3. What Company Policies Entitle You To
The second source of laid-off employee rights is through company policies. ERISA (The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) is a federal law that sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established pension and health plans in private industry to provide protection for individuals in these plans.
"ERISA means you are entitled to certain things. If the company policy involves a lot of administrative discretion or complexity and could be ongoing, ERISA steps in," Warren said.
4. Your Statutory Rights
The third source is statutory rights, including the Federal WARN (Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification) Act, which requires employers with more than 100 employees to provide at least 60 days advanced written notice of a plant closing, or a layoff affecting more than 50 employees at a single site. There are several other stipulations within the WARN Act, but all serve to help workers get back on their feet.
"If Bear Stearns had just gone out of business last Monday--if the liquidity crisis was generally unforeseen--60 days notice would have been required," said Warren.
Other statutory rights come from anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws.
"You can't be laid off, for example, as retaliation for taking family or medical leave," explained Warren.
5. What You Are and Are Not Owed
Laid off workers are owed payment for every minute of work they have completed up until the moment they were handed the pink slip. Companies are also required to pay out any unused accrued vacation time.
However, sick time is not refunded, as it is not a cumulative benefit.
"Sick leave is not a statutory requirement, unless you're part of a union, quasi-union or bargaining arrangement that may have arranged it into your employment contract," said Hoffman.
Because sick time's purpose is only to keep a paycheck coming in the event of an illness, companies won't pay it out if this is not the case.