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Losing your job in a mass-layoff can feel devastating. Here's a guide to give you some perspective and help navigate the situation, including what to do right away.
It’s 9AM. You arrive at work and find an unexpected 15mins 1x1 meeting on your calendar with no explanation. You attend the session and are told “your position has been impacted by a change in the business strategy or a reduction in the overall investment in your area. You’re no longer going to be with the team moving forward.” You don’t hear anything else the person tells you. You hang up or leave the meeting stunned and confused. You’ve just been laid off. Now what?
The first thing you should do is breath. Don’t panic. Although it feels devastating in the moment and you might walk around shell-shocked for an hour or two, allow yourself that, but know it’s not the end of the world. I’ve been both laid off (once) and had to lay people off (only a handful of times but still too many). I like to think that in every case the people impacted, including myself, have bounced back and sometimes, with the benefit of time and perspective, there’s even an upside. More on this in a minute.
What is a Layoff anyway? A layoff is the colloquial term for a “Reduction in Force”, as in work-force. Companies go through layoffs or “RIFs” for a variety of reasons but generally RIFs are a tool used to reign in operating expenses (OpEx). In any given organization the cost of the employees working there is generally 50-70% of operating expenses and hence a prime target for an anxious C-Suite who want to reign in costs.
Did I just get fired? No! You got laid off. That’s very far from being fired-for-cause. It’s an important distinction and as you contemplate your next job remember that recruiters and prospective employers know how layoffs work and will not hold the fact that you got impacted in a RIF against you. Getting fired is a whole different story.
Why did it happen? Why was I impacted? Did I do something to bring this on myself? There’s no simple answer here, every situation will differ depending on company size, layoff size and circumstances. Layoffs stink, for everyone. Including the employers. It’s genuinely not what anyone wants.
But why me? You’ll never know and it’s not important. Employers must avoid discrimination or targeting single groups and so typically the impact is shared broadly. That means you might be let go even though you are a high performer with an amazing track record.
In the United States there are federal and state laws that provide certain protections for employees during a reduction in force (RIF). These laws can vary depending on the size of the company and the specific circumstances of the RIF.
The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are 40 years of age or older. This means that employers cannot use age as the sole determining factor in a RIF, and they must be able to show that any differences in treatment are based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibit discrimination against employees with disabilities and pregnant employees, respectively.
Some state laws have their own RIF protection measures. For example, California’s WARN act requires employers with 75 or more employees to provide 60 days’ notice of a mass layoff or plant closing.
Getting laid off hits you on every level. Financially you’re no longer making that paycheck and you may lose unvested equity awards. Hopefully your company will provide you a decent severance and that can range from a couple weeks salary to a couple of months. E.g. 2 weeks pay for every year worked. If you’re a tenured employee that could be very meaningful.
Things to do right away: If you live in the US losing your job typically means you’ve lost your medical insurance. This is a big deal, especially if you have pre-existing conditions, or a family or a loved one dealing with a chronic medical condition. Make sure you pay attention during your exit interview and understand what options are available. Continuation of Benefits (or COBRA) is generally offered and you should absolutely sign up for it to bridge your coverage until you figure out your next move.
In some cases the company will provide a support or counseling/guidance service to aid you in the transition. Again, take advantage of every option available, this is not the time to ignore any and all benefits provided.
Immigration: If you’re on an H1B or similar status unfortunately the clock starts ticking for you. I am not an immigration lawyer but I suggest you contact one. Typically your company will provide guidance here for all employees on a Visa. Immigration along with COBRA are likely your two biggest and most immediate concerns to get squared away immediately. Don’t sleep on your immigration status.
Manage your emotions: A layoff can bring with it feelings of shame or regret. Lastly remember it’s not you it’s them. Remember what drove it; the company is trimming costs or changing directions and you shouldn’t look on a layoff as a reflection of your talents or skillsets. Think back to that severance. You should have your expenses covered for the next few weeks or ideally months. Use the time to take stock of your situation, start networking and find a new gig that you’re excited about.
And there’s a bright-side? Your world just fell apart, what could the upside possibly be? Remember there are others who were laid off who’re now in the same boat. You are now part of an instant alumni network and when your ex-colleagues find positions it means you end up with connections who can open the door to a wide range of opportunities. The network of people you grow over the course of your career can be a very powerful tool and it’s in your best interest that the people you know be spread out across as many companies as possible rather than centralized in a single firm. The layoff facilitated this!
As for me? I was laid off in 2002, shortly after purchasing a house. I was on an H1B visa and thought I would need to leave the country. I thought I’d lose my house!!! The story ends happily though, within a month or two I found my next gig and my new company helped me figure out my immigration status. I wouldn’t say it was stress-free but looking back everything worked out. I went on to become a US citizen and I still live in that house to this very day.