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7 Questions to Raise Immediately After You’re Laid Off

7 Questions to Raise Immediately After You’re Laid Off

Millions of people are wondering what to do in the face of an actual or potential job loss during the Covid-19 global pandemic. If you are worried about losing your job (or already have), the author offers seven questions you should consider asking your boss or HR department: 1) When will I receive my last paycheck? Will I get paid for my unused vacation time? 2) Will I receive severance pay? 3) How long will I have to exercise my stock options? 4) Is the company offering healthcare coverage after my last day of work, and for how long? 5) Will you provide a reference for me? 6) How can I get copies of my performance reviews and by when? 7) What will happen to my 401(k)?

 

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With unemployment claims surging past the 3 million mark in one week — the highest in U.S. history and surpassing the number of jobless Americans during the Great Recession — it’s no surprise that anxiety about job loss looms large. Since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the U.S. in January, nearly one in five American workers has been laid off or has experienced hours reductions, according to a recent Marist poll. And the worst may be yet to come. According to Moody’s Analytics, nearly 80 million people in the U.S. are at a moderate or high risk of being laid off as a result of the pandemic — meaning more than half of the workforce could be facing job losses in the months ahead.

While some employers can consider more moderate options to laying staff off outright — such as furloughs, reduced schedules, or pay cuts — the fear and uncertainty behind when and if companies will be able to afford to re-employ their workers is resulting in many companies simply shedding employees.

With millions of people wondering what to do in the face of an actual or potential job loss, I polled several human resources experts and executive coaches about the questions they recommend workers ask their employers should they receive a layoff notification during the global pandemic. Here are their collective suggestions on what issues to raise with your boss or HR department while you’re still employed:

Q: When will I receive my last paycheck? Will I get paid for my unused vacation time?

One of the first things you should do if you’re worried about losing your job (or have already lost it) is to know where you stand financially. If you still have your job, double down on your short-term savings plan. Scrutinize your spending to avoid unnecessary purchases; trim memberships and services that you can live without.

If you’ve been laid off, find out when you’ll receive your last paycheck and what it will include. Verify details on benefits with HR, such as whether you will get paid out for unused vacation time. It’s also imperative to apply for unemployment insurance as soon as possible; knowing the amount you are eligible to receive will provide a clearer picture of your finances.

Q: Will I receive severance pay?

Severance packages can come in several forms, including an extension of healthcare benefits and/or career transitions services, but they usually consist of a one-time lump sum paid to employees after their last day of employment. No federal laws currently require businesses to offer severance pay to terminated employees. However, New Jersey recently became the first state to pass legislation that requires employers to provide a 60-day advance notice of a layoff to workers, plus provide severance pay in companies with 100 workers or more.

Receiving a lump-sum severance payment can feel like a windfall, but it can quickly disappear without a plan. Draw up a monthly budget and ask yourself these questions:

If a layoff has impacted you, don’t assume that you can’t ask for more severance than the company is offering as its standard package, especially when it pertains to ancillary services such as career transition consulting. It’s in the best interest of your employer to maintain a positive relationship with you and build employee loyalty, particularly if the company wants to keep the option open to hire you back in the future.

Q: How long will I have to exercise my stock options?

If you received news that you will soon be laid off, ask your employer how long you have to exercise your stock options, and which stock awards you’ll forfeit. Unfortunately, the steep stock market drop that has occurred over the past few weeks means that many executives have watched the value of their company stock nosedive. If you had 20,000 shares valued at $30 per share in January, for example, that amount may have already plummeted by 25% or more. Holding your stock options until the market rebounds may make good sense if your severance plan allows an extended period to exercise them.

Q: Is the company offering healthcare coverage after my last day of work, and for how long?

The terms of your employer’s health plan and contract with their health insurer or third-party administrator will determine whether active employee healthcare coverage can continue during a layoff or short-term leave of absence. Make sure to ask HR what type of coverage your employer will provide, for how long, and what the costs will be to you.

Q: Will you provide a reference for me?

While you may not be thinking about obtaining references from your current employer when you first learn that you’ve been laid off, it’s vital to explore this topic with your boss as soon as possible. Prospective employers will want to speak directly with your references before extending an offer to you, so be sure to line up your recommenders before your last day on the job. (Keep in mind that most employers prefer a conversation with your references over a written letter.)

Another proactive step is to make sure that you have the collected contact information for managers and colleagues from your current company from whom you plan to request references. If you have a LinkedIn account, send these key connections an invitation to join your network on the site so that you can stay in touch. 

Q: How can I get copies of my performance reviews and by when?

If you haven’t saved copies of your previous performance reviews, ask your employer to send them to you before your last day. Having concrete examples of your accomplishments and words of affirmation from your manager in writing will provide invaluable details that you can draw on when updating your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Q:  What will happen to my 401(k)?

If you are high-income earner and can afford to funnel more toward your long-term savings, ask your employer if you can contribute the maximum amount to your 401(k) plan before your last paycheck. The maximum amount an individual can contribute in 2020 is $19,500 for people under 50 years old and $26,000 for those 50 and older. What happens to your retirement plan after you leave the company varies depending on the type of plan you have. Ask your employer what your options are, and consult with your accountant or financial advisor.

Losing your job, even when the reason has nothing to do with you, can bring feelings of loss, powerlessness, and grief. By asking your employer the questions above while you’re still employed, you can regain a sense of agency and learn what you need to do to proactively take care of yourself at the same time.

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Susan Peppercorn is an executive career transition coach and speaker. She is the author of Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work: Evidence-Based Strategies to Thrive in Your Career. Numerous publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, the Boston Globe, and SELF Magazine have tapped her for career advice. You can download her free Career Fit Self-Assessment and 25 Steps to a Successful Career Transition.

7 Questions to Raise Immediately After You’re Laid Off

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