Laid Off: Some Things I Learned

The company I worked for up until last Friday had been facing financial challenges for over a year. All of the employees knew that it was only a matter of time before the company resorted to drastic measures. We joked that one day we would arrive to work and find that our keys no longer worked in the door. Everyone was very open about job searching, and the lucky ones were able to find positions elsewhere. I knew the end was coming, but since I was still employed, I decided to be very picky about my next job. I had a certain salary in mind and I refused to look at any place that was more than 20 miles from my house. But since the job market in my field was so tight in my area, I didn’t find a new job before the company closed.

I think “closed” is an understatement. I wasn’t at work the day everyone was let go. The story I hear is that the president called the employees into the breakroom and placed a bunch a papers on a table and told them to take a sheet on their way out the door. This was at 4:30 on a Friday. A friend of mine called me to tell me the news. I drove in to the office right away to retrieve my personal belongings. I had packed everything the day before since I had anticipated that something was going to happen, and when I arrived, I simply had to retrieve my bags.

I received my letter the next day. Apparently, the company ran into “unforeseeable circumstances” that caused them to have to close down. Um, excuse me? Unforeseeable? Not likely. The official statement that came out on Monday, when the company formally declared bankruptcy, is that the rising cost of materials and fuel led to the “circumstances”. But costs have been rising steadily for many months. I understand that this could drive a company out of business, but they certainly should have seen it coming.

The letter I received declared that due to these tragic circumstances, they are unable to provide the 60 day notice required by the W.A.R.N. Act. With the help of my friend Google, I learned that the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires businesses which are laying off more than 50 employees in the United States to give workers a 60 day notice that operations are shutting down. If the company does not comply, they can face penalties and be forced to pay the employees for the 60 days as severance pay. However, if the closing is due to a natural disaster or if faltering company needs to lay people off to secure capital the act doesn’t apply. It also doesn’t apply if the closing is due to the very vague and broad “unforeseeable circumstances”.

The last payday came and went. Nobody saw a check for the last week of work. Accrued vacation time payout is merely a fantasy at this point. And that sixty days severance? It may be a long time before we see that, if ever. But the story isn’t over yet. The bankruptcy court has received information about some of the questionable practices that company had engaged in during the past several months. In view of this evidence, there is hope that we will see something. According to the court documents, the company isn’t completely broke. It just has a lot more debt than capital.

So what could you do if you think your company is headed for bankruptcy? Look for another job, of course, but don’t be fooled into thinking your dream job awaits you. If I had lowered my expectations just a little bit, I could have found another job quickly. Once I expanded my search range to include a very large metropolitan area 1 hour from my house, I found a new job in three days. I had spent months before the bankruptcy looking in vain for something within a few minutes of my house.

Many of my coworkers participated in our company’s health plan. They scheduled doctor’s appointments while they still had insurance and kept their prescriptions refilled so that they would have a supply when the insurance was canceled. Unfortunately, we found out after the layoff that the company hadn’t paid its premiums and the workers had really been without insurance for several weeks, even though they were still employed and the premiums were still being taken from their paychecks. Now they are being billed for several thousands of dollars worth of medical care and medicine that they thought was covered under insurance. So my advice is to be careful about trying to squeeze every last benefit out of the company before the demise. It may backfire on you.

You should build a list of references. Several of my coworkers and I compiled a list during the final days of our addresses and contact information. We agreed to be each other’s references. We remained on good terms with our boss because we knew we may need his reference as well. We resisted the temptation to tell some of our other coworkers what we really thought of them because we may meet up with some of those very people in future endeavors.

I realize that it could have been a lot worse for me personally. I have a working spouse, and enough money in savings to see me through a rough period. Many people weren’t so lucky. I know of one married couple who both worked at this company, and are now both out of a job. Some single moms were laid off. A few employees are too close to retirement age to start over. I hope for their sake more than my own that we see some of the money owed to us soon.

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5 Responses to Laid Off: Some Things I Learned

  1. catmom says:

    What a wonderfully helpful story. Thank you. And so refreshing that you don’t have that holier-than-thou attitude I see in many successful people. There’s a reason you always land on your feet.

  2. This is the best piece about being laid off that I’ve ever read – it’s practical, humble, and full of really important tidbits that you don’t read in a hundred other posts about surviving a lay-off. Wish I’d known all this 7 years ago…

  3. Pingback: Monroe on a Budget » Saving Advice: Lessons learned during a layoff

  4. ThiNg says:

    Humble is exactly the right word. I was really moved by this. It was nice to see someone not recommend that you clean out the stationary supplies and ebay anything that isn’t nailed down…Written like someone who is over the age of 30 and appreciates what they have in life. Well done.

  5. RAJEEV says:

    Good post.. it is critical to spot early signs of company going bad.. the stress is eveident and
    employees know it much before others.. so at times like that quickly brush up ur CV and find another relatively stable job. Also always have an emergency fund to bail you out in case things didnt work out sin ce Obama would be busy bailing out AIG and CIti…

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