8. How to maximize your take if you get laid off

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By Money Magazine staff

To find the upside when you get downsized, follow these four steps, suggests Lancaster, Pa. employment lawyer Christina Hausner.

  • Step 1 Chill. The meeting in which your boss breaks the news will be traumatic - but don't burn bridges (thereby losing your chance to negotiate) by voicing any bitterness or anger. The only two questions you should ask are "Who do I call about benefits?" and "Who do I contact about getting a letter of reference?" Never sign a severance agreement that day.
  • Step 2 File for unemployment. The sooner you apply, the sooner you will be able to receive benefits - generally about half your salary, up to a few hundred dollars a week, for at least six months (longer at times of high unemployment). Get details from your state's unemployment office.
  • Step 3 Begin horse-trading. To get more than the typical week or two of pay per year of service, your best strategy is to offer to give back something of value to your old employer - for example, by volunteering to sign a noncompete agreement. If you're being offered outplacement services you're not interested in, ask if you can get more money instead.
  • Step 4 Consider getting legal - gingerly. If you think you need a lawyer to get what's due you, by all means consult one. But don't rush to send her into battle on your behalf, because your employer may turn quite hostile when confronted by legal threats. "Sometimes I'll say to a client, 'You write the letter - see how far you get with that,' " says Hausner. --G.M.


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