Somehow, it seems much more benign when Donald Trump says those two words at the end of every episode of The Apprentice. But when those words are directed at you, you may be shocked. What you do next, however, can make the difference in the length of time you’re unemployed, and how you fare financially.
Generally, you’ll be told of your termination in a face-to-face meeting. The meeting might be led by your boss, or it could be someone from human resources, depending on the size of the company. At this time, you’ll find out if you are going to receive a severance package.This may depend on the terms of your employment contract – that is if you have one.
So what should you ask for?
- Termination or resignation. Decide on whether you want to resign, or be terminated. This may seem like an odd issue, but there are circumstances when you may wish to resign instead of being terminated. If you are terminated, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation, benefits, and severance pay. However, you may choose to resign rather than have the stigma of “getting fired” on your record. (You will need to disclose that you were fired if you are asked that specific question on a job application. If you resign, you can answer “no” to the question.) In some instances, you may even be asked to resign rather than be fired. Make sure you carefully consider the pros and cons of each response before making your decision. For example, you may not be able to collect unemployment benefits if you resign.
- Severance. Inquire about severance and outplacement assistance. Now is the time to negotiate, but don’t be pressured to sign anything if you’re not ready. Some employers won’t release your final paycheck until you sign a release, but that doesn’t mean you need to sign anything right away. Find out what’s available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for severance.
- References. Ask how reference checks will be handled. What will a prospective employer be told if they contact the company? Will your supervisor provide you with a letter of recommendation? Can he or she take calls for reference checks, or are those handled through the HR department? What information will be released to the prospective employer? (Some companies will only verify dates of employment, job title, and final salary and will not answer questions related to why you are no longer working for the company.)
- Benefits. Find out about your benefits. You may be entitled to accrued vacation, overtime, and/or sick pay. Ask about these benefits, and how they will be paid out.
- Health Insurance. If you have health insurance through your employer, they are required to provide you with information about continuing your health insurance coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) law. If the employer has more than 20 employees, they are required by law to offer health insurance coverage through COBRA to terminated employees for up to 18 months. However, you will need to pay for this coverage yourself. This gives employees and their families the option to continue group health benefits provided by your health plan for a limited period of time. (Keep in mind, however, that the cost of COBRA coverage may be higher than insurance you obtain for yourself; however, if you have a health condition, you may want to opt for COBRA coverage initially to keep your coverage in force. You can always cancel your COBRA coverage once you have new insurance in place.)
- Retirement account. If you are enrolled in a 401(k), profit sharing, or other type of defined contribution retirement plan, you may be eligible for a lump sum distribution of your retirement money when you leave the company. You need to be careful about how you handle this distribution so that you don’t incur tax penalties. Retirement plan distributions have very specific requirements, so you may wish to consult a financial advisor before doing anything.
- Final paycheck. Find out how — and when — you will receive your final paycheck from the company. (Again, you may be required to sign some paperwork before the final check is released.)
One of the hardest things about being terminated is that you may be asked to leave the building immediately and may be escorted off the premises (especially in mid-size or larger companies or organizations.) You may not get a chance to pack up your personal belongings yourself or even say good-bye to your colleagues.
While it may feel unfair, it’s a safety concern for the company. Some fired employees have taken revenge on the company by destroying files or making a big scene, and that makes employers wary of letting you pack up your own belongings. If you are missing items or need access to information after you’re let go, contact the HR office and/or your supervisor for resolution.
It can be difficult to do, but try to leave on good terms. You may end up back at that company again at some point or find yourself working with the same people in a future job. Plus, your future employer may contact the company for a reference and/or you may want a recommendation from your most recent supervisor.
Well, that's a lot to think about if you are fearful of a termination or forced resignation, but these are important points to keep in mind. Next time we'll talk about a few steps you should take once the termination or resignation has taken place.
In the meantime, remember we are here to answer your questions or help with strategizing with you to address your future career goals through a new résumé package or LinkedIn profile. Just send us a contact form with your questions.