They Took My Job- Please Tell Me What to Do! [HorroR Stories] Jul24

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They Took My Job- Please Tell Me What to Do! [HorroR Stories]

HRS4Dear Madame HR,

I read with interest your answer a few weeks ago for someone who wanted to be laid off from their job. I have been laid off from my job and I absolutely did not want to be. I am in shock. I don’t know what to do now? Any advice?

Don’t take my job—please

Dear Please,

Gosh, I’m sorry, and I mean that sincerely, I really do. I understand what it feels like to be suddenly separated from your job. Did you know that in some countries they call it being made “redundant?” How freaking insulting is that? I mean, it’s bad enough to lose your job, but then to have the added injury of being called redundant. It’s almost as if they are adding on the extra commentary that you are boring, or superfluous, surplus, unwanted, unneeded, disused. And no, I’m not quoting Morrissey lyrics from 1986, I’m using my Microsoft Word handy thesaurus gizmo. Thank god we live in America, where we go in the opposite direction by coming up with the euphemism: “reduction in force.” In other words, “it’s not your fault, Johnny, we just don’t need as much force as we used to.” We also like to use “separation” now instead of “termination” like the end result is somehow different. Oh language, is there no limit to the ways we can use you to try and make something seem better than it actually is?

Anyway, I digress. You ask what to do now, but you don’t give me many details so I will have to make some assumptions, I apologize if I’m totally off base.

Because of the WARN Act (The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act), if you were part of a mass layoff, there are certain things your company has to do when they lay you off. One of those is notify you 60 calendar days in advance. There are some other things they have to do as well, so if you think you fall under this, Google it and read the info on the DOL website.

Also, if others were laid off at the same time as you, whether or not it qualifies as a “mass” layoff under WARN, there are other things your employer has to do. If you are over 40, they have to provide you a list of all the positions they have eliminated and the ages of the people affected. They also have to tell you the ages of people who are in similar positions to those that were eliminated but who were retained. Basically, what they are getting at here, is they don’t want companies to just layoff all their old people, and if they do, they want the old people to know about it. And I’m not going to insert commentary here about how freaking insulting it is that 40 is their boundary between “old” and “not old,” but I guess I just did. Most employees are mortified when they receive this document, by the way, it feels like a humongous breach of privacy to me (even though we don’t put names, everyone knows who we are talking about).  For all you Googlers out there, this provision falls under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission- EEOC (specifically the Age Discrimination Employment Act- ADEA).

When you were separated from your job, they probably gave you a bunch of paperwork to sign. These documents usually fall into a couple of categories, there is the normal term paperwork, saying that you received your paycheck, that you have been notified of your COBRA rights, that you have turned in your keys, etc. There may also be a release agreement offering you a severance package. This does not need to be signed on your term date, in fact, depending on the nature of the layoff, your age, etc., you have between 14 and 45 days to sign the agreement.

I know you were in shock when this news was delivered. Yes, it’s a little cruel that we dump this on you and then shove a bunch of paperwork under your nose and ask you to sign it. Most of the term paperwork is standard, you aren’t really promising your first born child and giving away anything by signing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. And, if you’ve already signed it days ago without reading it, read it now. Make sure you actually didn’t, in fact, promise your first born child. If you did, I hope you aren’t currently pregnant. But you probably aren’t, cuz then they probably wouldn’t have laid you off, but that’s a different post entirely. However, the release for your severance, I’d wait a few days before signing that.

Why? Well, read the document. A general severance agreement has you acknowledging some stuff, like:

  1. You’ve received all monies and  benefits due to you
  2. You have no pending complaints or charges against the company
  3. You won’t file a lawsuit
  4. You release all known and unknown claims (usually includes fraud, breach of contract, wrongful discharge, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress (my personal favorite), the list goes on and on and on.
  5. A whole bunch of legal language like “Ambiguities” and “Counterparts.”

If you looked at the list of things they are asking you to sign away and thought to yourself, “hey, that’s me!” maybe you should show this thing to a lawyer before you sign it. If you’re slapping your forehead right now because you just blindly signed it and didn’t actually read it, I hope you are over 40. Why? Because if you are over 40, usually you have a right to revoke within 7 days of signing (there’s that pesky ADEA again). Now might be the time to exercise that right if you don’t feel kosher about things.

