The Savage Truth

By Terry Savage

May 1, 2009 6 min read


Avoid the firing squad and keep your job

Terry Savage

Creators News Service

The employment news is grim. Companies are announcing mass layoffs. Your job could be next. It's a scary way to live for millions of Americans.

Chicago-based employment attorney Laurel Bellows says there are things you can do to either prevent or postpone your firing -- or to increase your benefits package above what the company may be offering in its standard severance deal.

Bellows advises that you take steps to make it less likely that you are the one being fired. In effect, make them choose someone else.

* Listen to your inner voice: If your gut tells you you're at risk, you should immediately and visibly demonstrate your value to your employer. Don't be humble. Make sure that the people who count know what you are contributing to your company -- especially if you're bringing in revenue and are on the verge of bringing in more revenue. No matter what your position in the company, if the client says, "you're terrific," ask if he or she would send an e-mail to that effect to your boss.

* Get creative and energized: No one retains negative people, so make sure everyone knows you love your job. Have a great attitude, whether you're the receptionist or the vice president. Demonstrate how committed you are to your employer. Do this not only by talk, but by action, creating plans to retain and attract new business. For example, the receptionist might like to put a coffee pot at the front desk to welcome clients.

* Cross-train yourself: If you have some talent, take on some additional responsibility. That makes you more valuable in your present job, and it gives you an expanded resume for future job searches. Be able to suggest additional responsibilities you can take on.

Yet given the state of the economy, it's very possible that your company will announce mass layoffs. Bellows advises that you create -- now -- an agenda for discussion with the boss or human resources department. It's a list of all the things they could do for you on termination. Have it ready in your desk.

Her suggestions:

* Buy yourself time: Think about projects you are working on that are incomplete, but are important and that no one else can do. You may not be able to talk the company out of termination, but you might be able to postpone your departure date by noting how much more efficient it would be if you completed the project. For legal reasons, the company may not be able to make exceptions to severance policy, but they could extend your termination several months into the future, giving you more time to prepare. If you don't have that kind of project going, start one now -- one that only you can do!

* Ask for your bonus: You've earned your bonus by working this year, so why should someone else get your bonus? There may not be a bonus for everyone, but if there is any bonus this year, and you earned it, you must ask for it! You should be treated equally for the work you've done, unless you're being fired as a non-performer.

* Get personal references now: Get a commitment from your direct boss immediately after he tells you that you're being laid off. He or she will be most vulnerable at this moment -- and you may never see the boss in person again. Ask if you can write your own reference, give or e-mail it to him, and if he makes any adjustments, to print it out and mail it to you.

This is the time to remember all of the good things you did for the company, so you'll have a personal reference that is more than the dates you worked.

* Get outplacement assistance: Even if the employer doesn't offer this service to everyone, you can request this help to sweeten your departure, but you must convince the employer you've earned it. Senior executives should demand an appropriate category of outplacement. Senior executives should ask to approve the wording of the announcement of their departure.

When all else fails, says Bellows, you can turn to leverage -- both the positive and the negative kind of personal pressure that could change your situation. She suggests that if you're worried about being terminated, you try to head it off by talking with superiors who could go to bat for you at higher levels.

If you are terminated, she advises that you not be reluctant to talk about special circumstances, such as a family illness, that would be impacted by loss of your medical coverage, even with the COBRA 18-month extension. Says Bellows: "This is the time to call in your chips."

On the negative leverage side, you may feel that you haven't been treated equally, whether in your past pay levels, or in being unfairly chosen for termination on the basis of race, gender, age or sexual orientation. To make this kind of case, you need a competent attorney. But never threaten a lawsuit if you don't have supportable claims.

Bellows responds to employment law questions on her blog at

These ideas should help cushion the blow of losing your job, but they won't erase the knot in your stomach that comes from wondering what you'll do without a paycheck.

But we will get through this tough recession. You may have to rely on help from family, friends and government benefits. But one day, you'll again be in a position to give back to those who helped you. And that's The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and is on the board of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. She appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5's 4:30 p.m. newscast, and can be reached at Her new book, "The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Make?" has just been published. To find out more about Terry Savage and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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