Things to think about in a lay-off
December 3, 2012 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I have a feeling that I am going to be laid off at my review next week. Since I suspect that this is coming, I would appreciate any suggestions on what I should say at the review and also, what the next steps I should take are, particularly things that I may not think of or overlook during the somewhat emotional time. Further details on my particular situation inside...

I am a senior associate in Biglaw in the US. I am an at-will employee. Our annual reviews are next week and I suspect/fear that I will be told during mine to look for other opportunities. My firm, like many others, tends to "push out the door" senior associates who are not on the partner track. (I am not interested in becoming a partner at this firm, and I do not have the hours to credibly argue that I would like to.) When an associate is pushed out the door at my firm, the associate is typically given 3 months to wrap up or shift their deals to other associates and to look for a job while still employed, without the expectation that much work will be done. Thus, I would expect to stay on the firm's payroll until mid-March. That may be enough time to find another job, but it may not. I have been looking at other jobs (I am hoping to change jobs in 2013, though ideally it would be later in the year, and on my own terms) but have not spent a lot of time yet on the job search. I also believe I would be eligible for unemployment (which is one of the questions that I would confirm if this happens).

Financially, I would be okay - a delay in finding a new job would set my savings/debt repayment back but I could live on my savings for 6 months without much of a problem and without considering unemployment benefits or taking a non-legal job.

I am mostly worried that even though I suspect this is coming, I will freeze up in the moment and fail to ask certain important questions or protect myself. I would like to have a list of what I should think about so that at the meeting or in the days afterwards, I have a framework to work from. For example, I would ask HR about Cobra benefits and about 401k roll-over. If anyone has been in this position or has any thoughts, I would appreciate them. Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Questions to ask....
How long do I have? (Don't just assume that three months)
References --- who would give them for you? Can you get them in writing now?
Any corporate assistance available to find a new job?
Separation pay? Any pay due you for unused vacation hours?
Company tools like a phone, computer etc. --- when do you have to give them back (and have all your personal info off them)?

Good luck; if you think they're likely to immediatly escort you out the door, then quietly remove personal property from your office now. And no matter what, it's always better to go out with class, rather than trashtalk or any form of being a jerk..... makes it easier to network to find the next job, for one thing!
posted by easily confused at 1:10 PM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your employer does not determine your eligibility for unemployment, the state you live in does. In general (without knowing the state you are in), terminations for inability to perform do not make you ineligible for unemployment (lest willful misconduct which does not seem appropriate here).

A thought is that if you feel the termination is a given, then it doesn't really matter what you do at the review - you've already lost your job regardless of what you've done. Saying nothing is likely the best thing you can do, since a lot of people in that scenario would be quite angry/violent with their employer.

It should be taken as a given that you should not agree to anything at the meeting without some (outside the meeting, when you are in a better state) consideration. This includes severance agreements, which will likely be put in front of you. This seems obvious, but you do not need to agree to anything they give you. They do not require your permission to terminate you. They do require your permission to waive your rights. If you do not provide that permission, then you cannot be in trouble.
posted by saeculorum at 1:10 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your employer has obviously done this many times before. They will probably have a whole handful of written information to give you to read and study. Yes, do ask your questions about COBRA and your 401K rollover.

I also believe I would be eligible for unemployment Maybe. Maybe not. See if you can find a reliable source for this answer OTHER than HR. "Gee, can I get an unemployment check?" is not the sort of question you want to be asking in an exit interview.

Lastly, you will probably be told that you should feel free to come back to HR with questions that may occur to you afterwards. Take them at their word. It is no more in their interest than it is in yours to burn any bridges.
posted by John Borrowman at 1:12 PM on December 3, 2012

Don't worry, this isn't an all or nothing thing.

When you get laid off, they take all the emotion out of it. They give you the name of someone in HR, you get a letter, with all the info you need. You get your COBRA paperwork, it's all very professional and dispassionate. Rolling over a 401(k) to an IRA is a piece of cake. Open an IRA NOW at a brokerage firm (I use Fidelity, but pick whomever you like), and then when the time comes, call YOUR firm, they'll send you the paperwork, and they'll do the work. Easy-peasy.

