layoffs looming and baby on the way

A reader writes:

My multi-national employer is in trouble. This is public knowledge and our GM has warned us that there will be cuts due to a projected revenue shortfall in the tens of millions of dollars. Given that my division is essentially a vendor, we’re at the mercy of clients who aren’t booking work and the trends suggest they won’t book enough in the near future to fill the gap.

Looking at a number of factors in my personal situation, I feel like there is a 50/50 chance I’m going to be laid off in the next few months. My best guess is that such a round of layoffs might happen at the beginning of our next fiscal year, which starts in April.

I’m the sole breadwinner. My wife is pregnant and we’ll be expecting our second child in a few weeks. My state has generous paternity/family leave laws and I plan on taking advantage of it while I can (shooting for 4 weeks). I would not be eligible for this leave with a new employer until I’ve worked for them for a year. As we don’t have much of a local support network of family, I will spend most of this time helping my wife recover and taking care of our older child. It’s not “vacation,” but I could squeeze some job hunting in.

The bummer part of all this is that I have a very specialized profession in a tiny field that is concentrated geographically in my area. Jobs like the one I currently hold are few and far between, and since I currently work for one of the behemoths in the industry, most other opportunities will likely be a step down in pay and benefits. On the other hand, there is literally no one else in my company with my specific technical or institutional knowledge and they’d be kind of hosed if I left. But we’re all replaceable and this is a numbers game.

Also, I don’t really like what I do and would love a career change, but the timing is horrible and a transition to what I really want to do when I grow up will be lengthy and ultimately may not be successful. While I have a nest egg, I don’t have the level of savings required to try to make the leap (realistically I need 1-2 years’ worth of expenses saved up). And there’s the whole we’ll-have-a-newborn-and-we-really-need-good-insurance-right-now thing.

So what should I do? Should I sweat the possibility of a layoff and try like a madman to get another job right now? Should I just roll with the punches and put off a serious job search until after the baby comes and then get crazy? Or should I just hang on and see if the layoffs come to fruition? (I’m betting that you’ll say NO! to this last option — and that I’m more marketable as a currently employed candidate, anyway.) I am comfortable with the severance package outlined in our employee handbook (and during the last round of WARN-Act level layoffs, my company was more generous than their published guidelines), so I do have a cushion even if they stick only to their minimum.

I’ve been reaching out to my network over the past 3 months and have been responding to job posts, but with everything else going on, it hasn’t (perhaps rightfully so) gotten my full attention. Thoughts on all this?

Start actively looking now. The best thing that anyone in your situation can do is to pretend that you know that you’re being laid off, and proceed the way you would if that were the case. Search as aggressively as you can, activate your network in every possible way, find ways to cut back on your spending, etc.

If it turns out that you don’t get laid off, then great — there’s no reason that you need to accept a job offer if you’d rather stay where you are, after all. (Although it’s also possible that you’ll end up finding a job you’d prefer over your current one — who knows.)  But if you do get laid off, you’ll be very, very glad that you started living as if that was the case now.

Keep in mind that job searches take a long time for most people these days (for many people, up to or even more than a year), and that yes, you’re generally more attractive to employers when you’re employed so you don’t want to squander that advantage while you have it. Keep in mind, too, that your company may not be as generous with severance this time as they were last time, so you don’t want to count on anything — even what’s in their published guidelines, frankly, as sometimes those have loopholes.

What you have right now is the gift of extra notice. Use it. If it turns out that you didn’t need it, you’ll have lost nothing by being prepared, and you’ll give yourself some peace of mind.

At the same time, you could also talk to your manager and see if you can any sense from her about whether the upcoming cuts are likely to affect you. I wouldn’t have any shame about mentioning the baby and saying that you’re really trying to plan (not in order to play on her sympathies to lower your chances of being laid off, but because it might make her more inclined to give you honest information so that you’re as prepared as possible).  She may or may not have useful information for you, but you might get some insight that will help you better understand the landscape. However, during this conversation, trust negative information much more than you trust positive information, because some managers reassure everyone that their jobs will be safe, either because they’re hoping that’s true or because they don’t want people to start leaving. In other words, don’t let any reassurances slow you down from the plan above.

Good luck. And congratulations on the upcoming new baby!

{ 56 comments… read them below }

  1. -X-

    A big advantage of looking around now is that if a big layoff occurs, there will be many other people with the OP’s skills/experience on the market, making getting a new job even harder for awhile.

