How to help a fired friend
November 7, 2012 5:38 PM   Subscribe

How to help a close friend who was just fired?

One of my closest friends, Brandon, was fired today. (He didn't do anything wrong, It was a wrongful termination by an unstable manager and failing company, but the legality isn't for this question.) I've known him and his wife, Kelly, since childhood and they're my chosen family. We're in our 30s.

They have a 4-year-old and a baby on the way in 3 months. Kelly brings in a small amount of money from a part-time job, but mostly stays home with the 4-year-old. They have a mortgage and some debt. They're relatively close to their families, but both families are the type who will guilt them about this and offer "help" with strings attached. Any help they've ever received has been strife with drama and guilt.

Brandon fortunately has marketable skills in high demand, but there's no telling when he will be employed again in this market. (We live in a major Midwestern city, but it's still tough out there.)

I'm doing well in my career and making more than enough money for myself. I have time, energy and resources to give to them.

My questions:

What can I do to help them? These are two sturdy Midwestern folks who won't ask for help. I will need to offer concrete help, take a read if this is the help they want (they will have trouble accepting) and then just act, so it's a delicate psychological balance.

Have you been fired suddenly and faced a terrifying loss of income and health insurance? What did your friends and family do to make you feel better? What did they do that made you feel worse?

How do I offer money to help them through the holidays and birth of their baby? This is no-strings attached money and not a loan. I've thought about offering to pay for any COBRA insurance they might be eligible for or their mortgage, but I don't know the best way to approach this.

I want to know what I can do now and down the line to make sure they're supported completely. I've been in frequent contact with both Brandon and Kelly today, just being an ear.

Thanks for any advice you have.
posted by Laura Macbeth to Human Relations (15 answers total)
Best answer: COBRA popped up in my head before I got to the end of your question. It's usually pretty expensive, and with the new baby on the way, keeping up those payments is an absolute necessity. I would just tell him "Hey, I'm covering your COBRA, no strings attached. Get me all the info." Next, I would really jump in there with networking help, pull out all the stops and help him get another job. Keep in mind that even if he got a comparable position next week, he'll probably need that hella expensive insurance for a while.
posted by raisingsand at 5:58 PM on November 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Mail them a cashiers check. With the stipulation that it is gratis and you expect no recompense.

It doesn't have to be hard, and you can qualify it with something like " just to help you through, love ya both."

Or you can ask them up front what can I do to help, I have money, don't hesitate to ask.
posted by Max Power at 5:59 PM on November 7, 2012

Agreed, Cobra coverage would be a great gift. So would other concrete costs -- 3 month's mortgage, whatever.

But maybe more to the point: If they freak, make it a loan. Long term, low-no interest, no payment due until he's employed, etc. That should make it palatable. Then if things stay down a while, forgive some of it, or finance some payments, or forgive it all if needed. Now you're just back where you started, having given them some money.

If things turn up, let em pay you back for a while. If they turn way up, let em pay it all. Just calibrate. And no joke: You may need some help in the future, too.
posted by LonnieK at 6:46 PM on November 7, 2012

maybe volunteer to baby sit some time?
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:51 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well first off, they must be good people to have a friend as good as you. Congrats to all of you!

I like the ideas above re Cobra and interest free line of credit. I would HIGHLY ENCOURAGE the following however:

At least in your mind, make it a gift! There is almost no faster way to lose a friend than to loan them money, on any terms. Things happen. To the degree you have no expectation, and I mean none, you are much more likely to keep a friend.

If you are in the right position, INSIST that it is a gift. There is something about loaning someone money that you never get back and then losing the friend that is particularly galling. I speak with the sorrowful voice of experience, multiple times.
posted by jcworth at 7:53 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you think they're going to have a lot of trouble accepting a gift from you, can you give them some really nice gift certificates that they can use for baby things / food / gas? Maybe $500 for Target, $500 for a grocery store, $500 for whatever gas station they use (or a popular chain). That way the amount isn't in their face, but it will help them a lot, and allow them to devote cash to COBRA and/or mortgage.

Alternatively, or in addition, you could set them up with an initial consultation with the best employment lawyer in town, and pay fees as needed. Unless he's already signed a termination agreement, things like severance, COBRA payments, outplacement assistance etc. are still in play.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:33 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also third'ing covering their health insurance, especially with a new baby on the way... and if they find it hard to accept, yes, calling it an interest free loan till they're back on their feet.

Not so keen on offering to cover their mortgage - that'd be harder to accept, for them... and they could be concerned that you might one day ask for a 'share' of the house or something, if they've been burned in the past by family.

