what to do if you’re getting laid off

Layoffs can come as a shock – one minute you’re happily doing your job, with no thought of unemployment, and then next moment you’re out of a job. Even when you’ve had an inkling that the company might be thinking of making cuts, hearing that it’s you who’s been cut is painful news that can leave you reeling.

The best thing you can do if it happens to you is to try to stay calm and remember the following.

1. Negotiate severance. Your company will probably offer you some amount of severance payment. This is often negotiable – especially if your company has special interest in getting you to sign a “general release,” the standard agreement that in exchange for severance payments releases the company from any future legal claims stemming from your employment there. You won’t always be successful in trying to negotiate more, but sometimes you will and it never hurts to try.

2. Ask about logistics, like how long your health insurance coverage will last and whether your accrued vacation time will be paid out. Some of these logistics may be negotiable as well. For instance, you might try to get several additional months of health coverage.

3. Negotiate what will be said about why you left and your performance. You want to know precisely what your employers will say about you to any reference-checkers who may contact them. This statement itself is often negotiable, and now is the time to bring it up.

4. Collect as much information about the circumstances of the layoff as you can. While you don’t want to push the company for information it’s not going to release, it’s helpful to understand as much as you can about the size of the layoff and the reasons for your position being part of it. In future job interviews, it will be helpful to be able to explain that, for instance, you were part of 200 positions that were cut, or that the company was eliminating your job function entirely.

5. Be gracious with colleagues. While it’s obviously worse for you, layoffs are hard on the people left behind too, and co-workers often won’t be sure of what to say. As with a death, some people aren’t sure what to say and so avoid the topic altogether. By being gracious yourself and not bad-mouthing the company or otherwise putting co-workers in an awkward position, you’ll make it easier for them to maintain the relationship with you and reach out to you in the future with job leads and other overtures. Speaking of which…

6. Ask your manager and former colleagues for help finding a new job. Don’t be shy about doing this or think that it will be too uncomfortable to ask. It’s normal to ask, and many laid-off people have found their next job by making precisely this request.

7. Don’t do anything rash, particularly in anger. While it might be momentarily satisfying to tell off your boss on the way out the door, or to bad-mouth the company to clients, resist the impulse. You’ll harm your own reputation at exactly the time you need it in good shape for your job search.

8. File for unemployment immediately. Even if you think your job search won’t take long or your savings can sustain you, file for unemployment – because you can’t predict how long it will take to find a new position (particularly in this market). And file right away, because it can take a few weeks for benefits to kick in.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. Rob Bird*

    One thing to remember about filing for UI; there are many, many sites out there that will ask you for credit card/bank account info. Unemployment will never EVER charge you to file for benefits and
    if you are being asked to pay to file, you are in the wrong site!

    If you need to know your State’s Unemployment website, please let me know.


    1. RB*

      Excellent point. Look for a state site as in .org and not a .com. Those are notorious.

      Also, some states will not let you collect until your severance has run it’s course.

      1. fposte*

        Most of them are either .gov or a state domain, in fact.

        (Though .com isn’t necessarily bad–the actual governmental place to get a free credit report is .com.)

        1. Evan (now graduated)*

          … which, I think, is a horrible practice that desensitizes people to useful implications of a website’s domain.

          1. De Minimis*

            USPS is a bit different since it is technically a private business, it just happens to be controlled by the government.

            1. fposte*

              I think the underlying point is that top level domains don’t necessarily indicate anything about the organization housed there any more–.com, .org, and .net are options for anybody.

      2. Bryan*

        There’s no regulation on .org. Any company can register for a .org domain just more often than not people choose .com.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. You’ll notice that Ask a Manager is a .org! That’s because when I wanted to buy the domain, the .com wasn’t available. It eventually did come up for sale and I bought it, but now it just redirects to the .org since at that point the site was already established as askamanager.org.

  2. Chriama*

    I don’t remember when this was said, but another thing to think about, depending on how your layoff is announced: don’t sign any forms without reading through them first, and don’t hesitate to get a lawyer/trusted professional to read them through if you need to.

    1. Vicki*

      Some states/counties have an low-priced “Talk to a Lawyer” program through the local Bar Association. I used one of those when I was laid of from one job.

