Make Your Layoff List And Check It Twice

Know these issues before the downsizing alarm sounds

If you’ve been tracking the layoff body count in the private sector these days, you may find yourself humming that 1980s pop tune, “Another One Bites the Dust.” It seems that nearly every week, some corporation or other is giving hundreds, if not thousands, of employees the boot. Perhaps you’ve already been a casualty. Or maybe you’re worried that you may become one.

If the latter is true, you probably know two orders of business that you’ll need to handle, namely, severance (see “Bargaining a Good-bye,” Powerplay, September 2001) and a letter of reference (see “A Reasonable Reference,” Powerplay, April 2001). But in addition to those things, there are other issues every professional should be aware of before the threat of a layoff looms large. David A. Branch, an employment and civil rights attorney in Washington, D.C., gives you a few of the more important points for your pre-layoff checklist

  • Item #1: Be careful what you sign. “Some employers use pressure tactics–such as calling laid off employees into a conference room or to human resources at the end of the day–to demand [they sign] separation paperwork immediately or [face the] loss of the severance package,” maintains Branch. Before signing anything, he advises requesting time for a thorough review, and paying particular attention to: (1) provisions that contain restrictive covenants prohibiting you from working for competitors; (2) provisions that state you are resigning your position rather than being terminated due to restructuring, which may disqualify you for unemployment compensation; and 3) provisions that prohibit you from pursuing any claim of discrimination against your employer at any time.
  • Item #2: Get what’s coming to you. Request from human resources a written account of all monies that may be owed you, “including wages, expense report reimbursements, vacation time and/or sick leave, and stock options.” Compare your employer’s records with your own, and inquire when you will be paid. “Many states require employers to pay employees their final paycheck within seven days of separation from employment,” says Branch.
  • Item #3: Understand the role of the human resources department. Your company’s human resources department is there to support management–first and foremost. So, by the time you are informed that you are being downsized, the human resources department likely has your parting papers ready for you to sign. “If you suspect that your layoff is illegal or discriminatory, do not share this concern with human resources in an informal manner,” advises Branch (for more on this, visit www.blackenterprise .com). Present your charges to the employer in writing, get legal advice, and request an investigation.
  • Item #4: Review your personnel file. Before you walk out the door, you’ll want to make sure that your file accurately reflects your performance at the company. Ask to review your personnel file, document its contents, and ask for copies. “If you are involved in any legal proceeding against the employer, your file can be subpoenaed, and may be used to make [negative] inferences about your performance,” he says.
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