Navigating a Layoff: Understanding What It Is, What to Do, Whether You Can Get More Severance, and How to Bounce Back

Gordon Law Group

In today’s ever-changing job market, layoffs have become an unfortunate reality for many professionals. A layoff can be a distressing experience, with a lot of steps and a lotquestions. This blog aims to shed light on what a layoff entails, providing guidance on how to handle the situation, how to evaluate your severance and bounce back stronger than ever.

What is a Layoff?

Unraveling the Concept

A layoff – either a planned RIF of a group of employees or a single termination – refers to the termination of positions within an organization. It is typically initiated by the employer due to various reasons, such as restructuring, financial challenges, technological advancements, or changes in the business landscape.  But often it includes people the employer wants out because of discrimination or retaliation.  In other words, many employers use layoffs as “cover” to get rid of older workers or workers they no longer want around.

The Lawful Layoff

Let’s focus first on a proper layoff.  One that does not involve discrimination or retaliation.  Unlike termination due to poor performance or misconduct, a true layoff should be unrelated to an individual’s abilities or actions. Instead, it is a strategic decision made by the company to adjust its workforce size or structure based on business needs.

During a proper layoff, employees are let go from their roles, and their employment with the company is terminated. As in almost every termination, this can be a challenging experience, both emotionally and financially, as it disrupts a person’s sense of stability and security.

It’s important to note that a layoff is different from being fired or quitting. When an employee is fired (again, focusing here on a lawful termination), it is typically due to performance issues or violation of company policies. On the other hand, quitting is a voluntary decision made by the employee to leave the organization.

Layoffs are often driven by external factors beyond an individual’s control, such as economic downturns, mergers and acquisitions, changes in market demand, or automation. Companies may resort to layoffs as a means to cut costs, streamline operations, or adapt to industry shifts – with little reflection on an employee’s skills or worth as a professional.

It is a challenging situation that many people face at some point in their careers, and there are strategies and steps to take to navigate the aftermath and move forward successfully.

The Unlawful Layoff

As mentioned, often companies include employees in layoffs for unlawful reasons.  In other words, some employers use the “layoff” as an opportunity to exact revenge against an employee who has made complaints, to move out older workers and “freshen up the place,” to get rid of pregnant women and minorities, or to push out people who need medical accommodations.

The impact to a worker unlawfully included in a layoff is often worse, because those individuals typically have a much harder time finding new work.

The good news for workers unlawfully included in a layoff?  They often have a much stronger position to demand more severance.   Just because you’re included in a layoff does not mean you lose your rights.  A layoff cannot be used to cover up wrongful termination.  Employees experiencing discrimination or retaliation in the layoff context may have even better remedies available to them, because the employer has already set aside funds to deal with the matters and are focused on the problems.

Any worker who feels they have been included in a layoff for an unlawful reason should seek counsel immediately.

Signs a Layoff is Coming

Recognizing the Indicators

Here, we’ll dive into the common signs and reasons that lead to layoffs within organizations.  Signs, such as declining profits, restructuring efforts, or industry changes. And reasons, including economic downturns, technological advancements, and company mergers.

  • Declining Financial Performance: Companies facing financial difficulties, such as declining revenues, profit losses, or increasing debt, may resort to layoffs as a cost-cutting measure. Pay attention to public financial reports, news about the company’s financial health, or internal communications that hint at financial challenges.
  • Restructuring Efforts: Organizations undergoing significant restructuring, such as mergers, acquisitions, or changes in business strategies, often reassess their workforce needs. This could result in layoffs as roles are eliminated, departments are streamlined, or duplicate positions are removed.
  • Industry Changes: Technological advancements, shifts in consumer preferences, or changes in market conditions can impact specific industries. If your industry is undergoing substantial transformations, such as automation replacing manual labor or shifts towards digitalization, companies may downsize to adapt to the new landscape.
  • Cost-Cutting Measures: Companies looking to trim expenses may implement various cost-cutting measures before resorting to layoffs. These measures could include freezing hiring, reducing benefits, implementing furloughs, or decreasing employee perks. If such measures persist or become more severe, it may be an indication that layoffs are likely.
  • Company Communication: Pay attention to the information shared by the company’s leadership or through internal communication channels. Announcements about cost-cutting initiatives, reorganizations, or downsizing efforts could signal potential layoffs. However, it’s important to note that not all company communication may be transparent, so use your judgment and consider multiple factors.
  • Reduced Workload or Project Cancellations: If you notice a significant decrease in your workload, projects being put on hold, or the cancellation of upcoming initiatives, it could be a sign that the company is experiencing challenges or considering workforce reductions.

