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What to Do When You Think You’re Going to Be Laid Off

Since COVID-19, we know that our world can turn upside down in an instant. But even in normal times, no one’s job is ever 100% safe.

Globalization, recession, environmental pressures, and technological advances can all lead to corporate restructuring, buyouts, and layoffs. Even when the economy is strong, being prepared for a layoff is good advice.

What are the warning signs?

Signs that you might be laid off can show up inside your company or in the world at large. Here are 9 warning signs to look out for:

  1. Your industry is in trouble.
  2. You hear rumours that your company is struggling or that a restructuring is coming. Major projects have been put on hold and management consultants have been invited in to find efficiencies.
  3. Your company did just restructure. In the process, it reduced its office space. Now there’s a hiring freeze. And you have a new boss. New management often means new people. You might be one of the “old people” who gets replaced.
  4. Your company has been bought out or merged with another company. Whenever 2 companies come together, duplicate systems and job functions will need to be eliminated. That means layoffs will follow.
  5. Your boss has suddenly become standoffish and finds it hard to look you in the eye. She has also asked you to chart your role and responsibilities or to document a bunch of business processes. Behaviour like this can be a sign that she needs to cut staff.
  6. Your co-workers seem to avoid you. They've probably already heard rumours that you will be laid off.
  7. Your last performance review was ho-hum. This can signal that layoffs are coming and you’ll be among the first in line.
  8. You’re asked to train a co-worker or a new hire. Unsurprisingly, your company doesn’t want to lay you off without having someone to take your place.
  9. You’re looking for signs you’re about to get laid off.

What to do to prepare

If you’re lucky, you’ll never be in the position of being laid off. But just in case, here are 7 ways to help you get prepared:

  1. Keep your master resumé up-to-date and ready to go. You never know when you might need it. Document your wins and successes as you achieve them. For example, record your promotions, awards, special projects, training, new credentials, and new skills (like learning how to work remotely).
  2. Keep on top of developments in your field. Research growth rates, trends, and employment projections. The occupational profiles and research data on alis can help you find the labour market info you need.
  3. Gather up work samples, data, and contact lists as you create them. Make sure what you’re doing is ethical. While it’s important to take home materials to use for your job portfolio, you should only do so when it’s allowed under your employment contract.
  4. Keep networking.
  5. Keep an emergency fund that can see you through if you are laid off. Experts recommend setting aside 3 to 6 months’ worth of living expenses. That can be hard, but it’s important to watch your budget and save what you can.
  6. Keep your eye on the job market, and keep an ongoing job search.
  7. If you think a layoff is coming, use up your medical and dental benefits while you still have them.

Know your rights

Alberta’s Employment Standards sets out rules regarding notice periods and termination pay. Check with your union and do some research to understand what you’re entitled to.

Know what you’re owed

Revisit your company’s employee handbook to figure out what compensation you might be entitled to. For example, will you be paid out for unused vacation or personal days? If so, will you get the full amount, or will your payout be prorated? Are there options for you to extend your health benefits beyond your termination date? Will you be paid for any outstanding expenses? Will you collect any bonuses you may have earned?

Know what your contract says

Is there a non-compete clause? Is it enforceable?

When you started your job, the contract you signed may have included various clauses about what would happen when you left.

One example is a non-compete clause. This would prevent you from accepting a similar job with another company. It could even prevent you from starting a business that competed with your employer.

Lots of companies ask their employees to sign non-compete agreements, but most people don’t know that these agreements aren’t always enforceable. In Canada, non-compete clauses that keep people from pursuing their careers are considered restrictive and unfair. They may not hold up in court.

Is there a non-solicitation clause?

Employers use this clause to protect against losing staff or customers. It would prevent you from approaching your former clients or colleagues.

Negotiate severance

TIP: Consider consulting an employment lawyer before you sign any documents relating to severance.

Alberta’s employment laws require employers to provide notice, termination pay in lieu of notice, or a combination of termination pay and notice.

Severance pay is a different matter. Most companies offer a standard severance package when you’re laid off. But unlike termination pay, employers can contract out of an obligation to provide severance pay.

Review your employment contract to check if you are eligible for severance pay. If you are, do some research to find out what you should expect in terms of a package. Gather the evidence to back up your ask and try to negotiate a better deal than what your employer is offering. You may not get it, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Take care of yourself if a layoff happens

Surviving a layoff is tough. Take a breath. Stay positive. Take the time to plan and dream. Your layoff might just be the golden opportunity you needed to make your dreams a reality.

Here are 9 practical tips to help you make the best of your situation and move on to a better future:

  1. Take care of essentials. Your first steps should include getting a record of employment, asking for references, applying for employment insurance, negotiating a severance package, and figuring out your payout and pension options.
  2. Give yourself time and space to grieve your job loss and acknowledge your changing emotions. You’ll be frustrated, disorientated, angry, and worried. Give yourself permission to have bad days and work through your feelings.
  3. Take stock of your situation and explore your options. Try to embrace change.
  4. Be kind to yourself. Try to stay positive and manage your stress. Get enough rest and regular exercise. Try to have a little fun in your life. And get professional help if you need it.
  5. Make a plan, set goals, and track your progress. Set up a schedule for yourself and stay busy. If you decide to get back to work right away, treat looking for a job like a real job.
  6. Tap into your support network, and be open and honest about your situation. There’s no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed or to put on a brave face. Your friends and family care about you no matter what. Your professional colleagues care about you too. They’ll be glad to put in a good word on your behalf and pass on any job openings that might suit you.
  7. Watch your finances. You can’t know how long your job search will take, so figure out what you need to live on. Cut out unnecessary expenses where you can.
  8. Hire a career coach. Talking with a professional counsellor can help you tap into valuable strategies and resources. Be sure to do your research to find someone who’s a good fit.
  9. Keep on keeping on. It can be scary when life throws you a curve ball. But remember that you’re not alone. Stay focused. Stay confident. Remember—things will get better.

Stay professional

Getting laid off when you’re not expecting it can leave you angry and hurt. You may want to strike out, get even, or tell the world how badly you were treated. But burning your bridges is a very bad idea.

Badmouthing a previous employer can make you seem like a pessimist, a loser, and a troublemaker. That’s not the impression you want to make.

Whatever you do, don’t take to social media to vent your complaints. It makes you look unprofessional. But do use social media to let people know you’ve been laid off and are looking for new opportunities.

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