Are You in Danger of Getting Fired or Laid Off?

How to know and what to do if an employment termination looms

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When you're thinking about getting fired or laid off, a certain pensiveness occurs.


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Employment termination—no matter the cause—is scary, disorienting, and disruptive to habitual patterns. Getting fired is never fun; layoffs are equally disheartening. In either scenario, your feelings of self-worth and self-esteem are dealt a severe blow.

Just when you most need a positive outlook to help you find your next opportunity, you feel dizzy as if your whole world is spinning out of control. You are disoriented, unsettled, and you have lost control over the variables that were the constants in your everyday life.

Key Takeaways

  • If your manager has involved Human Resources in recent performance review discussions, that could be a sign you're losing your job.
  • Some signs of pending layoffs at a company include: managers ask employees to implement cost-saving measures, frozen hiring and spending, employees who leave are not replaced, an increasingly dire mood in call-company meetings.
  • Sales jobs, service industry jobs, and production jobs are at the highest risk to be laid off according to data from the Federal Reserve.

Signs of Impending Employment Termination

Signs of an impending employment termination are obvious in retrospect. If your employment is terminated for performance reasons, you will generally have had a performance improvement plan.

Or, minimally, performance improvement discussion meetings with your supervisor or manager will have escalated. Your manager may also have involved Human Resources staff in these discussions as a witness but also as the arbiter and advisor of the proceedings.

The employee handbook generally lists the circumstances and infractions under which progressive discipline, up to and including employment termination, are meted out. You will want to become familiar with these guidelines.


If you believe your manager is building a case that will result in employment termination, you may want to speak to an attorney while you still have time to affect your employment. In other cases, employment termination is the right answer. You may be underperforming or ill-suited to the role you are expected to perform.

Layoffs are also often obvious in retrospect. Many companies will communicate an increasingly dire financial forecast; other companies leave employees in the dark about their financial situation. Signs that a layoff might occur include some or all of the following.

  • Managers ask employees to implement cost-saving measures.
  • Both hiring and spending are frozen.
  • Employees who leave are not replaced.
  • Sales are down or the sales projection is dismal.
  • Closed-door meetings occur more frequently.
  • The workplace feels on edge.
  • You may witness employees whispering behind closed doors or an increase in absenteeism as employees search for new jobs.

Additional Signs of an Impending Layoff

These are additional signs that you may be targeted for a layoff. Take note and prepare.

  • Cost-cutting measures are being implemented throughout the organization.
  • Your workload is lighter than usual or projects are being reassigned to others within your department.
  • Your work is cyclical in nature, and you have significant periods of slow time.
  • Your position or department isn’t viewed as a revenue generator.
  • You are no longer included in meetings in which you have typically participated.
  • Your manager is showing an increased interest in the status of your projects and the procedures planned for completing them.
  • You've been asked to fill out a questionnaire about your job.

Observe all of these signs carefully, however, and don't jump to any wrong conclusions; these can also be signs that your company is well-managed and poised to survive in an economic downturn.


Practice constant awareness of your environment. Listen and learn to read between the lines. Consider what your managers are not saying. Heed the rumor mill; employees in sales or accounting may have the information you need to prepare for your future. Don’t let an employment termination, for whatever reason, catch you unprepared.

Who Is Most Likely to Experience a Layoff?

Research from the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis has pinpointed the jobs most likely to experience a layoff. These include lower-paid and jobs that can be done off-site. If you work in these jobs, pay attention.

  • Food Preparation and Serving-Related Occupations
  • Sales and Related Occupations
  • Production Occupations
  • Installation, Maintenance and Repair Occupations
  • All Other “High-Risk” Occupations

Prepare for Employment Termination

These steps will position you for a quick return to the workforce in the event of employment termination. This is general career advice that any Human Resources professional would offer current employees who might be in danger of employment termination.

In fact, since many organizations fail to communicate openly with their employees, these are actions every employee needs to take throughout their careers. You want to minimize the downside of unpredictable events such as company bankruptcy, major customer loss, major supplier loss, or employment termination.

Live Your Life As If Each Day Is the Last Day of Your Employment

  • Keep your resume, application materials, and potential references and their contact information up-to-date.
  • Join and become actively involved in career appropriate online social media sites such as LinkedIn. Facebook and Twitter have also gained traction in the online career networking world. You never know when you'll need an active network.
  • Make sure your professional association memberships are up-to-date. Participate.
  • Spend a certain amount of your time away from work doing business networking in your community, at civic events, in philanthropic organizations, on boards, and in groups that share your leisure interests.
  • Eat lunch with a contact or friend several times a week to keep your network thriving even while you are still employed.