Before they lay you off, they may start out with your review, I usually try not to respond. I nod, I shake my head, but I don't invest. There should be NO emotion in this. It's facts. Don't dispute or disagree with anything in the review verbally, even if it's out of line. Chances are, it won't be.

If there's something in the review that you really take issue with, you will have an opportunity to respond in writing to it. Although if you're already partially out the door, who cares? It's not like they send your reviews around to prospective employers.

I used to get all emotional at reviews, but then I got wise to the deal. You've got to write something, they've got to write something. Then it's done.

I promise you, you WILL forget to ask something, but you'll have the number of someone to call and ask, so it's okay.

If you have questions now, write them down, so you'll be prepared. Don't let this demoralize you, or ruin your day. You're expecting it, you want it. It will be fine.

You're already anticipating being laid off
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:14 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry about the personal items in your office -- they're not going to keep you from getting framed photos or your favorite mug. But if there's any chance, even a tiny one, that you'll be laid off immediately take the time now to get any electronic data you need. You could be locked out of your desktop computer, phone, laptop, etc, at a moment's notice. lists, documents, whatever you might want or need, go ahead and get those items taken care of now. Same for any hard copy files that reside at your desk or in other areas of the office.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:26 PM on December 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

As easily confused suggests, all of this is negotiable. They want you out out cheaply and quietly (i.e., no lawsuits around ageism or anything). You want to leave with as much as possible. If you need more than three months, ask for 4 (or 5 or a year). If you want health care, try to get it for another 6 months.

Yes, get your electronic data out now.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:32 PM on December 3, 2012

Thirding the call to back up all of your electronic data. With the caveat that you shouldn't back up anything that'll get you in trouble, but you know that.

At my last job, I backed up all of my stuff before I went on an unpaid month off, just to be sure. While I was gone, they decided to not renew my contract. Before I could even come in to rescue my personal belongings, they had locked me out of everything, and presumably deleted everything on my shared account. Start backing your stuff up right now.
posted by Coatlicue at 1:45 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My experience has been to be as quiet and non-confrontational as possible. I had the same feeling at a firm I worked for and for the week before the review, I backed up or deleted any personal file on the firm's pc or smartphone. I also slowly, one or two items a night for a week, took home any personal belongings from my office such as extra pair of shoes, pictures of the kids, small gifts from clients like deal closing lucite things, etc.

I also chose not to ask details of why. You seem to have a pretty good idea why. A friend asked why and got a half an hour of what a lousy employee she was. You're a lawyer, don't ever ask a question you don't want to know the answer to.

HR will have this sewn up pretty tight. You can probably ask for an extra month or two of being able to use the office, but unless you have a good economic reason, it is likely they will stick with exactly what they give everyone else in your situation.

Even if you are not laid off at your review, I would suggest a monthly backup and purge of all your personal files. Never want to be caught off guard.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:53 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

easily confused nailed it in one.

Note that some states have really stupid rules on what counts against collecting unemployment, though - For example, in Maine, you can make basically an infinite amount of money all at once, and it counts against one week. If you make 100 a week over time, it counts against you every week. So you may want to see if your state has similar rules, and if so, ask if you can get your severance pay as a lump sum (or over time, if your state has rules favoring the opposite situation).

And yeah, clean up your personal information now. They will give you all your "stuff", but that contact list you keep on your desktop, perhaps a few scans of important personal documents, hell, even your email archive (which for most people includes a ton of non-work-related email, though I've never understood why people do that when they can get GMail accounts for free) - Companies tend to view anything on your computer as "theirs". Contents of file folders get a bit fuzzier (even though, conceptually, they don't differ at all from computer files except in using dead-tree as the medium). Suffice it to say, copy anything you don't want to lose now, rather than hoping they'll let you get it later.
posted by pla at 2:05 PM on December 3, 2012

I'm not an attorney but I've heard of this at my wife's firm (She's a senior associate at biglaw) in her case the attorney's getting let go got time to find a new position AND an severance, I'd find out if you're getting severance after the 3 month period, you may have more time on the clock to look for work then you think - though my understanding is your odds are a heck of a lot better if you're already currently employed as I'm sure you know.