      The lawyer was very helpful. He advised me how to get the wording on the form changed from “Voluntary Quit” to “Involuntary” (I didn’t volunteer for anything). He also helped me get a letter from the Company that stated they would not argue an Unemployment Benefits claim.

      1. Vicki*

        “Collect as much information about the circumstances of the layoff as you can.”

        That company was very carefully flying under the WARN Act radar. No one knew what was happening until enough people had been axed. Every person was met quietly in a conference room near a back door and told to leave now (by that back door) and not set foot on the property again.

        But this was 2005 – no FB yet but we did all have email.

  3. ChristineSW*

    Reading that article pretty much confirms that I handled my layoff a few years ago poorly :( No, I didn’t break every single rule, but I know I could’ve handled some of them much better. FTR – I was the only one let go.

  4. College Career Counselor*

    Negotiating severance, health insurance coverage, etc. is important. Health insurance coverage is particularly critical if you or your loved ones have ongoing medical issues or expenses. Sometimes they’ll pay for your COBRA, which depending on your circumstances, can be worth more than an extra month or two of salary as a severance.

    Take your time, do the math and let a legal professional take a look at any settlement/severance agreement. Sometimes those general release forms have some very specific language about what you can and can’t say about the company after accepting whatever severance package you can negotiate. Some of the best advice I can give is to stay off social media with ANYthing negative about your former organization for reasons of professional reputation and legal ramifications.

    1. Jessa*

      This. The best advice that I ever got about a layoff, was “If possible, if they are not escorting you out the door with no notice, stop and wait and go home and say nothing til you’ve wrestled through it at least overnight. ” Try your damndest NOT to react about it at work in the moment. Even if you want to curse at people and throw things. Get thee home and throw pillows at the wall if you have to.

      1. Poe*

        Yes, this. I was laid off about 3 weeks ago, and the best thing I did was remain neutral and ask for all the forms, then I went home and shouted and swore…then went back to work the next day, because we have a 1 month warning period, so I had 4 weeks of work left.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      This is good unless your company is doing mass layoffs.

      When they did the first layoff, they offered pretty fair severence package.

      The next layoff, a little less.

      The 3rd layoff, even less.

      The 4th layoff, nothing. Nada. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Except the offer of COBRA, but who can afford that when they’ve just lost their job?

  5. Cube Ninja*

    Another point regarding filing for unemployment is that you *shouldn’t* do it immediately – ie: not in the same week you were terminated.

    This will vary by state, of course, but in Minnesota, unemployment will cover only those weeks in which you did not work at all. For example, if you work through Tuesday and are laid off on Wednesday, filing for unemployment on Thursday will result in the state paying you for that week. Months later, when they audit, they will come after you for the “overpayment” made, which will also include interest and some sort of minor penalty for having requested UI too early.

    So yes, apply for unemployment as soon as possible, but I would strongly recommend checking your state’s specific procedures/laws/etc for doing so in order to avoid potentially having to pay money back to the state later on.

    1. some1*

      I’m in MN, too, and when I was laid off in 2011 on a Monday & I filed for UI the next day and didn’t have any issues. But I didn’t get any of the $ until my severance was exhausted.

        1. some1*

          So did I (along with my vacation hours). It means if your weekly salary is $1,000, and you got a $8,000 severance you can’t collect any unemployment money for 8 weeks.

    2. ChristineSW*

      I made that mistake when I filed for UI in 2008 after my layoff. I don’t remember the particulars, but suffice it to say that I should’ve waited a couple of weeks. Luckily, because I filed via my state’s online system, it was able to catch immediately that I wasn’t entitled to my full benefit amount, so I don’t foresee any possibility of overpayment issues *knock on wood*.

    3. Chinook*

      In Canada, they recommend filing for UI/EI as soon as possible so that there are no processing delays to get it. True, they wait until your severance to run out before starting the waiting period before your first payout, but they still process when they receive it.

  6. Ed*

    As others have said, be careful signing anything. And if they give you two weeks notice with no package at all, I’ll damned if I would sign anything. This happened to a friend of mine and she signed a non-disclosure agreement on her last day.

    I’ve seen many people laid off over the past few years and it’s shocking how poorly some people handle it. Some of the most mature, professional people immediately act like children and throw tantrums.