Here are a few more things to think about:

  1. Severance is negotiable. Sure, they have some sort of crazy ass formula (2 weeks for every 10 years, or some such nonsense). However, think of it this way: they want you to sign this document. They really really really really want you to sign it. So, don’t get greedy, but ask for more. Make it something that makes sense. Like some sort of multiple of your annual salary or x amount of dollars for every year. The worst they can say is no, but if you are reasonable, I think they will at least bump up their original offer. By asking and not blindly signing, you have moved yourself into a worrisome category for them and an extra $5,000 or $10,000 is small potatoes to make you go away (especially if they laid off a bunch of people at once).
  2. Severance is taxable as earnings, damn you IRS! And most will tax at the supplemental rate which is 25% Fed, 6.6% state (if you are in CA, rate varies by state), 7.65% FICA (I hate that guy), disability, etc. etc. Usually totaling around 40%. So, yes, that dollar figure they’ve given you might sound really good to you right now, but prepare yourself for sticker shock when you actually get your check.
  3. Severance is not a legal requirement. Maybe they haven’t offered you severance at all, if so, then sorry for spending so much time talking about it. Oh, and if they didn’t offer you severance, ask for it. Why not? If they think they have to worry about you, then it might be worth it to them to pay you money to sign a release of claims (aka severance agreement).

Ok, severance or not, bottom line is: should you sue? Maybe. I don’t know your situation. However, I would advise you to consider that suing is not a slam dunk. Do you have a case? Are there damages you can claim? Will you get more money by suing (don’t forget lawyer fees) then they are already offering you? Lawsuits take a really long time, by the way. It’s kind of like when you are watching Pawn Stars (yes, my favorite TV analogy EVER) and he says: “I’ll pay you in cash money now.” Yes, I’m paying you less than you might get if you went to auction or that you might get on ebay, or wherever. However, here we are right now and I have cash in my hand—that can be worth a lot.

You ask me what you should do, if I have any advice for you. I do have some ideas:

  1. Don’t take it personally- especially if this layoff involved more than one person and wasn’t one of those “Let’s call it a layoff” to get rid of one person that we’re afraid to discipline in a meaningful way.
  2. Don’t panic- if you like reading my columns, I have one for job seekers (yes, it was tailored to more entry level job seekers, but some of the tips still apply)
  3. File for unemployment. There is no shame in that.
  4. If you received a severance agreement, think about it for a little bit before you sign. If there is something fishy going on, call a lawyer to discuss your concerns.
  5. Did your company offer you outplacement assistance? If so, take advantage of that. If not, ask for it. Outplacement assistance can take many forms but usually involves resume and interviewing coaching.
  6. Build up your network. Again, you don’t have to be ashamed. Send out your resume to others you worked with, vendors, competitors, etc. Post your situation on Facebook and LinkedIn and all those other online places. Don’t be crazy about it, just let everyone know you are looking.
  7. Be mindful of your deadlines. How long until you have to send back that severance agreement? Don’t miss your COBRA deadline! What else?
  8. Stock up on sHRS-give-upome good inspirational Facebook memes. (Is it just me or does anyone else think these things look like little PowerPoint slides from the seventh circle of hell?) Find one that says something like: “Failure is not a stop sign, Hope only  makes it a yield sign.” With a picture of two roads crossing in the middle of nowhere. Or, how about: “When one door closes just keep knocking until someone asks ‘who’s there?’” You know what I’m talking about. Print it out, stick it in a place you will see it. You can do it! (On a side note, have you ever been to I’m not supposed to say this but their demotivater posters are my favorite things in the whole wide world. I will silently scroll through them on a particular bad afternoon and they soothe my soul. But I’m kind of a sarcastic bitch.)

“You’ll survive this” (picture of a tiger licking his chops), “Every cloud has a silver lining” (picture of a cloud (I know, kind of on the nose)), “it’s always darkest before the dawn” (blank blacked out picture). I wish you good luck and piles of money from your prior employer, hopefully the government won’t take it all.


Good luck out there,


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