Oh and start looking immediately a lot of budgets for new hires get allocated early in the year so you'll likely have more openings in Jan and Feb then in April and May.
posted by bitdamaged at 2:06 PM on December 3, 2012

I have some experience with unemployment and at least in my state (IL), severance pay does NOT affect your unemployment benefits. They see it as a gift given to you by the employer to ease your job transition. This varies from state to state, though, so do check it out and see if you can get a lump sum severance if that's an option because what pla says about how earnings are deducted from benefits is accurate for IL too.

Additionally, here in IL and I think in most states you can only collect unemployment if you are fired, laid off, or leave your job for certain qualified reasons. One thing I would ask is what specifically is the status of your employment at the end of the three month wrap-up period. Are you terminated? Laid off? Are they saying that you resigned? It makes a difference because you can collect unemployment for the first two, but not the latter. Don't let them say that you resigned when that's not really what happened. Get it in writing that you were laid off or terminated so you don't have to dispute your eligibility with the unemployment agency.

You should apply for unemployment the day or the day after your employment ends. You should absolutely apply for unemployment if you're eligible. If you're not sure if you're eligible, apply and let them sort it out. Because of IL's attitude toward severance, I was able to collect unemployment AND receive my severance. So don't think that you have to wait for your severance to run out to apply for unemployment. It's better to do it right away.

Definitely ask about COBRA, but I wouldn't spend too much time on 401k rollover. Most big investing firms make that process very easy and it's something you probably won't do until you get your next job. Do get the name and contact info for the person in HR who will be your go-to for any questions or issues.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 3:39 PM on December 3, 2012

Personal data, contact lists, letters, email, etc., should be migrated to your own account/storage space, i/.e., gmail. Copies of reviews, or any HR info, same. Talk to people at the firm about their willingness to help you network. Even if you change to a different field, they have lots of contacts. Be professional and courteous, which you sound like you're planning to be; you never who you're going to run into again.
posted by theora55 at 9:01 PM on December 3, 2012

I left biglaw (at an up and out firm) of my own accord, but I have had the sinking feeling you're expressing. From watching friends get dinged, I've always thought the partners try to make the process as painless as possible. Of course, firms vary--but my view has always been that the herd of associates gets spooked by firings (since most times, being an associate is kinda sorta a tenured job--my first firm didn't even have up and out, and associates were more or less allowed to stay associates forever), and management does not want associates roaming the halls in tears. So yes, there may be someone from HR there, but maybe not. In what I've heard, there is no negotiating over the package (at least at that meeting). It's just served up and you get your three months, etc. They may have a handout for you, or HR may talk to you later. But you're probably not going to be able to negotiate for 4 months any more than you could have been able to negotiate for a different starting salary.

So, my plan in my reviews was that if I were fired, I would listen to whatever the partner had to say, thank them for their time and the opportunity to work at the firm, and then take the rest of the day/week off. Talk to an employment lawyer if you think it's necessary. Don't sign anything that day, at all. Do make sure that you start to take home the things that need to be taken home.

Be aware that IT (at least at my old firm) is notified and your document access is monitored generally, and ESPECIALLY after you are terminated or give notice.

Good luck. Obviously, for the record, I am not your lawyer and this is not legal advice and you should consult an employment attorney in your jurisdiction for advice applicable to your situation.

Everyone I know who got fired found their way. Some are at different firms, some are in academia, some went in house. You'll get through this--and it sounds like you're already taking good steps for your future.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:29 AM on December 4, 2012

« Older Help me get to the bone zone   |   For the Love of Mac! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.