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News / Business

Your guide to surviving and navigating layoffs

By Renata Geraldo, The Seattle Times
Published: February 19, 2023, 7:46am

Thousands of layoffs hit workers across the nation in the past few months. The news has created a sense of insecurity that triggered many across all industries to ask, “What if I’m next?”

The answer is uncertain, but anyone can prepare themselves by learning as much as possible about the circumstances and the tools that can help when navigating an unplanned job transition.

First off, try to keep perspective throughout the process. It may seem like every Big Tech company is letting people go and it will be hard to find another job, but the reality isn’t as gloomy. Tech workers can find jobs within three to six months of being laid off, according to ZipRecruiter’s lead economist Sinem Buber.

And despite the layoffs, Washington has been adding more jobs than it has been losing, although at a slower rate than last year, Buber said.

Alicia Evans, marketing director for recruiting firm Robert Half, agrees. Tech jobs are among those in top demand by small- and medium-sized companies, she said.

“There is so much demand for tech candidates that the layoffs are actually helping the labor market because there are so many options for companies,” Evans said.

Keeping this positive mindset, check out how you can navigate a layoff situation from the moment you are informed until you are ready to land a new job.

Severance and rights

Feeling shocked, overwhelmed or angry at the news of being laid off is normal. But amid these feelings, it is important not to overlook the severance package details. Although severance packages vary by employer, and laid-off employees may not have much say or influence on what their severance agreements include, there could be exceptions.

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People can negotiate their severance package just like their compensation package when they get hired, financial planner Mindy Crary said. “They can ask for more time to receive benefits and salary, for example.”

There are ways to negotiate individual severance packages. Luke Campbell, a Seattle-based attorney at Montgomery Purdue, says people can ask for a longer pay period depending on their tenure or experience at the company, for example.

Laid-off employees can also ask for a quicker vesting of stock, to cash out their personal time off or for the employer to cover their continuation of health coverage, under the COBRA health insurance law, Campbell said.

Other nonmonetary asks may include a letter of recommendation to use when looking for a new job, Campbell said.

“You’re just trying to negotiate some sort of good-faith payment with the employer,” Campbell said. “You’re not really in a legal argument.”

If necessary, a person who has been laid off can run the severance package by an attorney, but that can be costly as the employer is unlikely to pay for this review.

Noncompete agreements

Under a 2020 state law, noncompete agreements are no longer enforceable for workers making less than around $116,600 or for contractors making less than around $291,500. Both thresholds are adjusted for inflation by the state Department of Labor and Industries. Noncompetes also can only last 18 months, versus the two or more years that some employers have demanded.

Regardless, if you’re laid off, noncompete agreements are not enforceable, Campbell said.

Similarly, he said that people can apply and potentially be rehired for the same roles they’d been laid off from, instead of not having the opportunity to get rehired if they were terminated for cause.

Unemployment benefits

If you’ve been laid off, you are likely eligible for unemployment benefits. Your first stop is the website of the Employment Security Department to know when you will become eligible, how to apply and what you need to do to continue receiving benefits. You also can find how unemployment payments are calculated.

The state also offers Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave, Campbell said, which gives paid personal time off to people whether they’re employed or not. People cannot use unemployment benefits and paid leave at the same time. To qualify, they have to have worked a minimum of 820 hours in Washington over the last year, whether full time, part time, seasonal or temporary. But if a person has the 820 hours worked in the qualifying period, they don’t have to be employed.

If you are a permanent resident and plan on applying for citizenship, using public assistance programs should not hurt your immigration status.

Job hunting

Networking is key to job hunting. Workers should use professional networking and social media platforms such as LinkedIn to spread the word that they are open to work. This timing of these layoff is advantageous since the “stigma around the layoffs has been removed,” ZipRecruiter’s Buber said.

Buber added that people need to be aggressive with their search and even look outside their industry. While three-quarters of tech workers nationally managed to find a job within their industry, people should keep an open mind about where to apply.

“We’re going to see more and more companies investing in technology, investing in digitalization,” Buber said. “So, there will be more job openings.”

According to a Robert Half survey released last month and conducted from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3, more than half of hiring managers in the Seattle area were looking to fill new permanent roles across industries, while 44% were hiring for vacated positions.

In addition, think of what today’s employers are seeking — especially if you have been out of the job market for a while. The Robert Half survey highlights desirable traits such as passion for the company’s mission, knowledge of the company, timeliness and professionalism during interviews.

While searching and applying, people also can look for upskilling opportunities, either from online programs — there are free Amazon Web Services courses, for example — or by joining LinkedIn groups that give tips on finding the best courses, or consulting with professional talent companies, Evans said.

Cloud computing is one area in which many tech workers have been looking to add to their skills, according to Evans.

Managing finances

Managing your finances while searching for a job can be the biggest concern. The planning begins before you encounter the situation by simply saving for a rainy day.

Financial planner Crary pointed out that it is time to remember that a good rule of thumb is to keep enough cash reserves that can sustain expenses from three to six months.

After being laid off, unemployment benefits can cover some of the gap, but there are also “some creative ways to alleviate the cash flow,” said Crary, who owns financial planning firm Creative Money.

For example, a person can contact their mortgage company to file for forbearance to clear up cash, Crary said. The amount can be added as extra months in the mortgage later.

Even eliminating smaller expenses can make a difference. Want to save on gym membership? You may be able to exchange a gym membership for a free one by volunteering to do free work for the gym such as cleaning the place at the end of the day, Crary said.

In short, think about anything that you can do to bring in a little bit of cash and to avoid grabbing “any old job that comes along” in desperation.

After the severance package runs out and people are no longer receiving corporate-sponsored health care, they should shop around with different insurance companies for individual plans instead of paying for COBRA, Crary said.

COBRA is “super expensive because you’re paying group rates,” Crary said. “You basically just agreed to pay for what your employer has been covering while you were employed with them.”

And while you’re hoping to get your next job soon, don’t forget about your retirement savings. People should start their own retirement account and roll over their 401(k) plan with their previous employer to this new account, Crary said. That way, they can continue their retirement plan and control where to invest their funds rather than having an employer decide.

Free resources

There are free ways to learn how to organize finances and career planning for the next step. The U.S. Department of Labor has a taxpayer funded “Rapid Response Program,” which provides guidance for employers and workers on navigating layoffs. Locally, that program is operated by the Seattle-King County WorkSource Business Services Team.

When an employer announces layoffs, they can request assistance from the Rapid Response Program to organize personalized presentations for workers regarding career counseling, résumé preparation and interviewing skills, local labor market facts, unemployment insurance, education and training opportunities, and health benefits and pensions.

While the workshops are at the employer’s request, the Seattle-King County WorkSource Business Services Team organizes online sessions for free for everyone who might be interested, regardless of their employer providing personalized sessions, said John Glynn, director of business relations and workforce solutions for the program locally.

Similarly, people can use WorkSourceWA, a job-matching tool for employers and job seekers. The service is provided by a statewide partnership of state, local and nonprofit agencies. Employers can add as many job openings as they’d like and use “automatic ranking and side-by-side comparisons of applicants based on their criteria.”

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