What to Do If Unemployment Looms

Worried about potential employment termination? These are the next steps. Here's how to predict potential employment termination and the first steps to take in preparation.

Tend your workstation and electronic equipment. Whether you work in an office, a cubicle, or on the factory floor, pay attention to your work area. Is the number of personal items you would need to remove in the event of employment termination easily doable? Do you have backup copies of personal items on your home computer or non-work laptop?


In fact, remove non-work related material from your company-owned equipment which you will need to return immediately in the event of employment termination. Take home any personal files that you may have been storing at work. Backup your phonebook and contacts from both your computer and your cell phone at home.

Remove any records relating to taxes such as travel expenses and mileage. Finally, your employer owns the work you have produced while employed so you won't want to use the same material for a new employer. But, you may want to take home copies of work that you can use as samples in your next employment.

Depending on whether you have a non-compete agreement, and the other particulars of your employment and separation, the samples will save you time developing from scratch. You wouldn’t want to lose all the effort you just invested in writing an employee handbook or a cost justification for a major equipment purchase.

(Do be careful about how a sudden flurry of emails to your home email address will look to an employer from whom you need a positive reference.) Remember, your employer owns your work email, too. Another employee is likely to monitor your email account for a period of time so the company doesn't miss calls or customers.

If you expect your employment termination will be for performance, maintain a copy outside of your workplace of all documentation relating to your performance. Keep copies of any action plans created during coaching sessions and any other written documents you receive including performance evaluations.

If you are not receiving regular feedback on your progress, you may want to go on record for requesting feedback by emailing your supervisor and HR staff, if involved, to request a periodic feedback meeting.

In any case, maintain your own documentation with a timeline of the series of events that led to your employment termination. You may also want to speak with an attorney if you believe your potential employment termination is not justified.

Prepare to Negotiate Your Severance Package

In the event of employment termination, your employer is likely to offer you severance pay. Whether the termination is for a cause or a layoff, expect that the employer will require, in return, that you sign a statement that gives away your right to sue them for any reason as a result of your employment termination.


In all cases, take the document home, for the length of time required of your employer by law, and think about signing away your rights for a few weeks' pay. Perhaps consult an attorney, but never sign such a document on the spot, at the moment of employment termination.

While it’s tough to think strategically at the moment of employment termination, you have nothing to lose once you have heard your employer’s offer. These items, depending on company past practices, the number of employees involved in the layoff, and other variables, may be negotiable:

  • the amount of severance pay
  • the length of time benefits such as health insurance remains in effect
  • how the employment termination is recorded in your personnel file (layoff vs. fired, for example)
  • how the employment termination will be characterized by Human Resources when potential employers call for a reference
  • how much the employer is willing to pay for outplacement services to help you move to your next job
  • what will happen to you 401(k)
  • how long you have to exercise stock options (if you have any)

More Thoughts About Severance Negotiation

Laid off? It doesn't have to mean the end of your employment relationship. Here are six ways to negotiate after being laid off:

  • Trade your vacation time for more weeks on the job in your paid position.
  • Take half of your pay or ask to work part-time. Some people find it is better to still have a place to work every day.
  • Hold a meeting with the team members still in place. Provide your counsel and guidance before you exit.
  • Ask for a reference letter of praise and recommendation from your manager and senior manager before you leave your position.
  • Offer to do project work. The company doesn't have to cover your medical benefits and that's a plus for them.
  • Raise your hand to train or help consolidate. You have insider knowledge that may be of service to your organization.

Conclusion About Severance Negotiation

Employment termination is never pleasant. But, if you pay attention to your work environment, prepare for a potential employment termination on the personal as well as the professional sides of your life, keep your groundwork for a job search active, and negotiate your severance, you will mitigate the downside. Here are an additional twenty questions that you will need to ask if you are fired or laid off from your employment.

What Happens Next After Employment Termination?

When you experience employment termination, your best tactic is to begin actively pursuing your new job. You will want to apply for unemployment compensation, no matter what your employer told you; even when an employment termination was for cause, employers rarely keep former employees from collecting unless the cause of termination was egregious. Within a few weeks, you will receive a letter offering you COBRA to continue your health insurance, which is recommended.

In Conclusion

Your former employer may send you a statement that tells you what they owe you in terms of vacation pay and other benefits, summarizes the agreement you negotiated, and anything else you need to know at employment termination such as rolling your 401(k) contributions to a new plan.

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  1. Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis: On the Economy Blog. "COVID-19: Which Workers Face the Highest Unemployment Risk?"

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