Maybe you knew it was coming. Or maybe it came out of nowhere. But when you see your manager and a human resources representative in the meeting room, it lands like a punch in the gut. You are about to be “let go.“
Or in plainest terms: Terminated.
This time can be confusing, heartbreaking, and anxiety-ridden for anyone. There are forms to sign, belongings to collect and family members to inform. It will no doubt be stressful. But have heart: With the right know-how, there’s every reason to believe you can land solidly on your feet.
“We are seeing an increasing number of employees facing termination or temporary layoff,” says Genevieve Cantin, an employment lawyer with Cavalluzzo LLP in Toronto. “An employee whose job has been impacted by the pandemic should not assume there is no recourse available for them.“
For many Canadians — some of whom may be facing a layoff for the first time in their working lives — it can be natural to wonder what the next steps might be. Before you do anything, Cantin says, consider getting some legal advice — even if you think you may be in line for a temporary layoff or termination. And if you do find yourself facing a dreaded meeting with HR, she’s helped us build this checklist of 10 things you should consider.
1. Consult a lawyer
You should not feel rushed to sign anything. Cantin says employers often offer less in severance than an employee may be entitled to receive when terminated without cause. A lawyer can help you to review your severance package and assist in negotiation if necessary. Factors such as an employee’s age, length of service, position and responsibilities, and availability of similar employment are all relevant to determining what an employee is owed upon termination under common law. During this time you may also be presented with waivers, non-disclosure agreements, and non-compete clauses. These should all be looked over by a lawyer.
2. Review your final paycheque carefully
Ask for a breakdown of what will be included in your final paycheque and confirm the amount with your own records. You may have unused vacation or commission that will be paid out at this time. This can also be an opportunity to ensure any outstanding expenses are reimbursed.
3. Consult a financial professional
If you have been employed with your company for a long period of time, you may be surprised at the size of the severance package. A financial professional can look at your overall financial picture, and help you decide how to get that package working for you. For instance, your former employer may offer you an option to receive a lump sum payment or to continue your salary over a period of time. A financial professional may offer suggestions to structure your severance payments to minimize taxes. They may also help to transfer your company pension or retirement savings to a retirement account elsewhere, and help guide an investment strategy.
4. Obtain your Record of Employment
This slip of paper, known as a ROE, is necessary to apply for Employment Insurance (EI). It’s important that the ROE lists your reason for leaving accurately. If not, it could pose problems when applying for EI benefits. Many employers are now issuing ROEs online, which you can access through the “My Account” option on the Canada Revenue Agency‘s website, if it doesn’t arrive in the mail.
5. Apply for Employment Insurance
Employment Insurance may not kick in until your severance period is over, but it’s worth a phone call to Service Canada to find out when you should apply. In some cases, you should apply for benefits after you have had at least seven days without work or pay. In other cases your severance package may delay your benefits. Talk to a representative from EI to clarify.
6. Review life insurance
You may have had life insurance coverage through your employer, and it may have been a part of your larger wealth plan. This can be a good time to review what other coverage you have, so that you don’t leave loved ones in the lurch should something happen to you.
7. Ensure health and dental coverage
Some employers will extend your benefits to you for a period of time as part of your overall severance package. If you think you will lose your extended benefits, or they will expire at some point, you may need to find benefits elsewhere. Make a note of when they will expire, and plan accordingly. You may be able to find affordable benefit options through your school alumni association, automobile association, or other group plans that you have access to.
8. Make a short-term budget
Assess what you have saved, what’s coming in and going out, and see where you can trim your budget for the next few months. Every little bit can help.
9. Find a support network
Losing your job can be tough emotionally. If you don’t have a close circle to help you through, you may want to find online support groups, or even reach out to a therapist. Many companies continue to offer their employee wellness programs and counselling services for a certain period of time following termination which may be useful.
10. Develop a job search strategy
This period of unemployment likely won’t last forever, and you may be able to shorten it significantly with a targeted approach to job searching. That can include networking, building new skills, or creating a plan to market yourself. Cantin warns that some severance packages may include a clawback provision that could affect severance payments if you find new employment, and that is another reason to work with a lawyer. You may feel pressure to act fast, but be wary of taking a job that may set you back on your financial goals or your career path.
This is a tumultuous time. While you might feel like it’s time to go through a major life overhaul such as a career change, a move, or starting your own business, making irrevocable financial decisions may not be in your best interest right now. Take some time to decide what you want, and plan for how to get there. And when the dust does settle, consider taking some time to review your financial picture from time-to-time. When you do find a job, a financial professional may be able to help create a plan to get back on track as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
Cantin says that it is wise to understand your legal entitlements before you sign on to a new role. “For the next time around, consider getting legal advice before you enter into a new employment relationship,” she says. “While no one ever wants to face a termination, it could make it easier if there is a next-time-around.“