It was a beautiful, sunny Friday morning. It was an especially great day because on that day I organized a Department-wide Happy Birthday Potluck for 40+ people. It was a big event, and I put much effort in it: I stayed up all night baking a 10-pound cheesecake, crafted birthday gifts, bought drinks and disposable dishes, coordinated event invites, and arrived early to decorate our hallway with balloons for the potluck. Our potluck was a huge success, people brought lots of food, everyone loved my cake, people were thrilled, and I felt great. Suddenly I got called in the room by an HR manager.
HR Manager was very stern, and after I sat down, she announced, without blinking: “ Mrs. Stewart, your services here are no longer needed.” I recall not feeling much at first, relaxed, still tasting my cheesecake flavor in my mouth. The words did not sink in. I did not hear, registered, or believed. I was sure it was a prank. I remember dead silence in the small room with two HR reps and me.
Then, it hit me, like a hammer – I was no longer employed!!! I stopped breathing. I starred at the wall in front of me, trying hectically to collect my thoughts. I was completely silent.
Feeling of shame, guilt, and all the emotions at once covered me. It was the longest 30 minutes of my life. I do not recall what happened next, but I do remember the feeling of the heavy box in my hands, as I was standing on the doorstep sobbing, disoriented, unprepared, and uninformed.
The post will help you to learn about what I got out of the experience and the key actions I recommend you take in the first week after you lose your job in America. The information will prepare you to deal with the realities of job loss in the U.S. and how to rise after the experience.
1. Document everything that happened before the event
When I got home, I was crying, mostly because I did not understand the WHY behind the decision. That was not closure! I realized the permanency of my ex-employer decision, but it did not help me to accept my loss. I felt crazy for not sharing, so what I did was I pulled up my laptop and got a cup of tea.
I realized that maybe not all the facts are known now, but I needed to vent, so I did. I thought about today. I documented every single thing that happened today. Then, I recalled the last two weeks; I recorded all I could remember. I continue typing until my fingers hurt. I knew I would lose details if I do not capture them. This step served me well later.
Lessons learned: as soon as you get home type everything on your laptop, save it with a name you could remember. As time will go by, you will continue adding to the file, adding dates, details, people`s names, and events you do not remember now.
All the documentation will come very handy later in your career transition process, but most importantly, it will get everything that is in your head now OUT and on paper. Do not edit, JUST TYPE. It will feel wired at first, but then magic will happen, and your feelings will flash out, and you will start feeling better.
Trust the process, document everything you can remember as far back as you remember.
Every conversation, every meeting, every event is essential. You may be able to use and leverage this documentation later, during your exchanges with state agencies. The documents may also help you to qualify for unemployment benefits. Caution: do not send, email, or share the material with anyone. Keep it saved on your PC for now.
2. Get educated about labor laws in your state
It sounds silly, but I used Google “getting fired in Colorado” and got educated about what to expect and what employers are obligated to do/say by law. Not everything made sense, but it helped. That explained many things and put me at ease. I was still upset, but as my logical brain was served facts and stats, my emotional brain got switched off. I got calmer.
One of the most helpful resources was to learn more about Colorado Labor Laws related to termination published by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. I learned about the following employee rights during the separation of employment in Colorado:
- Colorado is “employment-at-will state.” What this means neither employer nor employee has to provide a notice or a reason to cease employment relationships.
- Final wages. The employer has certain rights and obligations as it relates to your final wages. Depending on the specific circumstances, you may get your final check via check or wire transfer. Please note, each state may have different rules regarding the final wages.
- Discrimination and harassment. As much as you may feel you were not treated with due respect, Depart of Labor and Employment can not help you to intervene or help you to resolve a dispute about any allegations related to your separation of employment experience.
- If you feel you were discriminated based on major protected categories ( Race, Skin Color, National Origin, Ancestry, Creed, Religion, Sex, Age, Disability, Marriage to a Co-Worker, and Sexual Orientation) you can choose to contact Colorado Civil Rights Division or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a complaint.
- Free assistance. I also learned I was entitled to receive certain free services offered by a state, such as free training, career advice, job search assistance, free career transition counselor and many other excellent and helpful services! All for free. Most folks are too ashamed of their unemployment status to take full advantage of the service package. Well, it is too their loss.
Lesson learned: Learn everything there is to learn about separation laws in your state. Please write it down, there could be much new information, but the more you know, the more you will be equipped to answer your own and others questions about what happened and what you need to do next.
Do reach out to the nearest Workforce Center near you, ask how you can get support, training, and advice on your career transition journey. You will be surprised how much support is offered for free.
3. File for your unemployment benefits immediately
Next thing I did was to file for unemployment. I typed “file for unemployment in Colorado” in Google search box and clicked on “Start Claim” button. The web site did not state that explicitly, I learned the hard way that to qualify, process, and start receiving my unemployment benefits it could take as much as 6-8 weeks!! I did not know that and losing a second income put significant finance strain for our family. I did file within three days, but I underestimate the number of forms and documentation I needed to provide. It took some work.
Lesson learned: get started with your unemployment claim within 48 hours after your separation. Do not wait; you are losing precious time. Processing may take a while, depending on your state. Get started and get ahead of the game!
4. Connect with a friend, not with former colleagues
I must share, separation, or termination may by far be the most stressful event in a human`s life. You may feel all sorts of things, and it is essential that you talk to a trusted friend, relative or a mental health professional to deal with your situation. I am very grateful for my spouse, who listen to hours or sharing, crying, complaining, pleading, and whining about my experience. He saved my life by holding a space for me to share, deal with what happened, and accept the reality.
Lessons learned: as hard it is, do not reach out to your former coworkers. There are two reasons for this: first you are putting their employment at risk by involving them, second, when we are upset, we tend to say things that may be better be kept private. When you start looking for a job again, you want to have good, professional relationships with your former colleagues. Venting is for close friend and relatives only.
5. Do not talk, post or write badly about your former employer
This one will be the hardest. When I was wounded, it felt good to say not such good things about my manager. After all, I was agitated, so I thought my feelings and actions were justifiable. I quickly learned that people did not appreciate my wining, especially outside of the immediate family.
In this day and age, when anything can be shared in a matter of seconds online, I ask you not to share anything at all about your employer. The sharing can bite you later on and create issues for you in the future.
Lesson learned: do not say, post, share, or write anything negative about your former manager, employer, co-workers, work, or termination experience.
My key message to you is – be prepared! Document everything, know your rights, understand signs of wrongful termination, and file for unemployment immediately.
Of course, looking back, my first termination experience was not perfect, but I ended up learning more than I could ever wish for. In fact, my next job loss experience was a completely different situation, but I knew what to do and came up on top! I could not have wished for a better outcome.
Seriously, my second lay off helped me to pivot and gain financially and professionally, which set me on my success path to consulting, business ownership, and opened the doors that I never dreamed about. Read more about what happened in my next work adventure in the post below:
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