How to Handle a Layoff

What to do if you're laid off from work

Serious businessman using laptop at office desk
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What should you do when you receive a layoff notice? What's the best way of surviving a layoff? How should you handle being unemployed? If you've lost your job, you're not alone.

There are always companies that are cutting jobs or restructuring operations. It's a normal part of conducting business in today's economy.

Even when unemployment is low, organizations continue to streamline their workforce; there are industries that are losing jobs, and industries with wage stagnation that are in decline.

How can you tell if it's going to happen to your job? Before the official notification, rumors of downsizing often run rampant through an office, so that employees might be somewhat prepared for a layoff announcement.

If you're worried about being laid off, there are some things you can do in advance to prepare for a layoff.

In other cases, the news is a surprise—you're shocked, unpleasantly astonished, and not at all sure what to do next now that you're unemployed.

Here's how to handle unemployment, start a job search, and more advice on what to do when you lose your job.

How to Handle a Layoff

How should you handle it if you're the recipient of a layoff notice or if you lose your job without prior notice?

First and foremost, you should check with your company on the benefits you might be entitled to when you leave. It's important to be informed about your employee rights, so you are clear on where you stand when you lose your job.

Then, it's important to file for unemployment insurance and to make sure you have all the bases covered so that you can start a job search.

Check Your Employee Benefits

If you do have an inkling that there's going to be bad news, be prepared to ask what benefits terminated employees are eligible for.

If you've already been laid off and haven't been informed about the benefits, call the human resources department at your former company or your manager to request information on the status of your benefits:

Severance Pay and Other Compensation

Ask about severance pay, accrued vacation, overtime and sick pay, pension benefits, and eligibility for unemployment insurance. If you lose your job through no fault of your own, and you meet the eligibility requirements, you should be entitled to receive unemployment compensation.

Severance packages might be negotiable. You have nothing to lose by asking for more than what's offered.

Health and Life Insurance

Request information on the continuance of health and life insurance benefits. If your employer has more than 20 employees, they are mandated by law to offer health insurance coverage through COBRA to terminated employees for at least 18 months. However, it is worth asking if you would be covered for a certain period of time at no cost to you.

Health insurance is also available through the government's health insurance marketplaces. Here's information on COBRA vs. Marketplace (Obamacare) Insurance.

Retirement Plan

Check on options for handling your 401(k) or company pension plan.

Ask About Outplacement Services

Ask about outplacement resources—some companies provide job search assistance for laid-off employees.

Request a Reference

Request a reference letter for your files, and ask your manager if you can use them as a reference.

Apply for Unemployment

An important task for those who become unemployed, and for all job seekers, is to plan your job search. Before you can implement the plan, however, you need to take care of the basics.

The most critical issue, in most cases, is income. Contact your state unemployment office as soon as you can to determine if you are eligible for unemployment benefits.

Applying online is the quickest and easiest way to file for unemployment, and most states have an online application system. Claims are generally processed much more quickly, so you stand to start receiving benefits sooner than applying by phone or mail.

Here's how to file for unemployment online, along with the information you need to apply.

Look for Ways to Supplement Your Income

If you can't make ends meet—and many of us can't—on an unemployment check, consider freelancing, taking a temporary position, or lining up some gigs to supplement your income.

Get Help

Don't be proud. Your temporarily reduced circumstances might entitle you to food stamps or other government benefits. Remember, you paid for those benefits out of every paycheck you've earned. Your state's social services department can inform you what assistance you qualify for.

If you are a member of a church, ask if there is any help available. Community organizations often have resources to help the unemployed with food baskets, donations, and babysitting.

Community resources are also available to help with the mechanics of your job search. Many state employment services and public libraries have internet access as well as access to software and printers to help you produce a resume.

They may also have counselors who can provide assistance with writing a resume and cover letter and finding a job. Perhaps utilize your local library for free or low-cost job search help when you're looking.

Assess Your Goals

Refocus your energy and use this unexpected windfall of time as an opportunity to reassess your career goals, get on track, and find a new position. Many job seekers have turned a termination into a positive experience.

A forced departure from a job has often opened a path to a new, more satisfying, and better-paying career that wouldn't have been considered under other circumstances.

Start Your Job Search

Review these ten steps to find a new job, including where to look for jobs, the top job sites, how to use your connections, how to ace the interview, and how to follow up.

How Long it Will Take to Get Hired

How long will it take to line up a new position? There isn't an easy answer. If you've got in-demand skills, it might happen very quickly. If not, it might take longer to find a new position.

If it's taking more time than you thought, don't be discouraged. There are strategies you can use to turn your job search around even when nothing seems to be working. Finding the right job can take time, but it will happen. Do your best to keep it positive while you're looking for the next step on your career path.