You’ve just been told that you’re losing your job. If you’re blindsided by this news, you probably sat in front of your manager/ human resources representative trying not to have a panic attack. It’s easier said than done, but don’t freak out; we make bad decisions when we freak out. What you do before you even leave that horrible meeting can make a huge difference.

Your mind is racing about all kinds of things:  will you be able to get your personal stuff before you leave, how will you get over your fear of interviewing and how will you ever be able to explain this to future employers.

Most people are so shocked when they lose their job that they don’t even realize they can actually do something about it. You are not powerless; you have a say.

You may not be able to save your job, but what you do while you’re still in that meeting can make a huge difference to your future.

1) Find out if it’s legal

Find out if you’re being terminated for just cause, which means that your employer is ending your employment for a particular reason (workplace violence, theft or any other inappropriate behavior). If this is the case, you normally won’t be offered a severance  package, you’ll simply be walked out.

If this is the case and you feel it’s contencious, you have the right to seek legal advice before you sign anything. Your lawyer will go through everything and determine whether or not there are legal grounds for your termination or if this is a case of wrongful dismissal.

But you have a time limit, so do it quick.

Remember that seeking legal advice isn’t cheap, so you’ll have to weigh whether or not it’s worth it to go this route.

2) Negotiate!

If you’ve been let go without cause, this means that your termination is not necessarily related to your actions — basically, it’s not you, it’s them. Or perhaps they just don’t think you’re a fit for the job anymore. This is usually what your employer means by ‘restructuring’ or ‘reorganizing’. If this is the case, they have to give you a specific amount of notice related to how long you worked for the company.

In some cases, they’ll also offer you a severance package, which can include:

  • Payment in lieu of notice
  • Health insurance and other benefits
  • Stock options
  • Vacation pay
  • Outplacement and career coaching services

This is where most people go wrong. They’re so shocked that they just accept whatever they’re being offered. Others just focus on negotiating the dollar value (payment in lieu of notice). You must  negotiate the entire package (how long you have health insurance, extension of the company cell phone, car or laptop, etc.).

One of easiest things to negotiate is career coaching and outplacement services. The job hunt is not easy and you may not even know where to start with updating your resumecover letter and LinkedIn profile.

Negotiating a service that will help you with the whole job hunting process is useful for you and easy for companies to offer. It usually takes job seekers a few months of trying to find a job before they realize they need professional help writing their resumes or career coaching. Of course at this point, they’re strapped for cash and simply can’t afford it.

Negotiating this with your company gives you that option. Most companies usually have relationships with outplacement companies, but if yours doesn’t, you can tell them you’ll do the research and give them some options.

3)  Don’t sign anything on the spot

Human resources has goals during terminations – they want to make sure everything is lawful and they want you to sign agreements as soon as possible. Most people don’t realize they have the option to take agreements home and review them in detail, so they just sign and kick themselves later.

Take the agreement home and, if possible, run it by a lawyer to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal.

Remember that you’ll be fine

Losing your job isn’t easy and the feeling of rejection is unbelievable. But you’ll come out of it just fine and with a new job that you’ll likely love.

Have you been let go? Did you negotiate?

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