  2. class factotum

    I wouldn’t have any shame about mentioning the baby

    I know someone who very deliberately didn’t lay off his employee whose (unemployed) wife had cancer. As I am pretty sure I was the one chosen to be laid off because I was the only unmarried person in my group – the rest were men with stay at home wives and with kids, I am not a huge fan of considering this sort of thing, but managers do do it.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Oh! I didn’t mean mention the baby in order to lower your chances of being laid off, but rather just to see if it makes her more inclined to give the OP honest information so he can prepare. I’ll clarify that in the post.

      1. TheOP

        I’m the O.P. Thanks for posting this Alison (and to everyone for the replies so far). And thanks for the well-wishes on the baby.

        My manager knows about the kid and is sympathetic. He has told me that if he catches wind of anything or sees any lists with my name on it, he will give me a heads up. I’ve known him long enough (and have been around his anti-corporate, anti-management attitude) that I trust that he will do this.

        I should also note that we’ve been living under the threat of layoffs and I’ve been planning like this was just around the corner for the past 18 months. I’ve been like a squirrel preparing for winter with my finances and in reaching out to people for new job leads. I’ve had internal recruiters at other companies get in touch with me saying that I was overqualified for an open position or that it was filled by an internal candidate, but they were impressed by my resume and wanted to talk about other opportunities. But twice these people have suddenly dropped off the face of the planet. Other positions that get a little farther along are a 30-40% cut in pay and in one or two instances in interviews, people have asked me why in the heck I’d leave what I have (one actually used the double-hockey-stick word). Ugh.

        Frankly, I’m a bit emotionally drained, hence my willingness to just see what happens. It’s only been the past few months that the serious writing was on the wall (BIG changes in our industry in the past few months and negative major public announcements and management shake-ups from our parent company).

        One other big problem I’m facing is that nobody really has a clear understanding of what I do, no matter how I try to market myself. They come to me with major emergencies and when they need specific advice and I always deliver — people joke that I’m a digital fireman — but I don’t know how much water that holds when the axe is being sharpened.

        1. NicoleW

          How frustrating! I understand the concern about not being able to take FMLA if you get a job before the baby comes. It was the main reason I didn’t job hunt while pregnant. Best of luck to you!

        2. jennie

          Definitely be straightforward when they ask you why you’re leaving what you have. They’re probably aware of changes in the industry but threat of layoff is a very valid reason to be looking.

      1. Jamie

        In Illinois it’s a violation of the Human Rights Act to discriminate based on martial status.

        The EEOC doesn’t police this, but in Illinois you can easily get a civil labor atty to take it.

      2. class factotum

        You know, that probably wasn’t the reason I was the one laid off, but it’s easier for my ego to deal with that than I was the most disposable person on the team.

    2. Lisa

      My brother in law (VP Sales) got promotions based on having a wife and kids, some companies’ culture is to perpetuate ‘family life’ and will promote and keep employees based on it. Since being young and single isn’t a protected class, it must happen a lot.

      My sister often goes to his president club and the wives are given a binder with how to dress, what make up is appropriate, what shoes to wear, given a list of acceptable items to wear for breakfast, then another for lunch, then dinner, then for after dinner drinks, etc. She has a packed schedule just like her husband who smokes cigars with c-level men during these vacations. Its the culture to have wifely arm candy (not ditzy and young, but mom-like, sophisticated, charity, do-gooder with 2.5 kids / 2 dog / 1 turtle ). My sister plays the game perfectly, and you would never know that they both came from cash-strapped families that paid $5 a week for our braces growing up.

      1. Jamie

        Wow. The only thing that appeals to me about that are the dogs and the turtle.

        I was a Navy wife and there was a fair bit of this – but I thought this went the way of smoking at your desk and the 4 martini lunch.

      2. Sasha

        What….why…I just…I don’t even….

        That kind of thing just mystifies me. Gotta play the game, I guess.

      3. EM

        Wow. I’m really glad my husband isn’t on the c-level track (and doesn’t want to be). I really like my job and I like working.

      4. skylark

        I’m single with no children nor dependents and I do notice my concerns about my job or money get brushed off very casually by co-workers. Countless times, I’d mention I have to save or forego buying something and I’d be treated to the ‘what do you have to be worried about?’ jab. For sure if there were layoffs, I’d be one of the first to get the boot, seeing as eveybody else is married, has children or both. Is that fair? In the grand scheme of things, perhaps so though I hasten to add I’d be very pissed if I got laid off and some schmoozing do-nothing is retained simply because he’s married and has 4 children—I guess it’s clear I have a particular co-worker in mind.

