Accidentally Learning You're About to Be Fired

"Companies don't necessarily want to say that they're giving employees a 20 percent pay cut because they're afraid of what that's going to do to morale," Shapiro said. But if you're the one making the suggestion, they just might bite.

For the person already interested in a reduced work schedule, word of an impending layoff can be a blessing in disguise. During a department-wide downsizing, two full-time employees I know who wanted to spend more time with their families negotiated a job share. Both went down to 24 hours a week. Their salaries shrunk too, but not their benefits.

Losing Your Job? Try Negotiating

"Sometimes you can even negotiate going to half-time for the next two or three months," Shapiro said. "That way, you still have the job while you're looking for another."

Of course, not all managers will cut you a deal. Some won't even be truthful.

Doug's boss lied about fishing for his replacement online, until Doug showed him a printout of the job listing. Valerie's boss refused to cop to the layoff Valerie had learned of on Twitter and then promptly called the rest of the department to a meeting and laid them all off.

"I didn't use that foreknowledge for any kind of leverage because honestly, who would want to continue working for a company after being lied to like that?" Valerie said.

Negotiate the Terms of Your Layoff

If the powers that be don't go for your suggestions or you're so disgusted with the company nothing could convince you to stay, it's time to talk severance pay.

In return for signing any termination agreement your employer puts in front of you, capitalize on their embarrassment over the information leak and ask them to make some concessions.

Heather, the sales rep, negotiated six weeks of severance on top of what her employer initially offered -- plus a confidentiality clause that prevented her employer from disclosing the specifics of her termination to anyone else.

"I didn't want them sullying my name," she said.

But severance and confidentiality aren't the only requests you can make.

"You can ask them to pay for your COBRA coverage. You can ask to stay on the books as an unpaid employee so you have a job on your resume for three additional months," Shapiro said.

If you have four weeks of vacation coming, you can ask to remain an employee while you spend the month job hunting, she added.

Doug, the financial analyst, convinced his employer to keep him on staff for three months while he interviewed for other positions at the company. He also negotiated six months of outplacement services and several months of severance pay in the event that he didn't find a new job during those three months.

Negotiate Your Own Layoff

So exactly what should you say when negotiating the terms of your departure? Tell your employer, "I'm happy to sign this document if you'd be willing to consider [insert concessions here]," Shapiro advised.

"They need you to sign that agreement," she said. "If you don't, that's a lawsuit that they're not sure won't happen."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog,

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...