me as well… not sure how to handle it.

Jamie December 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm

UI absolutely costs employers money. Every upheld UI claim raises rates. If a company goes five years without a claim that pay a very low percentage of their payroll – but the more claims you have the higher a percentage of payroll that employer has to kick in.

It can go (I believe) as high as 20% of payroll costs.

That’s why employers fight specious claims and why they prefer for people to resign rather than having to fire them.

I am sorry you’re not well – I do hope you can make the changes you need to be in a better place…but I’ve never heard of an employer laying off an employee because of the employee’s health issues. Now, if you have over 50 employees you will be entitled to FMLA – which is 12 weeks off (unpaid unless your employer has other policies) for you to attend to your health and not lose your job.

People do on disability if their doctor believes that they can’t work and they otherwise qualify – but that is different than being laid off.

Jamie December 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Just for the sake of discussion if you have a 3 M payroll it could be the difference in paying about 90K per year into UI and paying about 600K.

The more money that a company has to pay into UI the less there is for improvements, raises, bonuses, etc – and it can be enough to put a company under if they are at the edge of profitability.

I just wanted to illustrate this point, because a lot of people think that there is no UI cost to the employer…and there are huge costs to having a lot of UI claims. That’s why it’s so critical to hire well and get good people in there to limit your turnover – although a well managed company will always have some. It’s also why I’m so in favor of doing a couple weeks on the front end through a staffing agency – it costs a little bit more for a few weeks (or a month or two) but if things don’t work out you avoid an immediate fire and UI claim.

Ask a Manager December 4, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Natasha, in addition to what Jamie has explained, it sounds like you might not be totally clear on what a layoff generally is: It’s the elimination of a position when a company is cutting jobs or restructuring. It’s not something they generally do in the type of situation you’re describing.

Mauricio February 15, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Not sure in the US but I know that in Canada, if you have strong reasons to quit (harassment, boss asking you to do unethical or illegal stuff, medical reasons), you are eligible for UI. You don’t need to be laid off. Check the website of whatever institution takes care of that in your country… you might be surprised.

Natasha December 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Thanks for all the answers, those are very helpful. I hope to get the guts to talk to him about it today… In the least i can give it a try, and see how far it gets me. Better to have tried and failed then to have never tried at all :) Wwe’ll see how it goes… wish me luck :)

Jamie December 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm

I hope it works out for you – but I really hope you’ve considered worst case scenario as you’re taking a pretty big risk. By asking to be laid off you can easily end up out with no UI.

If you tell him about your doctor saying you couldn’t work, he could require you to take unpaid leave until you have clearance to return.

If you refuse he could argue to the labor board to fight your UI that you, in essence, quit because you said you couldn’t work anymore (and refused medical leave) and asked to be dismissed.

I really hope everything works out for you – good luck.

Natasha December 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Thanks Jamie! Him and I are on really good terms, and I know that he’s not that heartless to just fire me. We’re practically family, as he said it. I hope it will work out. I’ll post an update once i get this dealt with :)

Natasha December 5, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Well, I talked with him today and he agreed to lay me off so that I can apply for UI. I will. Ring up the compensation closer to my leaving date, which is at the end of Dec.

Natasha December 5, 2012 at 10:53 pm

I will bring up* (sorry, typo)

Randy December 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm

I’ve been with an employer for over 12 years now and am planning on leaving in several months in order to pursue another vocation. It will require me to be unemployed for at least 15 weeks while I obtain licensure requirements for my new profession. My employer is aware of this and we have an excellent relationship. It has been suggested by friends to see if he may be able to lay me off so I can collect unemployment while I am unemployed and finishing unpaid school requirements. We are a small office and have not had an unemployment claim in at least 10 years, so I don’t know what percentage or what effect it would have on the company payroll taxes.

I also don’t want to do anything that may constitute fraud, but the dynamic in our company has changed since I started and I know they are looking for a different skill set for my position. It might be a way for them to replace me with someone they feel is better suited for my job and myself to have unemployment benefits while I’m not working. A win-win in that regard. Is there anything I’m not considering that I should? If I can’t collect benefits between career change I’m not sure I’ll be able to leave my current position. Thank you for any input!

mary February 10, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I’m only getting one day a week now in my job , I would be better off on the dole , can I ask my boss to let me go.

Anonymous January 5, 2014 at 10:02 pm

can i ask my manager to lay me off i have been on fmla for 6mos, eyesight.i have not applied for ssd yet

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