My Immediate moments

When I got laid off in October of 2017, the first thing I did was call my wife. She was busy, but I left her a message. Then I texted our realtor, and cancelled the offer we had out on a house. After that, I didn’t really know what to do. I wandered around the office saying goodbye to a few people. When I got back to the office (my security badge was already turned off, but they allowed me into my office) I packed up my personal items and left. It doesn’t happen the same for everyone, but here are some things to think about when it happens to you.

Relax, and do not take it personally:

The number one piece of advice anyone can give you is to relax and not to take this personally. Approximately twenty million people are laid off in the US every year, so you are not alone. Getting laid off is not about you, it’s about the company. Don’t get angry at people at work. Don’t yell at HR or your manager. You don’t want to burn any bridges that will help you get your next job. Try to relax. If you meditate, take 3-5 minutes. If not, take a few deep breaths and relax. Call your spouse/partner/best friend, and take a few minutes to let it all out. But, if you are on site, or will have limited access to people and your computer, this can probably wait a bit. If you have a week or two before you are gone, I recommend this as your first step after you find out.

If you only have a few hours left on site, take time to find your friends and say goodbye in person (if you are allowed). It will help you and them, just make sure it doesn’t turn into a negative conversation about the company or your boss or HR. This is a time to say goodbye, not to burn bridges.

Losing your job is like any loss, and eventually you’ll have to deal with the grief and loss. The first hour is not that time, however. There are things to do, and dealing with loss takes time.

Things to handle with HR

First, and this may seem obvious, but don’t yell at HR or your boss, or anyone else in the discussion about getting laid off. It won’t really help, and it might hurt. These people might be able to find you another job in the company, or may be needed for references in the future. You might even try negotiating better severance or longer healthcare coverage. Plus, they are humans too.

Sometimes you have a day or week or even longer to do some of this. Sometimes you have hours. Sometimes you do not have a job right after they tell you. Some companies have follow up meetings in the coming days, where you (and likely others) can get more information.

Get everything that you deserve

Get your last paycheck, if you normally get them from the company. If not, ask when your last check will be direct deposited. Make sure you get paid for time worked. You may also (depending on company policy and the state you live in) be eligible to receive pay for unused sick time or vacation time. Many companies offer severance, make sure you ask for it one way or the other. If you are in the US and get your health insurance through the company, it is probably valid through the end of the month. Make sure it is.

Do not sign any legal documents, if possible:

HR or your boss may have documents they want you to sign. There are likely three things they’ll ask you to sign. I am NOT A LAWYER. This is what I’d do, and is not legal advice.

  1. Acknowledgement that you’ve been let go. It is probably safe to sign this, but get a copy. Really, this is just a form that says you know you’ve been let go. If it says why, you may not want to sign it.
  2. Documents that say why you’ve been let go. If it is for cause, and not a general layoff, you probably want to sign it, but write that you are only doing so as a receipt, and do not necessarily agree with the statements on the form. If it isn’t for cause, but still lists issues with you specifically, treat it as if it was for cause.
  3. Legal documents, laying out what you or the company promises to do (or not do). I did hire a lawyer to look at these documents for me, and if you have money, you should too. If you can’t afford a lawyer, search the internet. It’s likely you can find some help.

I’d not sign that last set in the room for sure. Tell them you need time to collect your emotions before signing anything.

Questions for HR and/or your former manager:

Try to get answers to all of these in writing if possible.

When is my last day? What benefits continue, and for how long? Is there severance, how much? What about unused vacation and sick time? Are there outplacement services offered? Can I apply for any openings in the company? If you get your healthcare through this employer, do they have information on your COBRA options? Are there additional meetings set up so I can ask any other questions I may have then? How will the company represent my departure, so that it doesn’t hurt my chances of getting a new job?

Ask for a lay off letter. You may need this for various legal reasons, like unemployment compensation, later.

In the next hour or so

If you are still on site, or connected to the company online, there are some things you should make sure you do. First, if you can, ask your boss if she’ll give you a reference if you need one later. Take some time to remove anything personal from your work computer. It has probably been backed up, but still, do it. Find a way to get the contact information for any coworkers you want to stay in touch with. Make sure you are allowed to gather any personal items from your work space.

Some people recommend getting (or saving if you have them) copies of your performance reviews. They can be useful in future resume writing and interview situations. I’d call this a lower priority, but that’s up to you.

Finally, say goodbye to anyone you happen to see and like. If this is a large company, they’ll probably never even know who all got laid off, so take the time to talk to them at least a little. It will help both of you.

More on my story:

The biggest regret for me was not getting more contact information. There are people I never got to say goodbye to. I also left one personal item there, that wasn’t sentimental or anything, but would have been nice to have.

The thing I feel best about was how I treated my boss when she called to tell me. I knew this wasn’t her decision and I was nice and respectful. She probably wasn’t enjoying this moment much all that much either. I feel good that I didn’t yell or rant or any such thing.