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Whether you have been laid off, downsized, or fired for cause, you have many important decisions to make within the first few hours and days. If you have been with the company for a long time and/or have a job you really love, your first decision might be to fight to keep your job.
Before you panic or pack up your belongings, think about any scenarios under which it might be possible for you to stay with this employer to accumulate more service time and possibly bridge any time needed to fulfill the requirements of your pension or other retirement plan. At the very least, continued employment, no matter how brief, can provide some continuity and income while you are looking for another job.
The first thing to do is get a handle on your employer's policies and practices regarding termination. Go to your human resources or personnel department to obtain a copy of the company's handbook or personnel manual, or any other written statements of company policies or practices for handling employee complaints or concerns.
If your employer has no set policy, or if the appeals or grievance process that exists has provided you with no relief, there are other methods to exhaust before accepting termination. Find out who has the authority to reinstate you. This could be your immediate supervisor, a department head, an ombudsman, or even the president of the company. Go as high up the chain of command as good sense permits if you really want to hold on to your job or find employment elsewhere in the company. You have nothing to lose and may salvage more than you thought you could.
No matter what the outcome of your attempt to save your job, you will be better off if you remain calm and only sound off to your family and friends - far from the work environment. Angry letters or outbursts make it easier for the company to believe they were justified in terminating you in the first place and to refuse to negotiate with you or your lawyer at a later date. No matter the reason for your termination, go out with dignity. You can acquire a reputation as a problem employee from one emotion-driven tirade. Keep your head, and you can keep your pride as you close this chapter of your working life. For ideas on preparing a letter to your employer about your termination, please review our page on sample letters.
The name of the game at this stage is strategy. You want to win this war and not just the first battle. Therefore, you must consider what is likely to hurt your chances and what is likely to help. If there is a particular supervisor you are sure is on your side, or someone else in top management who is friendly and aware of your good record, you could request a private meeting to explain what you want to do to keep your job and why the company needs you on its team.
Once you get the ear of the individual with the authority to rehire you, be prepared to be flexible as well as confident. While your ultimate goal is to get back your job, that may not be a realistic expectation. Make clear your willingness to consider part-time work, contract work, a transfer to another location or subsidiary, or retraining for another position.
Moving to another area or division within the company could be especially helpful if the termination was caused by difficulties seeing eye-to-eye with a supervisor or manager. Or, if you suspect that one of the reasons the company let you go was the size of your salary, you could try offering to accept a different pay package, for example one with a lower salary and a performance-based bonus. If your company cites poor performance as the reason for your termination, try asking to return to work on a probationary basis to establish your ability to meet the job requirements.
If informal efforts to save your job are not successful, you may need to take more formal steps within the company. You must follow the official grievance or complaint process to the letter in challenging your termination. This is true whether it is set out in a handbook or manual or has been explained by company personnel. Ordinarily, such internal appeals or grievance procedures require you to act within a certain amount of time and to communicate with only specified company officials. At each step in the process, you should make a written request for reinstatement to your position and document the company's responses to your arguments. Be persistent but professional. You must exhaust the company's internal grievance procedures before you do anything else to try to get your job back.
Union employees clearly have an advantage when it comes to appealing an unfair or illegal termination. They have detailed grievance procedures to follow. They have designated representatives for arbitration if necessary. Most non-union employees have to figure out for themselves what steps will be most likely to produce a desirable outcome. If their immediate supervisor was the problem, how far up the ladder should they go to lodge a complaint? And if they appear to be doing an "end run" to a higher-level manager or administrator, will they be doing themselves more harm than good?
If you want to save your job, you must take whatever steps are appropriate to initiate an appeal at the earliest possible moment-when you first learn that you will probably lose your job or as soon as you receive an official notification.
This is a selection from Job Rights and Survival Strategies by Paul H. Tobias and Susan Sauter.