At least once a month a job hunter reports she believes she was fired but the company is calling her departure a layoff. Let’s examine this issue because it’s more important to job hunters than it should be. Is there a greater fear than that of being fired? Only workplace violence outranks it in surveys. Why? Most people believe that if you’re fired from a job you won’t be hired by another company. That’s not only untrue but absurd on the face of it. Fact: At least half of all employed adults have been fired at least once. A full third have been fired more than once. Second, companies deliberately blur the line between firing and layoff — especially of people over 40. Layoffs are an ideal way to get rid of those who might charge age discrimination. Severance is cheaper than legal fees.
Even so, you want to know if you were secretly fired or really laid off. How do you find out?
1. Call HR and ask for a reference. If you can’t bring yourself to do it, recruit an assertive friend. If he finds out that the company called your departure a layoff that’s the official word.
2. Did you get severance? If they paid you to leave that is a layoff. Firing, by definition, means you’re out the door with only money earned to date. Some companies will pay you to the end of the current pay period, usually two weeks or a month if you’re fired. They have no obligation either way.
3. What kind of reference will you boss give? A good reference means you were laid off. However painful, the last question before you leave the office must be to ask about a reference. If you boss will say good things — or if on HR is allowed to gives references — it’s always wise to ask for a written letter from your boss. You want to know what will be said. If your boss tells you not to use her as a reference you can conclude there is a problem. Talk to HR immediately.
Being fired is not the end of the world. It calls for more complicated planning such as letters from internal and external clients, co-workers and former employers. Fact: You’ll have more trouble with a series of short-term jobs than with being fired or if you got severance and used it for an extended vacation. If, immediately following your departure, you did some temporary work, free-lanced, or worked a clearly unsuitable minimum wage job, it mitigates any problems with your departure. This is especially true if you are younger than 35 — all that rubbish about the work ethic don’t you know.
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