    In regards to negotiation, I once was able to get my HR manager to keep me on the payroll for two months rather than cut me a single check. That had two pluses – 1) I kept my benefits and 2) I could technically tell employers I was still employed (and it was a public sector job so my release date was publicly available on the web to back it up). This never would have happened if I had been a jerk.

  7. Greg*

    The last time I was laid off, I was told by HR that I could not file for unemployment until my severance (which was paid out over time as “regular wages”) ran out. She didn’t portray it as a hard and fast rule, just as more of a, “I’m pretty sure this is how it works.”

    That wasn’t consistent with what I knew about UI, so I consulted a lawyer and he said you are eligible to file as soon as you no longer work there, regardless of how your severance payments are structured. So I filed right away, and they didn’t challenge it. (They did, however, resist my attempt to remove the phrase “as regular wages” from my severance agreement.)

    To this day, I’m still not sure if the HR rep was genuinely confused on the point, or if it was a devious attempt by the company to save a few nickles by nudging laid-off employees into delaying their benefits. I also don’t know if the rules vary across states (mine was in NY).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’re generally eligible to *file* once you’re out of work, but not to receive payments until your severance payments have run their course.

      1. Greg*

        Well, in my case they started paying me right away (technically, after a couple weeks, since I didn’t file until I got back from vacation. But definitely when I was still receiving severance). There’s no way they could have even know the details of my severance, since the application asked only if I was still receiving wages (as well as unpaid vacation, etc.) That was why I asked to change the language in my agreement, but according to the lawyer I consulted, it was ultimately irrelevant. They can call it “wages”, but if you no longer work there, any payments you’re receiving are severance. So I answered “no” with a clear conscience.

        I do seem to recall that there may be a difference between severance and “two weeks in lieu of notice”, though I’m not entirely sure if that matters. In any case, I agree that your best bet is to file right away. The state will start paying you whenever they start paying you, and as long as you tell the truth, you have nothing to worry about.

      2. V*

        Depends on the state. In New York you can get unemployment and severance at the same time, but you can’t get unemployment if while your vacation time is being paid out.

    2. Kelly O*

      Definitely varies by state, which is why it’s so important to find out the contact information for your state unemployment/Workforce office and get accurate information as quickly as possible.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly file asap. You might not be eligible to COLLECT right away but it’s also possible that while you’re being paid severance your “wait week(s)” will be credited. The worst thing that can happen is the person you talk to says you have to wait or you get an initial no that says “eligible after x y z happens.”

  8. BeenThereGirl*

    What should someone do if they are asked to sign an agreement about not posting negative things on the Internet in exchange for severance pay? I have a gut instinct that would happen to me very soon.
    Btw, I’ve been laid off several times in the last 7 years and it no longer comes as a shock.

    1. Greg*

      Non-disparagement is fairly standard in severance agreements. And legal requirements aside, it’s generally not a good idea to go around bad-mouthing former employers, especially if you’re putting your name to it. It makes you look petty and vindictive, and it’s also bad for your own mindset. The best thing to do is forget about them and move on.

      Now, in practice, they’re probably not going to go after you for a private conversation, or even an anonymous Glassdoor review. But like I said, it’s not worth it. I was actually advised once to write down (long-hand) every nasty thing I could say about the company, then burn the letter and forget about it. Whether or not you take that step, it’s definitely the right mindset.

      1. BeenThereGirl*

        THAT’s what I was wondering about — agreeing to the terms and getting severance or not. I haven’t been laid off from this job but sense and ax over my head. What a way to work every day.

        1. Greg*

          Yeah, while I agree with Alison that it can’t hurt to try to negotiate severance, the fact is that unless you have a credible threat to sue them, you have very little leverage (and note that I am NOT suggesting you threaten a lawsuit simply to gain leverage). In the case of most layoffs, they’re offering you money in exchange for you agreeing to sign. If you don’t sign, they don’t have to pay you. Doesn’t give them much of an incentive to move in your direction.

          BTG, I wish you the best of luck. Those situations are never fun.

  9. BeenThereGirl*

    I have never been asked to sign anything like that before. And I certainly would not bad mouth a former employer online..however tempting. I was just curious. Thanks for the good advice!

