What To Do After Getting Laid Off or Fired

Woman leaving office with her things in a box after employment separation

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You've just been laid off or fired. Now what? When you get the unfortunate news that you have lost your job, there are some important tasks to tackle. First of all, don't panic. 

Take it step by step so you can take care of the basics. This will ensure that you receive your final paycheck, benefits and pension funds, unemployment compensation if you're eligible, severance pay if your employer provides it, and more. 

You also want to make sure you get references from your employer, if possible, so that you are ready to begin your job search. Once you've taken care of these details, you can prepare to start looking for a new position.

If you're worried about losing your job, there are some things you can do in advance to prepare for a job loss. Follow this list to make sure that you have dealt with everything you need to when you’ve been fired or laid off, or expect to be. This will allow you to begin to focus on finding a new job.

Key Takeaways

  • Before you leave your job, find out when you will receive your last paycheck and what will be included in it.
  • Check the status of your employee benefits, unused leave benefits, and retirement plans.
  • Eligibility for unemployment depends on the reason you were terminated and state law. Your state department of labor will have details on qualifying and filing for benefits.
  • Before you start a job search, update your resume and LinkedIn, and line up references.

How To Handle a Termination

What’s the best way to handle a termination? It depends on the circumstances, but what’s most important is to first get the details on your final pay, employee benefits, retirement accounts, and unemployment. 

When you're terminated from employment, it makes a difference whether you are laid off or fired for cause. If you have been downsized or laid off for lack of work or any other reason, you may be entitled to different benefits than if you were fired.

When companies lay off employees, for example, they may continue benefits packages and offer severance pay, and there’s a chance you may get called back to work if the layoff is a temporary one. If you were fired, you might not be eligible for unemployment benefits. It depends on state law and the reason you were terminated.

Here's what to do if you are informed that you have been fired or laid off, as well as information on what not to do (or say) when you've unexpectedly lost your job.

Collect Your Final Paycheck

Before you leave your job, make sure you know when you are receiving your last paycheck, and how it will be delivered to you. In some states, employers are required to pay it immediately. In others, there may be a lag.

If you haven’t been informed, ask about employee benefits and when you will receive your last paycheck, how much it should be, and what will be included. You may also be entitled to accrued vacation, sick leave, overtime, or back pay when you lose your job.


Be sure to speak with your human resources representative to learn what is owed to you, and how you will be compensated. This is also a good moment to confirm that the company has your correct address on file (even if you are typically paid through direct deposit).

Check on Severance Pay

Severance pay (as well as severance benefits) isn’t guaranteed, but employers may opt to give it to employees upon termination of employment.

If you are laid off from your job or your position is eliminated, the employer may provide severance pay, but this isn't required. Severance pay is usually based on the length of employment. For example, a company might provide one week of severance pay for every year of employment.

Check on Eligibility for Employee Benefits

When you are fired or laid off, you might be eligible for particular benefits. Some of the benefits you had while on the job, such as health insurance, might continue as well, at least for a certain period of time.

Here’s an overview of the employment-related benefits that you may be eligible for when you lose your job.

Review Health Insurance Options

Continuing health insurance coverage, whenever possible, is important. Your former employer may provide benefits coverage for a set period of time after your employment ends, but they aren’t required to.

Health insurance options include the following:

  • The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives employees and their families who lose their health benefits the option to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time.
  • An option under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the government’s Health Insurance Marketplace, which allows you to shop for coverage in your state.

Take the time to learn about your health insurance options when you lose your job, so you can make a decision on what’s the best way to be sure you have health insurance coverage.

Find Out About Your Pension Plan/401(k)

What happens to your pension after you're laid off depends on the type of plan you have. If you have a defined benefit pension, your benefits will begin at retirement age. You might be able to transfer the value into another plan.

If you are enrolled in a 401(k), profit sharing, or another type of defined contribution plan, your plan may provide for a lump sum distribution of your retirement money when you leave the company. 


Options vary based on the type of plan, but you might be able to maintain those plans after leaving your job.

File for Unemployment Benefits

In general, if you have been laid off from your job through no fault of your own, and meet any other requirements for collecting unemployment in your state, such as work and wage requirements, you should be eligible for unemployment benefits.

If you were terminated for cause, you might not be eligible for unemployment, but guidelines vary so check with your state department of labor for information on qualifying for benefits and how to file a claim. If your claim is denied or contested by your employer, you will be able to file an appeal


In most states, you can register for unemployment online without visiting an unemployment office. 

Get References and Prepare for Reference Checks

When you are fired or laid off, you might ask for a letter of recommendation, especially if you are let go because of company layoffs or another similar reason that is unrelated to you or your work.

Regardless, you should ask how the company plans to handle any inquiries about your time with the company. Ask if the company will simply share your dates of employment, or if they will tell other employers that you were fired.

Start a Job Search and Prepare to Interview

Once you have left your job and wrapped up all the final details of your departure, it is time to start looking for a new position. 

Update your resume. Before you get started, take the time to refresh your resume, and include your latest accomplishments and achievements.

Connect with your network. Networking is one of the best ways to get hired. Take the time to brush up your profile and connect with people you’ve worked with on LinkedIn. Look for groups related to your former employer(s), colleges, and interests. You’ll be able to use them to help with your job search.

Use the top job sites. The leading job sites will help you find open positions fast. You’ll be able to use advanced search tools to search by keyword, location, and job title. You may be able to upload your resume and apply directly through the job site.

Apply directly on company websites. If you have companies that you’d love to work for, you can save a step and apply directly on the employer’s website.

Be prepared to interview. One of the best ways to get ready for job interviews is to take the time to review common interview questions and think about how you’re going to respond. Prepare some questions of your own to ask the interviewer as well.

Be ready to answer terminated-related interview questions. Also, be ready to answer interview questions about why you were fired or laid off from your job.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can an employer say I was fired?

Some companies don’t release details on why an employer was terminated, and some state laws restrict what employers can say about former employees. For employees not covered by company policy or state law, employers can share the details with prospective employers.

What should I tell prospective employers about how I lost my job?

The best way to explain that you’ve been terminated from employment is to have a concise explanation ready to share when you’re asked about it. You don’t need to include a lot of details—short and simple is best.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Labor. “Last Paycheck.”

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Severance Pay."

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA).

  4. Benefits.gov. "Health Insurance Marketplace."

  5. U.S. Department of Labor. "Types of Retirement Plans."

  6. U.S. Department of Labor. "Retirement Plan and Benefits Frequently Asked Questions."

  7. U.S. Department of Labor. "How Do I File for Unemployment Insurance?"

  8. CareerOneStop. "Am I Eligible?"

  9. U.S. Department of Labor. “Termination.”

  10. NOLO. “State Laws on References and Statements By Former Employers.”

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