The Pre-Layoff Checklist: What to Do Before Being Laid Off


Sure, there are times your departure from a job comes as a complete surprise. More likely, though, you’ve begun to observe subtle and not-so-subtle signs of an impeding layoff. If you’re pretty sure your Friday meeting with HR is about to send you into a tailspin, now is the time to go through our 10 Step Pre-Layoff Checklist. Not only will you leave as prepared as possible, but also you’ll benefit from the sense of control these tasks will give you.

Prepare Your Desk and Digital Spaces

It’s not uncommon for employers to ask you to pack up and leave on a moment’s notice when being laid off. This includes relinquishing access to all computers and accounts in short order.

  1. Clean up your e-mail account
    Transfer or delete any personal correspondence you may have on your work email account. (Hopefully, you have none!)
  2. Clear out your computer files
    Transfer all personal digital files to a *personally owned* USB drive or send them to a private account and delete them from your work computer/server.
  3. Clear your desk or locker
    Start subtly removing your photographs, lip glosses, thank you cards, Minions, Homies and whatever other junk you’ve accumulated through the years. It’ll be one less thing to think about later.

Gather Important Documents

Your employer can decide whether or not to give you time to prepare your files for your colleagues’ transitions. Now is the time to go through your papers with an eye toward your next steps.

  1. Download your contact list
    Download or print your list of work contacts that you will lose without computer access. While you can’t steal your employer’s client base for your next employer, you may be able use it for networking purposes.
  2. Collect your performance reviews
    If you don’t have your own copies, take a stroll to HR and see if you might obtain a copy of your personal file for your own records.
  3. Take copies of work samples and accolades
    Future interviewers may be impressed by things like programs from conferences you organized, profiles of your projects in the company newsletter or sample brochures you designed. Just remember: Your employer likely owns all of the work you did, so don’t share financial or other proprietary information like client lists, strategic plans or other internal documents. While you’re at it, gather up all work awards, certificates and other items of recognition you received. They will help you update your resume (and feel good about yourself, too).

Research Your Options

  1. Check your unused leave time
    Find out what vacation and sick time you have left, and look into the company policy for using it in the case of a layoff. If it can’t be cashed out as a payment, see if you can use it up as vacation time (for job searching) before your employment ends.
  2. Know your rights
    The U.S. Department of Labor lists the responsibility employers in each state have when terminating employees. Inform yourself about their obligation regarding your health insurance benefits and unemployment insurance.
  3. Revisit any non-compete agreements
    Look over the documents you signed while onboarding to see if there are any limitations to your future employment possibilities.
  4. Prepare to negotiate severance or other compensation
    Should you be asked to leave, think about what you might negotiate. Some companies will off you severance pay. Others may provide you with outplacement services like career counseling and resume help. Still others might hire you on a short-term project or contract basis. If nothing else, think about how you would like to have your termination characterized in your personal file for future references, and be prepared to ask.

And One Big DON’T:

Don’t. Job. Search. At. Work.
Your employer may have access to your emails, instant messages, Internet history, voicemails, etc. (even if you think you deleted them). For now, just think about whom at work you might ask for personal contact information (for networking later) or a letter of recommendation on your way out. Keep it to yourself until the time comes.

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