Should You Take Back Your Ex-Employer?

Last December, I wrote about The Goodwin Group, a small marketing agency in the Boston area that planned to rehire the junior employee it had laid off during the height of the recession -- just as soon as the company could afford it.

True to its word, the agency asked Amanda Zayas to return to her full-time salaried position as client services director this April.

"It was definitely what I wanted," said Zayas, who in the interim has been working at the agency one to two days a week, along with a couple other part-time jobs. "They've worked really hard to get me back. It's nice to know that I'm not just a number."

There was only one catch: Zayas, who's currently in the throes of finalizing her July wedding, didn't want to return to her salaried position until after her nuptials. Fortunately for Zayas, The Goodwin Group was happy to wait, rather than seek out a new candidate.

"She really made a big impression on us and our clients," said Tara Goodwin Frier, president of the company. "We made her wait for us, and we can definitely wait for her."

These days, taking back an ex-employer is about as common as taking back a former romantic flame. In an e-mail survey conducted last week by TheLadders, a job listing site for six-figure positions, 43 percent of 3,500 respondents said they've returned to work for a former boss at the same company or a new one at some point during their career.

But not all employer-employee reunions mirror the idyllic Peaches and Herb-style lovefest happening at The Goodwin Group. You might be offered less responsibility, less money or even a temporary contract without benefits, as opposed to a permanent, salaried position with all your former perks.

Assume Nothing

So before you rush back into the arms of the boss who cut you loose during the recession, make sure you consider all the angles.

"You've got to be very clear about the expectations before you return so that there's no misunderstanding about what you're being brought back to do," said Matthew Rothenberg, editor-in-chief of TheLadders. "It could be a different job."

Or, as was the case for "Bettina," a Pacific Northwest writer and editor who works in higher education, the position and pay you're being offered could pale in comparison to the ones you lost. (Like several people interviewed for this column, Bettina didn't want her real name used.)

The day after her summer 2009 layoff, Bettina's ex-employer offered her a year-long freelance contract -- for a measly $10,000. Not only would the work be sporadic and without benefits, Bettina said, but the company expected to her to drop everything and jump whenever they called.

"They just assumed that I would do this," she said. "It was a bit of a slap in the face."

After consulting with an employment attorney, Bettina learned that she would not be eligible for unemployment insurance if she accepted the bone her ex-employer was throwing her. So she declined the offer and chose to concentrate all her time on finding a new permanent position.

It was the right call. In February, she started a new full-time job she said is "far better than the previous one."

Everything's Negotiable [Again]

After being let go and living on odd jobs and unemployment checks, you might be wary about negotiating the terms of the position your former employer is offering. But you shouldn't be.

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