        1. Grace

          I’m sure personal life factors sometimes partially play into who to lay off and who to keep, but from the business perspective performance would have to be the main reason. I can’t imagine a business keeping a poor performer with kids instead of a high performer who is single.

          And as Alison mentioned, the OP should mention the baby in hopes of a candid answer about his job. There are a number of other scenarios where people without kids might want the same courtesy. For example, my single coworker is about to buy a condo (was renting an apartment), and she asked our boss if there was any reason to suspect layoffs.

      5. Andrea

        My husband and I have run into this kind of thing, too, because we don’t have kids. It is usually pretty subtle, but at one place where he worked, it was obvious. He was pretty much a rock star there, but others were promoted over him because they “had mouths to feed.” Which, 1) technically, so do we, but those mouths are of the feline and canine variety, and 2) having kids is a choice that people can make, not a requirement, and anyway, it ought not to have anything to do with who gets bigger raises, promotions, etc., etc. That was in a large company in a small town, though, and we also saw the managers there make hiring and promotions decisions based on who went to church with them, so whatever. We’re not living in that backwards place anymore, so it is less of an issue.

  3. Anne

    I think you might have a typo here – “you’re generally more attractive to employers when you’re unemployed”. :)

      1. De Minimis

        “He’s unemployed, so he can start right away and I can low-ball him on salary!”

        Actually surprised that logic did not come into play more often.

  4. Jamie

    Yep – make sure you mention the baby. It may not help, but most people are human and while all lay offs suck most people don’t want to leave you in the dark during a particularly sensitive time if that can at all help it.

    And yes, everyone is replaceable – but you sound pretty non fungible and this can work for you in the fact that they may want to give a little to not lose total control over when you leave.

    And congrats on the new baby!

    1. Lisa

      Nah, I would hate to be chosen just cause I had a kid, start writing down everything you know that isn’t universal knowledge at your company. Make it obvious with a meeting with your manager with a verbal neon sign that points to you and says “ESSENTIAL, BECAUSE…” do it first and they might keep you.

      1. Jamie

        I wasn’t referring to using the baby to defer a layoff – I don’t have enough faith in it happening to suggest it.

        Just that if they know they might be more forthcoming with information knowing there is an insurance/leave time line in play.

        1. Lisa

          oops, sorry took it that way… but leads to an interesting question.

          AAM – Is it legal for a company to discriminate against a man with a pregnant spouse? If say his boss lays him off because he knows that he is going to do paternity leave, is he a protected class the way a pregnant woman would be?

          1. bo bessi

            Not exactly the same thing, but under FMLA the father is entitled to up to 12 weeks (usually unpaid) leave for bonding with a new child. It’s illegal to retaliate against a man for taking that leave. That might be a difficult case to prove if other layoffs are happening at the same time though.

  5. SJ

    Re: insurance, I’m under the impression that under the ACA, you can keep the insurance you have through work even if you are laid off/fired if you can keep paying the premiums. Might want to look into that…best of luck, OP.

    1. Adam V

      You can pay COBRA, but that’s typically pretty expensive since you’re paying both your part and the part your employer had been paying (and don’t forget to factor in adding a child to your coverage). All in all, it’s important to try to keep (temporarily) before you can get the next job, but it certainly depletes your savings by quite a bit in the meantime.

      1. Jamie

        Cobra can easily be considerably > $1,000 per month – there are often cheaper private options.

        1. Esra

          At 1000$/mo, wouldn’t it just be cheaper to pay for things as they come up? I’m coming from a Canadian perspective, admittedly.

          1. Jamie

            No. One car accident or catastrophic illness could be 100K or more.

            I had pneumonia several years ago and was hospitalized for 5 days. Because we have excellent insurance I paid a nominal co-pay – but my insurance company was billed over 50K for the length of my stay, doctors, etc. And that was something that came on suddenly and treatment was urgently needed.

            My daughter was hit by a drunk driver a couple of months ago (thankfully not seriously hurt) but the ambulance and emergency room care including an MRI was over 7K – we paid $36 total because we have insurance.

            A routine visit to my doctor if I had an ear infection would be $175 out of pocket. With insurance it’s $9.

            You really cannot afford to be uninsured.

