When Your Job Is on the Line

12/08/2008 11:46 am EST

Focus: MARKETS

Terry Savage

Author, The Savage Truth on Money

The employment news is grim. Friday’s job losses topped half a million, and big-name companies reported thousands of layoffs over the past week alone. 

And your job could be next. 

It’s a scary way to live for millions of Americans. But Chicago-based employment attorney Laurel Bellows (who responds to questions at www.Bellowspc.com) says there are things you can do to either prevent or postpone your firing—or to increase your benefits package above what the company may be offering in its standard severance deal.
 
Bellows advises that you make it less likely that you are the one being fired. In effect, make them lay off someone else—if you can.

  • Listen to your inner voice. If your gut tells you you’re at risk, you should immediately and visibly demonstrate your value to your employer.   
  • Get creative and energized. No one keeps negative people, so make sure everyone knows you love your job. Demonstrate how committed you are to your employer. Do this by creating plans to retain and attract new business.
  • Cross-train yourself. Take on some additional responsibility slightly outside your job description. That makes you more valuable in your present job—and for future job searches.  
  • Use your contacts. If you’re worried about being terminated, talk with superiors who could go to bat for you at higher levels. 

If you are tagged for a layoff, you can almost always get something extra. But you may have just moments before the boss turns you over to HR for that exit meeting, so be prepared. Bellows suggest:

  • Buy yourself time. Think about what projects you are working on that are not completed, but are important and that no one else can do. You may not be able to talk the company out of terminating you, but you could delay your departure date.
  • Ask for your bonus. You’ve earned your bonus—why should someone else get it? There may not be a bonus for everyone, but if there is any bonus this year and you earned it, you must ask for it! 
  • Get personal references now. Get a commitment from your direct boss immediately after you hear that you’re being laid off.  He or she will be most vulnerable at this moment—and you may never see him or her in person again! So, ask if you can “write your own” reference and get him or her to approve it, print it out, and mail it to you! 
  • Get outplacement assistance. You can request this to sweeten your departure, but you must convince them you earned it. 

Also, she advises that you not be reluctant to talk about special circumstances, such as a family illness, that would be impacted by loss of your medical coverage, even with the COBRA 18-month extension. Says Bellows: “This is the time to call in your chips!”

(And it might also be time to call in an attorney! You may feel that you haven’t been treated equally—either in your past pay levels or in being unfairly terminated on the basis of race, gender, age, or sexual orientation. To make this kind of case, you need documentation—and a competent attorney. But you should never threaten a lawsuit if you don’t have supportable claims.)

These ideas should help cushion the blow of losing your job, but they won’t erase the knot in your stomach that comes from wondering what you’ll do without a paycheck. It’s small consolation that your job that disappeared along with millions of others. In fact, that only makes job-hunting more difficult.

But we will get through this tough recession, though you might have to rely on help from friends and family. Surely, one day you’ll again be in a position to give back to those who helped you. 

What do you think? Any job-saving or job-hunting tips you want to share? Add your comment now.

Related Articles on MARKETS