  10. Vicki*

    Also: Plan ahead: If you do not yet have a LinkedIn account, the time to start one is _now_, not after you’ve been laid off.

  11. pidgeonpenelope*

    I would say also to go out graciously. I was laid off in March (over the phone because I had a day off and it had to be done that day) and was allowed to come in and pack up my stuff and say “goodbye.” I tried hard not to cry (I love my coworkers) and maintained a positive attitude throughout the whole thing even though it was tough. Leaving with dignity was important.

  12. glennis*

    I learned ten months ago that I was going to be laid off – along with 22 other employees – because my public agency had decided to eliminate my department. Am I right in thinking that is an unusual situation? Who has ten months to deal with being laid off?

    In my case, I determined that my best option was to find a transfer opportunity within my agency (reasons I could go into but won’t here) – only there were very few openings at my level. Most of the lay-offs were for lower paying jobs – I was the highest paid, and a middle manager. Yes, I did explore positions outside my agency, but both the pay and the benefits were not comparable – hence my focus on staying with the agency.

    With only a week to go, I was finally offered a transfer at a steep pay cut. I accepted it – it’s better than nothing – and hope to make a go of it. I also hope to take advantage of any opportunity my agency offers.

    In thirty years of working for multiple employers I’ve never experienced a lay-off. It’s weird, and having this drawn-out lengthy lay-off is even weirder. It is also very humbling. I feel a lot of sympathy toward anyone experiencing a lay-off.

    1. Poe*

      I had a month of notice with mine, and it felt so weird to go into work every day with people who knew I was laid off, and knowing that I didn’t really have a job anymore. I’m glad it I’d almost over. For other people dealing with a long notice period: talk to your boss and make a list of projects and such to wrap up, and make a list/document of all the little things that people might forget (where the filing cabinet key is, etc.). This has helped me stay on good terms with everyone at work, because I really need them as references.

  13. MrSparkles*

    I stumbled across this website while researching ways to maintain my sanity during my current layoff. For the record, this is my 3rd layoff in 4 years, I’m a Gen Y-er, and from Ontario.

    1. Severance – in my experience with two of the three layoffs, given my position, this was already preset and non-negotiable. They were laid out in the letter they give you while conducting the layoff.
    2. Logistics – see above
    3. The first was due to relocation due to economic meltdown, the second was due to government cutbacks, the third was due to that particular industry grinding to a halt
    4. With the exception of the first (which was a finishing contract), the later two were always due to budgetary needs.
    5. With the exception of the first, we were escorted out of the office without the ability to talk to our colleagues. As I had made friends at the second job, they would later inform me of the carnage that the layoffs left
    6. To this day this has never proved useful. As the second was done by an employment agency, the only “helpful” suggestion was by way of giving us a business card to call
    7. This I wholeheartedly agree with. Besides, there’s nothing to gain from acting out
    8. Agreed, however I would add one thing: if you DO have the ability to perform steps 1 and 2, try and negotiate receiving severance/vacation either in regular pay cycles or in one massive sum. I say this because in my experience, any money you receive from the company you have to report to EI, which results in a recalculation, that can (and has) taken nearly a month to deal with, after numerous calls and following up. Oh, and during this time your EI payments are frozen.

    In terms of notice period: the first was simply a contract not being renewed (after doing so several times) and both the second (late morning) and third (near EOB) were the same day; for the record, the latter two were unexpected.

  14. Lancelot*

    Hi All, found this posting whilst looking for inspiration following my recent termination which came as a bit of a shock when I received the text message late one evening last week, I now find that they used my experience during the months trail period to identify issues and have now appointed a family member in my place; I decided to go in the next morning and handover my responsibilities and ongoing projects to the other managers. I also wanted to clear my personal items from the office I shared with one of those managers.
    Next day I began the process of moving on with my life and looking for something else to occupy my time, this had been going really well until I began to get calls from my former workplace from ex-colleagues wanting my advice; initially this was flattering but now it feels like an intrusion as it is happening once or twice a day.
    I don’t want to lose the friendships that I built or to damage future employment opportunities in a town where everyone seems to know everyone in my line of work, but I do want to put this behind me and move on; should I ignore phone calls with the company prefix or make an appointment to see my old boss and discuss this?
    Grateful for any advice.

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