              1. Jamie

                Thank you. :)

                And it is horrifying – that’s why the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US is medical bills.

                True story I am finally in a place to tell without shame – after my divorce I was a single mom of 3 kids under 8. Per our child support agreement he was to keep the kids on his insurance. I found out that he had lost his job, and his insurance, from the receptionist at my pediatrician’s office since I had two out of three kids there with the flu and my daughter had a raging ear infection.

                I went to the pharmacy to get the script filled for her antibiotic and it was $128.00 even. Three kids in tow and I’m crying in the middle of the drug store because at that time in my life it might as well have been 128 million.

                Fortunately my mom was a nurse so I knew doctors always had samples so back to the office and it was as close to begging as I’ve ever gotten. They had some samples in giant pills which I crushed and mixed with Hershey’s syrup and that’s how she got better.

                I was raised pretty comfortably and had a nice life as a SAHM, financially, but those couple of years just following my divorce (my parents passed when I was younger – I was totally alone) taught me more about economics and the importance of money to happiness than I ever learned in college.

                Money may not make you happy but the lack of it assures that you live in constant fear of emergencies which precludes ever relaxing enough to enjoy much – at least if you’re a worrier like me.

                It was less than four years of struggling – and I was lucky in that we always had enough for the essentials and they always had a decent roof over their heads, enough food, and proper clothes…and with this one exception remained insured…but those few years scarred me and that’s why money is the motivator for me that it is.

                It will always be the prime motivator for me because I don’t ever want to be there again and I always want to be in the position to help my kids if they struggle.

                1. Carrie in Scotland

                  -hug- even though it isnt current for you there will be others who are there right now. Also, am very thankful I live in the UK, even though we have our own problems.

                2. Katie in Ed

                  Money may not make you happy but the lack of it assures that you live in constant fear of emergencies which precludes ever relaxing enough to enjoy much – at least if you’re a worrier like me.

                  This – a billion times over.

                  Jamie, do you ever wonder if there might be a regional component to this? I know so many folks from Midwestern 1st, 2nd, even 3rd generation immigrant families, and even those who are financially comfortable still flinch and bank statements and worry that the wolves are howling at their door. No amount of money in the bank seems to help me shake that terror. Perhaps it is more of a product of where we come from than we may realize.

                3. fposte

                  Oh, that’s an interesting thought, Katie. I’m a Midwesterner, and my dad was a poor urban kid of immigrants (none of his sisters were allowed to attend school past sixth grade). On the one hand, it was one of my father’s great delights to provide opportunities and security for us, and I definitely will luxuriate in my ability to buy a nice cheese or fancy chocolate; on the other, my brother and I are inherently frugal people who drive cars into the ground and carry no credit card balance. So you may be onto something about the poor past/Midwestern ethics algebra there.

            1. Jamie

              Actually I misremembered and I don’t want to put out misinformation so I checked… it was just over $24k for the hospital stay – I was remembering a different bill of my moms which was a longer stay.

              I know it’s pedantic to correct myself but while our medical costs are bad, they’re only half as bad as I presented them in that instance.

              1. Esra

                It’s still insane. I had health issues throughout my teens and early twenties that prevented me from working and landed me in the hospital more than once. That 175$ a pop for doctor visits would have been impossible. Nevermind 24 000 hospital stays.

                1. FreeThinkerTX

                  The actual cost of the doctor’s office visit might be less if you’re paying cash. My doc’s “normal” rate is $150, but he only charges me $70 since I am uninsured and unemployed. He’s generous with the free samples, too!

                  I’ve found that even x-rays and MRIs are affordable, if you shop around. (X-rays as low as $50, an MRI for $350).

                  My local health food store has a group come in three times per year to take blood and run labs. I get a full blood workup, including lipid and hormonal profile, for $35.

                  And I get the medications that I take daily for free, through the pharmaceutical companies’ Patient Assistance Programs.

                  (Now if only the county hospital will quit giving me the run-around on hip surgery that I desperately need. . . )

          2. Anonymous

            Maternity care is extremely expensive in the U.S.

            I had a baby a few months ago. I needed 6 ultrasounds during the pregnancy. My insurance was billed $500 for each of them. I had a normal birth without complications (no C-section, etc.) and my insurance was billed around $30,000. I paid about $2,000 (had to pay the deductible for myself and the baby = $1,ooo each). I also had to pay the doctor’s tab separately and the epidural was not fully covered either (so another combined $1,000 there).

