Ask HR: What Should Workers Do to Prepare for Layoffs?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP June 2, 2023

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. 

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.


For the first time in my career, I'm really concerned about job security as we approach a recession. As companies are laying off thousands of employees, what can I do to prepare for a potential layoff? —Fahad

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: You aren't alone. Many workers share your concerns about job security and the impending recession. Ultimately you aren't in control of your employer's decisions. However, you can control how well you perform in the interim, how prepared you are in case of a layoff and how to respond in the event of a layoff. Putting in motion the following steps will give you options for safeguarding your career:

1. Begin tightening your spending to save more money in the event you are out of work. While you might save money on transportation costs by not traveling back and forth to work, other expenses such as continuing health insurance can be very costly when your employment ends. Start trimming the fat now by packing lunch, passing on Starbucks, and limiting excess spending.

2. Edit and update your resume to ensure it is current. Use action words to describe your accomplishments. You may need to brush up on your resume-writing and interviewing skills. There are many resources online to help you in this area. LinkedIn may be a useful resource for free professional development opportunities. Be sure to quantify the value you bring to your current employer and previous jobs, too. If you have saved the company money or time due to the implementation of your idea, plan or process, include that on your resume.

3. Don't wait to be laid off; begin your job search immediately. This can help you identify job opportunities. You can also utilize your professional network and job boards and reach out to your friends, family and social organizations to seek job opportunities. Try volunteering to gain exposure and possible consideration for a job opportunity.

4. If you elect to continue your health benefits after a layoff, COBRA allows you to continue your health benefits for up to 18 months for a layoff. You may be required to pay 102 percent of the cost.

5. If you are laid off, consider negotiating a severance agreement to provide income beyond your last work day. Some employers offer a standard severance, but you can potentially negotiate more.

6. You may also want to review the requirements to apply for unemployment in your state should you be laid off.

Lastly, try not to let your concerns about a potential layoff negatively impact your mental well-being. If you find that they do, don't be afraid to seek support through your employee assistance program or mental health insurance benefits. Professional mental health support may help you remain calm while you plan and strategize for change.

Our company recently switched from set paid time off (PTO) to unlimited PTO. When attempting to schedule it, my supervisor said, 'It's not REALLY unlimited; it's the same as before.' Is this just a way for the company to get around paying out accrued PTO upon termination? Is it legal? —Sandy

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Understanding the differences between traditional PTO and unlimited PTO can be challenging. Usually, an unlimited policy can eliminate the need for your employer to pay out PTO upon termination, as is customary with traditional PTO. However, some states require unused vacation or PTO to be paid out upon termination. Hence, employers should consult an attorney to ensure their policy is clear and complies with regulations, including PTO payout laws.

Hearing the term unlimited probably made you think you can take as much PTO as you want or take PTO at any time you desire, but that's not how unlimited PTO works. Your company must still run operationally, and your employer can only offer unlimited PTO policies with proper parameters. Employers establish guidelines on the use of PTO. Your employer will likely outline the process for requesting time off, and your supervisor will need to review other time-off requests within the department to determine if they can approve it.

Traditional and unlimited PTO policies must account for the scheduling and staffing needs of your employer's business operations. Still, for unlimited policies, there are noticeable differences, including no accruals and no payouts of unused PTO upon termination. Additionally, most unlimited PTO policies will also carve out leaves of absence, such as Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) leave accommodations, to ensure consistent treatment during an unpaid leave of absence. Check your company's policy to see if it addresses FMLA and ADA situations. If not, reach out to your human resource department for clarification.

The similarities between unlimited and traditional PTO policies may be what your supervisor meant about the leave not being unlimited but "the same as before." Unlimited PTO policies will potentially offer employees more paid-leave benefits when they are most needed. No more worrying about how much leave you'll need to accrue to cover your vacation plans for the year or to plan for medical illnesses or emergencies. Unlimited PTO policies give employees peace of mind and more freedom in finding better work/life integration. So, take comfort in knowing your company's unlimited PTO policy is a valuable benefit even when boundaries exist.



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