Remember, each situation is unique, and companies may employ different strategies in response to challenges. However, by being aware of these signs and staying informed, you can better prepare yourself and explore potential backup plans in case a layoff occurs.

Coping with a Layoff

Navigating the Emotional Rollercoaster

Losing a job can be emotionally challenging, resulting in stress, anxiety, and disappointment. It’s essential to take care of yourself:

  • Allow Yourself to Process: Losing a job can evoke a range of emotions, including shock, sadness, anger, or even relief. Many people put a lot of themselves into work, often measuring their own self-worth through their job and income.  The emotional toll from the loss is natural response. Allow yourself time to grieve the loss of your job and the changes it brings to your life.Recognize that a layoff is not a reflection of your worth or abilities as a professional.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to your support network, including family, friends, or colleagues who can provide a listening ear, empathy, and advice. They may have gone through similar situations and can provide perspective and reassurance.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Establish goals and create a plan for moving forward. This could include updating your resume, networking, attending job fairs, or learning new skills.
  • Explore New Opportunities: Use this time to assess your interests, values, and career aspirations. Consider whether you want to continue in a similar field or explore new industries or roles. Research emerging job trends and identify opportunities that align with your skills and interests.
  • Upgrade Your Skills: Use the period of unemployment to invest in yourself. Explore training programs, online courses, or certifications that can enhance your skill set and make you more marketable to potential employers. Acquiring new skills demonstrates your commitment to personal and professional growth.

Navigating Your Finances, Unemployment Insurance and COBRA

After a layoff, it’s crucial to evaluate your financial situation and develop a plan to weather the storm.

  • Unemployment Insurance: Immediately evaluate the opportunity for unemployment insurance. As an employee, you paid substantial amounts of money into the unemployment system and you should feel good about filling out the application and taking advantage of the financial support. This is often a good time to seek the advice of an attorney with experience handling unemployment insurance and the process for making claims, handling the response if your employer opposes your application, and dealing with any appeals.
  • Health Insurance and COBRA:  Immediately take stock of your health insurance.  Losing your job through a layoff can also mean losing your employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. However, under certain circumstances, you may be eligible for continued coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). Here’s what you need to know about COBRA health insurance coverage and how to obtain it:
  • Who is Eligible for COBRA? To be eligible for COBRA coverage, you must have been enrolled in your employer’s group health insurance plan at the time of the qualifying event, and the employer must have had at least 20 employees. COBRA generally applies to private-sector employers, although some state laws may extend similar benefits to employees of smaller companies.
  • Length of COBRA Coverage:  COBRA coverage typically lasts for up to 18 months, although certain qualifying events, such as the death of the covered employee or divorce, may extend the coverage period. In some cases, disability may qualify you for an extension of coverage up to 29 months. Additionally, if a dependent loses coverage due to the employee’s qualifying event, they may be eligible for a separate 36-month coverage period.
  • Cost of COBRA: Under COBRA, you are responsible for the full premium, including the portion previously covered by your employer, as well as any administrative fees. The good news is that you have health insurance while you look for new work or a new plan, but you do have to pay for it.

Finding a New Job

Professional Network: Assess your professional network and connections. Identify individuals who can provide support, advice, or potential job leads. Reach out to former colleagues, mentors, industry contacts, and professional associations. Leverage networking platforms like LinkedIn to reconnect and expand your network.

