Things You Should Do After Getting Laid-Off or Fired

You've just been laid-off or fired. Now what? What should you do when you get the unfortunate news that you've lost your job? It's important to take the necessary steps to ensure that you get your final paycheck, benefits and pension funds, unemployment compensation if you're eligible, severance pay if your employer provides it, and more. You also want to make sure you get references from your employer, if possible, so that you are ready to begin your job search.

First of all, don't panic. Take it step-by-step so you can take care of the basics, then prepare to start a job search. Follow the list below to make sure that you have dealt with everything you need to when you’ve been fired or laid off. This will allow you to begin to focus on finding a new job.

How to Handle a Termination

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When you're terminated from employment, it makes a difference whether you are laid-off or fired for cause. If you have been downsized or laid-off for lack of work or any other reason, you'll be entitled to different benefits than if you were fired.

Here's what to do if you are informed that  you have been fired, as well as information on what not to do (or say) when you've unexpectedly lost your job.

Check on Severance Pay

Severance pay (as well as severance benefits) may be given to employees upon termination of employment. It is usually based on length of employment. If you are laid off from your job or your position is eliminated, the employer may provide severance pay, but this isn't required. Read here for more information on what a severance package might look like, and how to negotiate a severance package.

Collect Your Final Paycheck

Make sure that, before you leave your job, you know when you are receiving your last paycheck, and how it will be delivered to you.  In some states, employers are required to pay it immediately. In others, there may be a lag.

You may be entitled to accrued vacationsick leaveovertime, or back pay when you lose your job. Be sure to speak with your HR representative to learn what is owed to you, and how you will be compensated.

Read here for more information on receiving your last paycheck, including guidelines for when you can expect to get it, how much it should be, and what will be included.

Check on Eligibility for Employee Benefits

When you are fired or laid off, you might be eligible for particular benefits. Some of the benefits you had while on the job might continue as well, at least for a certain period of time. Read here for an overview of the employment-related benefits that you may be eligible for when you lose your job.

Review Health Insurance (COBRA) or Obamacare Options

Continuing health insurance coverage, whenever possible, is important. COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) gives employees and their families who lose their health benefits the option to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time. Another option under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is the government’s Health Insurance Marketplace, which allows you to shop for coverage. Read here for more information about your health insurance options when you lose your job.

Find Out About Your Pension Plan / 401(k)

What happens to your pension after you're laid-off depends on the type of plan you have. If you have a defined benefit pension, your benefits will begin at retirement age. You might be able to transfer the value into another plan. If you are enrolled in a 401(k), profit sharing, or another type of defined contribution plan, your plan may provide for a lump sum distribution of your retirement money when you leave the company. Read here for more information about the different types of plans you might have, and how you might be able to maintain those plans after leaving your job.

File for Unemployment Benefits

If you have been laid off from your job through no fault of your own, and meet any other requirements for unemployment in your state, you should be eligible for unemployment benefits. You might even be able to register for unemployment online without visiting an unemployment office. Read here for tips on how to file for unemployment.

Get References and Prepare for Reference Checks

When you are fired or laid off, you still might ask for a letter of recommendation (especially if you are let go because of company layoffs or another similar reason that is unrelated to you or your work). Regardless, you should ask how the company will handle any inquiries about your time with the company. Ask if they will simply share your dates of employment, or if they will tell other employers that you were fired.

Review Department of Labor Resources

The US Department of Labor and state department of labor offices can help you with information on employment-related laws, regulations, and compliance information. Read here for more details about what the Department of Labor does, and how you might get assistance from the Department if you lose your job.

Start a Job Search and Prepare to Interview

Once you have left your job and wrapped up all the final details of your departure, it is time to start looking for a new position. Here are all the resources you'll need for a successful job search. Read here for information on how to write resumes, CVs, cover letters, and other employment materials; where to look for jobs; and how to prepare for interviews. Also read information on how to answer interview questions about why you were fired or laid-off from your job.