        2. Katie in Ed

          Because his wife is pregnant it might be more difficult. There are 100 some individual insurance plans offered in my state. Do you know how many of them cover prenatal care? Big, fat zero. Lucky for me I’m not in the baby market right now, but it is shitty for those who are. Plus, when women are more likely to participate in temp/casual/part-time/freelance labor, they are more likely to suffer from these kinds of policies.

          1. Rana

            It’s worse/more mixed than that. Under Obamacare, insurance plans are now required to provide coverage of basic prenatal and basic breastfeeding costs.

            However!

            They are not obliged to cover anything more extensive (I’m guessing things like extra screenings aren’t covered, for example), and every insurance plan I’ve researched either refuses to cover “maternity” (which they umbrella that sort of additional screening and the costs of labor, which can go up to $30-40,000 if you end up needing a C-section) unless it’s a life or death situation, or require you to purchase a “maternity rider” which requires you to pay a year of premiums before the coverage kicks in.

            So, if you’re already pregnant at a time you lose your insurance, you’re pretty much screwed. That alone, for me, would be a reason to remain on COBRA as long as the pregnancy lasts.

      2. SJ

        I was talking about something besides Cobra, but I could be mistaken about the coverage under the ACA. I wish I could remember where I read that to provide a source…if I find it I will link it here.

    2. OP Wife

      I am the OP’s wife. Insurance is a must have for us. Our 3-1/2 year old son has autism. Our monthly cost for just the $20 co-pays comes to over $500 per month for speech and behavioral services. Not having insurance would be financially devastating for us and developmentally devastating for our son.

      1. Jamie

        I’m sure you have this covered, but just to toss it out there…I’ve been where you are. My eldest was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old and I had him in services both through our medical insurance and the school district. Even at the pre-school level the school districts often provide OT, PT, speech, and even respite in the form of playgroups.

        1. OP Wife

          Great suggestions, Jamie. Hurting state budgets = serious cutbacks in these services. He was denied OT, PT and speech thru our local school district but was eligible for preschool services.

          1. Jamie

            That is infuriating. The single most important factor in the success of kids on the spectrum is early intervention.

            What about the kids without good insurance? What about the kids whose parents don’t have the education and resources themselves to do early intervention therapies at home and advocate for services?

            Sorry – / rant but while I understand there is only so much money to go around its criminal to me to cut funds for the most vulnerable among us like special needs kids.

            I’m really glad your little guy is getting what he needs, it makes all the difference.

  6. Dave

    AAM’s advice is great. To the OP, don’t be surprised if layoffs happen PRIOR to the next FY. They usually want the new budget numbers to show on that year’s books.

  7. Editor

    As a practical matter, searching more intensely before the baby is born is more doable. After the baby arrives, both of you will be busier, tired and more confused than you expected — unless your child is unusual and sleeps through the night immediately, never gets sick, and rarely cries.

    My husband’s employer went out of business the day our second child arrived, and I wasn’t working at the time. So I’m rooting for you to find something great before the baby comes.

  8. Sybil Fawlty

    Hello all,

    When I read the headline I thought “That’s me!”, though after reading the comments I realize my situation is somewhat different than the OP’s.

    In my case, my small non-profit may be going under on March 31 and I am the one who’s pregnant…due in August. We’re expecting pink slips at the end of January (though if we receive funding in time, they will be considered moot) and I’m really not sure what to do.

    I’ve been job hunting for over a year and I’m on one waiting list and I’ve made it to the top 2 in the past three competitions. In the meantime I’ve been building up my freelance portfolio just in case.

    After all that rambling, I’m not sure what I’m looking for. Maybe I just wanted to say to the OP and his family — I hear you! It’s scary!! Good luck!!!

    Sybil.

  9. tangoecho5

    I would also search now and if you find a job you’d like, take it as soon as possible. Assume you are getting laid off and take control now. I don’t think not getting the month off once your wife gives birth would be a good enough reason to not look or take a better postion in the meantime. I think as a new mother I’d prefer my spouse have a secure job with benefits now rather than no job and benefits but a month at home. Also being gone that month if you’re not laid off already might just prove to your employer that they can in fact live without you and move you to the let go group if before they were inclined to keep you for longer. And I second that it’s so much harder to job search around taking care of an infant, a recovering wife and an autistic child than it would be at this time.

  10. TracyDee

    OP, I just want to wish you luck and to tell you that you are absolutely wonderful to take time off to help with the new baby!

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