Jill on Money: Your layoff protection plan
Reports of the death of the U.S. labor market have been greatly exaggerated. In January, 517,000 jobs were created, more than double analysts’ expectations, and the unemployment rate was 3.4%, the lowest level in more than 53 years.
Not to be a buzzkill, but the resiliency of the labor market makes now an ideal time to dust off your personal layoff-protection plan. Review these items before the ax falls.
Many companies offer a standard severance package, defined as a certain number of weeks, others consider your tenure at the organization and add in unused vacation and personal days.
Before you sign any documents that memorialize severance agreements, know that many companies will negotiate sweetened deals, which may include more dollars. If you work at a company where you received stock options, ask for an accelerated or immediate vesting for unvested amounts. Note that severance is income, meaning that it is taxable.
While you are still covered on your employer's health insurance plan, schedule routine medical and dental checkups. If you do lose your job, you are entitled to extend coverage through the federal government’s Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, known as COBRA, which gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the ability to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods (usually up to 18 months).
The big catch with COBRA is that you are usually required to pay the entire premium, which can be steep. Before you freak out about the cost, check out coverage at HealthCare.gov, which can be cheaper than COBRA, especially if you qualify for tax credits.
If you have life, disability or long-term care insurance coverage through work, find out if it is "portable," which means that you can take it with you when you leave. Like health insurance, the cost might be more expensive if your employer is subsidizing your coverage, but group coverage is usually cheaper than replacing a policy with private coverage.
When people lose their jobs, they often cash out of their retirement plans to help with cash flow. That break-the-glass action should not be taken lightly. Generally, if you withdraw money from your retirement account and you are under the age 59½, the government will impose a 10% penalty on the amount withdrawn as well as tax the total distribution amount. [The SECURE Act 2.0 expands the ability to access retirement money penalty-free in certain cases.]
If you lose your job, you can usually leave retirement accounts where they are, a good option, if your company’s plan is inexpensive with low-cost index funds. Otherwise, you can roll retirement funds into an IRA rollover account with any of the big investment companies. If you land a job quickly, you should be able to directly rollover the old account into your new company’s retirement plan.
Amid COVID-19, many workers collected enhanced unemployment benefits that were not taxable. The system has reverted to the pre-pandemic era in which if you are laid off, you have to file a claim with the state where you were employed, and unemployment benefits are once again taxable.
Sadly, most states did not upgrade their unemployment systems after being overwhelmed in 2020, so file a claim as quickly as possible.
If you are blind-sided by a layoff, avoid losing control and burning bridges. Maintain your dignity and do your best to stay calm and focused.
You never know whether or when you will cross paths with your boss or other co-workers in the future.