The technical details of benefits plans are not the first thing on an employee's mind when he's told about a layoff. However, this information will be critical over the coming weeks and there are questions employees should be prepared to ask. If the company has gone bankrupt and the business is closing, the HR department also will be laid off. Consequently, employees could have only one chance to find out necessary information.
Reasons for Layoff
Employees must find out the reason for the layoff. If the company responds with a generic, nondescript answer, calmly continue to press for details. Ask if the layoff is for financial reasons and if multiple employees will be laid off. Inquire about the selection process and if there were any particular criteria the company applied when deciding whom to lay off. If the company remains noncommittal, ask if there were any problems with your performance or fit with the company. If the employer answers affirmatively, follow up and try to get more information by asking if there was a problem with a particular project or customer, for example. This information can be helpful in future employment, and in extreme circumstances it could provide additional evidence if you believe you were laid off for a discriminatory, retaliatory or otherwise illegal reason.
Benefits and Unemployment
Ask for details about health benefits, stock option plans, retirement plans, deferred compensation plans and any other benefits the company provides. Check when your coverage will expire under the company health plan, if you will be paid any severance and when your accrued vacation will be paid. Find out if you are eligible to continue participation in any of the company plans and for how long. If you still have coverage, "Time" magazine suggests scheduling a full physical, which helps if you later need to obtain your own health insurance.
Find out if the company offers outplacement services or other resources to help you find a new job. Ask what the employer plans to say when it is contacted for a reference. If the company is closing, identify alternate contact information for people who can provide a reference in the future, and inquire whether the company will provide you with a generic written reference that can be used for multiple employers in the event you cannot get in contact with anyone.
Reemployment and "Bumping" Rights
Check with the company if you are eligible for reemployment and if there are any special provisions for laid-off employees. Ask if you would have to reapply for future vacancies or if the company automatically will give you first consideration if a suitable vacancy arises. Ask if your continuous service would be uninterrupted if you returned to work after a layoff and whether you would return to the same level of benefits as you previously held -- for example, if you earn additional days of vacation for each year of service, once reemployed will you earn as if you had never left or will you be required to start from scratch like a new employee.
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