Some other things you could do:
- offer to cover things you do together socially that they might be struggling to afford over this period. Or, if they'd rather you didn't, do things that they can afford instead of more costly social things! It sucks if all your friends, for example, go out weekly for dinner and you have to miss it because you can't afford to pay for a dinner out. Have a dinner in, instead!

- 'Useful' Christmas gifts for them and the 4-year-old, rather than decorative
posted by Ashlyth at 10:55 PM on November 7, 2012

Tell them this is normal. Tell them everyone gets fired. I just Googled and can't find any statistics, but tell them anyway :-)

Encourage Brandon to move on emotionally. If he needs to sue or negotiate severance he should, but it wouldn't be healthy for him to brood. By all means let him wallow for a week or two, but then try to help him normalize. "This happens to everyone. Everything's going to be fine because you are awesome and marketable. What do you want to do next?" type stuff.

If you give them money, do it with a no-nonsense no-strings approach. Say something like "I have it right now, and you don't. You've got a baby coming, I love you guys, and you deserve to be happy. Shut up and let me do this. Nobody wants you to have to worry about cash right now." If they want (and if they can) they will pay you back later. Either way, it doesn't matter. Do NOT say "you'd do this for me," or anything like that. They have kids, so they wouldn't necessarily have the luxury of being able to do the same for you, and if you want them to accept your money, you should avoid making it feel like they might be entering into an obligation they can't meet.

It might be easier for them to accept the money if you make it about circumstances, not absolutes. It's not that you are better-off, or more stable, or more successful. You happen to be childless right now, and they happen to have kids. Society, including you, wants to support kids --- that's normal and good.

If you really want them to take the money, I'd just flat-out give them a big one-time chunk of cash in an envelope --- like 5K or 10K or whatever you want. That's the easiest thing from their perspective -- they don't have to choose whether to rip up or cash your cheque, they don't have to give you any personal information or undergo a complicated transaction, and there's no paper trail for them to feel embarrassed about afterwards. If they protest you can tell them to put it in a drawer in case they need it, and they can return it to you later if they don't. Also say you're considering it gone and don't care if it never comes back to you, because you love them, etc.

You're obviously a good friend: they're very lucky to have you :-)
posted by Susan PG at 11:24 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh and --- if they really, really, really protest, including the next day, then cave. There are some people who wouldn't be able to take your money without it spoiling the friendship. With luck they're not like that, but if they are, roll over. Your friendship *is* more valuable than their immediate financial needs.
posted by Susan PG at 11:25 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Looking back on the time we were jobless with a newborn, I found Gift cards to target/walmart and grocery stores (that also have gas stations) to be really helpful and "non stringy". Give them some a week prior to thanksgiving and three weeks later, as a "Christmas gift".

If they have car payments, help out with one 3-4 months from now.
posted by roboton666 at 11:43 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is there a reason you believe they need financial help? Do you know that they don't have any savings that would tide them over until Brandon is employed again? I'm not seeing any mention of that in your question. While it's generous to want to help them, I'd first establish that they even need that help.

It sounds like Brandon should apply for unemployment even though he was fired. Maybe you could help him make his case that he wasn't fired for good cause.
posted by parrot_person at 3:12 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know if they want or need your help, but the fact that they are having a new baby gives you an easy opportunity to help them financially without giving them cash directly.
Find out what they need when the baby is born and give it to them... There are plenty of expensive things new babies need which you can pay for.
- Car seats
- Strollers
- Furniture
- Clothes
- Food
posted by jazh at 3:13 AM on November 8, 2012

Maybe look into writing a personal reference for him, so that he has it handy. The fact that you've known him for so long makes you a good reference. It might also boost his mood. Help him network.
posted by amtho at 3:55 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would insist that Brandon apply for Unemployment tout suite.

This will allow money to roll in during his job search.

For some reason people think that if they apply for Unemployement that there's a stigma associated with it. Hells no! You and your employer paid into it, it's there for you to use.

His employer may object, but there will be a hearing and the truth will out.

I love the idea of picking up COBRA.

Here's how you approach it, "Please let me do this for you. I can well afford it, and I want to do it. Allow me to give you this gift."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:28 AM on November 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you. Wonderful answers. I'm going to start with offering to pay for insurance (once he figures out if he's eligible). Then I'm going to schedule some babysitting, and treat them to some dinners out. I'm also going to include some Target gift cards in the mix. Then I'll go from there. Thanks again.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 10:10 AM on November 8, 2012

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