  • Skills and Expertise: Take stock of your skills, expertise, and qualifications. Identify your strengths, areas of specialization, and transferable skills that can be valuable in your job search. Assess any gaps in your skillset and consider opportunities for upskilling or acquiring new certifications to enhance your marketability.
  • Personal Support System: Evaluate your personal support system, including family, friends, and loved ones. Consider the emotional support they can provide during this challenging period. Share your situation with them and discuss how they can assist you, whether it’s through encouragement, guidance, or practical help.
  • Online Job Search Platforms: Explore online job search platforms and websites specific to your industry or desired job sector. Familiarize yourself with the features and functionality of these platforms, including job listings, resume uploads, and application processes. Identify relevant job boards and set up email alerts for new opportunities.
  • Professional Development Resources: Research professional development resources available to you, such as online courses, webinars, or workshops. These resources can help you enhance your skills, stay updated on industry trends, and demonstrate ongoing professional growth to potential employers.
  • Personal Branding Assets: Assess your personal branding assets, including your resume, cover letter, and online presence. Update and tailor your resume to highlight your accomplishments, skills, and experience. Optimize your LinkedIn profile to showcase your professional achievements and attract potential employers. Ensure consistency and professionalism across all your personal branding materials.
  • Emotional Well-being: Take stock of your emotional well-being and self-care practices. Identify activities that help you reduce stress, maintain a positive mindset, and stay motivated during the job search. This could include exercise, meditation, journaling, hobbies, or seeking support from mental health professionals if needed.
  • Supportive Organizations and Resources: Research local organizations, career centers, or government agencies that provide support for individuals facing unemployment. These resources can offer job search assistance, career counseling, resume workshops, networking events, or access to job fairs. Take advantage of the resources available to you in your community.
  • Personal Inventory: Reflect on your personal values, interests, and career aspirations. Consider what you truly enjoy doing and what type of work aligns with your passions and goals. Taking stock of your personal inventory can help guide your job search and ensure that you pursue opportunities that align with your values and bring fulfillment.

By assessing these various resources, you can gain a clearer understanding of your strengths, support systems, and available opportunities. This evaluation will help you make strategic decisions, develop an effective job search plan, and utilize your resources to navigate through the challenges of a layoff successfully.

  • Explore Training and Upskilling Opportunities: Identify areas where you can enhance your skills through online courses, certifications, or workshops. Upskilling can make you more marketable to potential employers and demonstrate your commitment to personal and professional growth. Focus on acquiring skills that are in demand within your industry or the field you aspire to enter.
  • Polish Your Interviewing Skills: Prepare for job interviews by researching common interview questions and practicing your responses. Highlight your accomplishments and demonstrate how your skills align with the needs of prospective employers. Develop compelling stories and examples that showcase your abilities and problem-solving skills.
  • Consider Freelancing or Contract Work: In the interim, consider freelancing or taking on contract work to stay active and gain additional experience. Freelancing can help you expand your network, build new skills, and maintain a steady income while searching for a permanent position. Platforms like Upwork and Freelancer offer opportunities across various industries.

The Severance Package

Evaluating a severance offer received in a layoff is an important step to ensure you’re making an informed decision about the terms and benefits being offered. Here are some key factors to consider when evaluating a severance offer:

Carefully read through the severance package provided by your employer. Pay attention to the details regarding the duration of the severance pay, the amount or formula used to calculate the payment, and any additional benefits or assistance being offered, such as extended healthcare coverage or outplacement services.

If you have been wrongfully terminated, seek employment counsel immediately.  This may be your only chance to negotiate better terms – as almost all severance packages require an employee to sign away their rights in exchange for the payments.

You should also consult with counsel if the severance package is complex or you have concerns about its terms. A good employment attorney can review the offer, explain any legal rights or entitlements you may have, and advise you on negotiation strategies if needed.

Your lawyer can help you understand both the financial benefits and non-financial benefits.  Healthcare coverage, retirement account contributions, or career counseling services are all additional benefits you might consider during the transition period.

Garden leave:  You might also consider requesting garden leave in connection with your severance – in other words, an opportunity to stay on the payroll and employed while you find your next job.  As they say, it’s much easier to find work while you’re employed.

You should also understand any Non-Compete or other restrictive clauses. These may limit your ability to seek employment in certain companies or industries. Evaluate the impact of these clauses on your future career prospects and negotiate their terms if necessary.

Review any legal waivers or release agreements included in the severance package. These waivers typically require you to release the company from any legal claims or actions in exchange for theseverance benefits. Ensure you fully understand the implications of signing such agreements, as you may be releasing valuable rights.

Remember, each severance offer and individual situation is unique. It’s essential to carefully review the terms, consult legal advice if necessary, and make a decision that aligns with your financial, professional, and personal goals.


Experiencing a layoff can be disheartening, but it’s essential to remember that it’s not the end of the road. By understanding what a layoff is, recognizing the signs, and taking proactive steps to bounce back, you can transform this challenging period into

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