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How to Make the Best of a Layoff

Social media, blogs, tech news outlets, Reddit and more were overloaded by the news of gaming software giant Zynga’s layoffs this week. 520 “Zyngites” are now unemployed. In the fast-growing startup world, no job is guaranteed. But there are some very important lessons that other tech-savvy talent can learn from the Zynga experience.

“The first point: don’t quit. And if you can avoid it, don’t get fired. Get laid off instead,” says Sam Dogen, author of How to Engineer Your Layoff and founder of personal finance and investing blog Financial Samurai. “If an employee quits, they lose out on potential severance, health care and unemployment benefits.”

What is Severance?

During the layoff process, a company may provide a severance package. This can be additional pay based on time of service, unused vacation or sick days, insurance, retirement benefits, stock options and employment services. If you’re not sure what your company’s policy is on severance, this is where your employee handbook comes in – most severance package policies can be found here. Make sure you know what is offered, and what your rights are.

“Employees may have more rights than they know,” says Dogen. “The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) exists in California, New York and other states to protect workers and their families.” 

COBRA Basics

COBRA is health insurance coverage offered by some employers in the event of a layoff. It allows individuals and families to continue group health benefits for a limited period of time after leaving the company. Benefits are generally available for a maximum of 18 months following a layoff. Despite the fact that you’re paying group premium rates instead of individual rates, COBRA can be very expensive. Your employer may only cover a portion of these benefits – if any – so make sure you read the fine print. 

Negotiation is Key

If you’re laid off, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Getting three months of severance pay may sound nice, but it’s really just pocket change if you consider what you could be leaving on the table, such as:

  • Insurance Coverage. Will your employer continue to pay for your health benefits for a set period of time after you leave the company? What percentage of the premium payment are you responsible for? Does your company offer COBRA?
  • Job-Finding Assistance. Does your company have any resources for its laid-off employees? This could be anything from help in finding a new job to resume workshops.
  • Establish References. Do you have resources at the company who can provide you with a valuable reference for your job search? This is where solidifying solid relationships can come in handy.
  • Stock Options. Do you know your company’s policy on stock options in the event of a layoff? What happens to that deferred compensation?

“It’s important to have as long a financial runway as possible during the transition period. Sometimes that new dream job is harder to land than expected,” says Dogen. “Other times your startup might never get off the ground. You never know!”

Part of preparing your own financial runway is knowing what you have and where it is. Track your entire net worth by signing up for Personal Capital and linking your accounts.

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