Termination from a job can be a devastating event in which an employee may suffer many losses. Income, financial security and professional reputation may be lost. Some may feel a loss of dignity, relevance and self-esteem. Still others may experience a loss of hope, ambition and purpose. One common consequence of being fired, particularly from long-term employment, is that matters that once seemed certain suddenly become uncertain, a situation that can reasonably trigger a torrent of difficult emotions, including anger, grief, depression, anxiety and panic. It’s fair to say that few of us are fully prepared to handle the shock of sudden unemployment. However, if you find yourself in such a situation, there are things that you can do to recover well and move on to (hopefully) something even better. Below are a few suggestions that may help you to pick up the pieces:
1. Don’t react out of your emotions. A termination may trigger strong emotions. You may want to cry, scream or throw something. You may want to give up and hide under the covers. Or you may want to sue the pants off of your employer and you’re willing to pay whatever it takes (in time and money) to do so. However you may feel, if the feeling is intense and likely to motivate your actions, give yourself time to settle before you make major decisions. Acting out in anger, frustration and grief may make matters worse. It may lead to actions such as threatening your employer, burning bridges (talked more about below), and weakening your appeal to future employers (such as by trashing your boss on social media). If you find that your emotions are overwhelming talk to someone or seek help from a therapist, counselor, spiritual advisor or even a friend. However you choose to do so, manage your emotions in a healthy way so that you don’t make a bad situation worse.
2. Don’t unnecessarily burn bridges. Employers, even those that fire you or lay you off, can affect the ease with which you find new employment. Depending on the circumstances, they may be willing to help you move forward. Such steps can include characterizing your termination as a resignation or mutual separation; agreeing not to contest unemployment; offering a letter of recommendation; agreeing to provide a neutral reference to employment inquiries; and negotiating a severance agreement. There may also be people within your employer’s company who are willing to serve as personal references. Take care to recognize whether it’s possible to preserve a decent relationship with your former employer. Don’t unnecessarily burn that bridge.
3. Assess your resources. Your most important concern upon termination is likely going to be money and insurance. Take stock of your financial resources. If you don’t have an emergency fund, consider whether you can or should borrow from a retirement account or insurance policy. Consider whether you have assets that you can leverage or liquidate to provide financial income until you secure new employment. Also consider your eligibility for unemployment and/or assistance from social services.
4. Know your rights and remedies. Perhaps you believe that you were wrongfully terminated. Maybe your firing violated the law; maybe it did not. However, if you have any question whether you were illegally terminated talk to an attorney early. Waiting to talk to a lawyer may cause you to lose a legal claim. Some claims, such as a whistleblower claim under Michigan law, must be brought within as few as 90 days. If you wait too long to speak to a lawyer, you may potentially lose your claim.
5. Don’t sign anything without talking to an attorney. Your employer may offer you an agreement or other document to sign when you’re fired. Such a document may include provisions that are not in your best interest, such as a release of claims or an agreement that you will not compete against the employer by working with a competitor. Such provisions can affect your legal right to sue and may affect when and where you work and the work that you’re able to do. Often these provisions will be tucked into a severance agreement in which the employer promises a small sum of money in exchange for you giving up significant legal rights. Before you sign anything, review it with a lawyer. An attorney can help you understand what you are signing and, where a severance is offered, he or she may be able to negotiate a higher amount for you.
6. Obtain a copy of your personnel file. Your personnel file may contain important information, such as agreements not to compete and agreements to arbitrate claims that you may have forgotten you signed. Your personnel file documents may also be important if you intend to contest your termination. Information such as performance evaluations and disciplinary actions (or the lack of such) may be important to proving your case.
These are just a few suggestions that may help you get back on your feet after a sudden termination. The most important thing to remember is that millions of people have been in this same situation and recovered. With time and persistence, you will as well.