In 2009, leading infrastructure service provider Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) announced plans to cut between 4,500 and 6,000 jobs in an effort to improve the company’s financial performance. The layoffs or “strategic workforce rebalancing” was part of a plan to cut the company’s operating expenses and collapse its five business units into three (Business Solutions, Network Systems, and Global Services).
The infrastructure market was hit hard by the recession, as businesses have cut spending and put off investing in new wave technology. NSN CEO Rajeev Suri explained that NSN’s customers are now looking for more than just a “traditional discussion of technology.” Failure to keep up with these changes has caused NSN to suffer from decreased sales, increased operating losses, and a lower market share. As it has in many other companies, the continuing tough economic climate has led to many lost jobs at NSN.
Of course, companies undergo restructuring in the hopes that desperate measures will return the company to a period of growth. However, this is little comfort to the employees who are facing layoffs. If you have recently been laid off (or told that you soon will be), don’t wait to be buried in debt. Instead, it is time to get proactive and take steps to protect your financial future.
If you have a profit sharing plan or you have all or part of your 401K invested in your employer’s stock, try to diversify it with investments in other companies. (For more about your 401k options, see Transferring or Withdrawing Your 401k After a Layoff.)
Determine what services are covered under your employer’s health insurance plan. Coverage often ends on the day of your layoff or shortly thereafter. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) allows you to continue coverage at your employer’s rate plus a two percent administration fee. (You can find an employee guide to COBRA at www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/cobraemployee.pdf.) Regardless, it is wise to look at private plans, which may be less costly. Private plans are the only choice in the case of life and disability insurance; COBRA doesn't protect your right to continue these benefits.
Once you have secured the benefits available from your current employer, take steps to prepare yourself for future employment opportunities. Request a copy of your official personnel file from the company’s human resources department. You are entitled to any and all documents you have signed. Also collect written recommendations from your supervisors and compile a list of people who are willing to serve as references. These items will be invaluable to you in a job search.
If you are selected for layoff, it is important to know the voluntary and mandatory obligations of your employer. At the time of your layoff, your employer must give you your final paycheck; in California, this check must include payment for unused accrued vacation time. (Your employer doesn't have to cash out your sick days, although some do.)
You may also be offered a severance package. How much severance you will be offered depends on your employer's policies and practices. Severance can range from two weeks to six months of pay at your current salary. Your employer may also offer “outplacement services” such as career counseling and access to office equipment (phone, fax, computer, and so on) to assist with your future job search. It may be possible to obtain a better severance package if you sign a separation agreement (often called a waiver or release of rights). This type of agreement is a contract that outlines the terms of your layoff and stipulates that you will not disclose trade secrets or hold the company liable for your termination. A separation agreement is legally binding, and it waives (gives up) your right to sue your employer for any illegal actions during your employment or your termination. Therefore, it's a good idea to consult with an experienced employment lawyer before you sign, to make sure you aren't giving up valuable rights without sufficient compensation. A lawyer might be able to help you negotiate a better deal.
Unless your employer has promised you severance (in a contract or policy, for example) this benefit is generally optional for employers. However, there are several federal and state laws that employers must comply with when conducting layoffs. Under the WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act, for example, employers must give employees 60 days notice of a mass layoff or plant closing. If an employer fails to give notice, it may be liable for back pay and benefits. Employers must also conduct layoffs in accordance with the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act.
If you may be laid off or have been laid off, contact a California employment lawyer to determine your legal rights.From the author: California labor attorney