10 Things to Know If You've Been Pink-Slipped

The layoff experience is nothing short of a nightmare, and it goes so quickly,  employees rarely have time to consider their rights.

When the economy slides into a recession, layoffs are inevitable. Whether it's three or four people laid off, a massive downsizing or a company that has been forced to shut its doors, the layoff experience is nothing short of a nightmare for most workers.

Years and even decades of valued work, input and influence on a company comes to a screeching halt in a surprisingly formal and succinct process. Rarely are the pink-slipped given time to download personal documents from their computers or say goodbye to peers. If severance is involved, there will be papers to sign. HR might want an exit interview.

And that's all there is. The process happens so quickly, most are too stunned and shaken to consider what rights or entitlements they do or do not have.

1. Go to HR First

If you're wondering why on earth you'd spend your first five minutes of unemployment with the people who delivered the message, you are not alone. But experts say this is the best place to start.

"The first thing someone who has been laid off should do is get to their HR department, instead of running in five other directions. They are a resource whose job is to help their employees," said Brian Hoffman, a partner in the IT division of Winter, Wyman, a recruiting firm.

As every company handles layoffs differently, the HR department can let you know what the company is offering, from severance to paying out unused sick time. But there is another reason that an employee should talk first to HR.

"You're entitled to some kind of reference from the employer, saying that you worked there, that you were a good employee and that you were laid off and not fired," said Hoffman, something that will be no small distinction to make down the road.

eWEEK's IT Layoff Lifeboat. Click here to read more.

2. Your Rights from Written Agreements

As a laid-off employee, you have three major categories of rights that you might be entitled to. The more you know about them, the better protected you will be.

The first source of rights is employment agreements, which can include an individual contract that extends for a period of time or a collective bargaining agreement--that from a union or union-like entity.

"Look at the original terms under which you are hired," said Jay Warren, an attorney with Bryan Cave LLP with a specialty in labor and employment law.

"An individual contract for a period of time will include provisions of what will happen if you are terminated before the end of it. Check this first."