Been & Going

Take My Job–Please!

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I have been at my company for 13 years. Things have been really bad lately and they just announced they are laying off 10% of employees by the end of the summer. They haven’t provided any other details. As I said, things have been bad, I am stressed, over worked and the whole thing is making me sick. I want to ask them to lay me off. Can I do that? Will I be denied unemployment if I do this? Should I just go on medical leave instead? Please help!

–Get me out of here!


You might be surprised to hear, or maybe not, that I get this question, or a similar question, a lot.

I’m guessing you are banking on two things in this layoff pipe dream: you will receive unemployment and severance. And in the puffy clouds in your head you are thinking those dollar amounts are pretty grand. Now, I don’t know the severance plan they are offering, and I don’t know what your financial status is, or your budget, but there are a few of things that I would advise you to think about before asking for such a thing:

  1. How much unemployment are you eligible for- go to your state’s unemployment insurance (UI) website and look at the eligibility requirements. Look at the federal website too, because after you’ve exhausted your state benefits, you might be able to apply for federal benefits.
  2. On the same website, look at the benefit tables. In CA, the maximum benefit amount is $450 per week.  How much you are paid weekly is usually based on your highest total quarterly wages of the last 4 quarters. If your annual salary is around $50K, it’s about 46% of the wages per week you made in the highest quarter. However, let’s say, your annual salary is $60,000, and your highest quarter for the past year was $15,000 (or roughly about $1,250/week). You’re still only going to receive $450/week, cutting that percentage down to 36%. That’s pre-tax, by the way! Yes, the government taxes you on the piddling benefit they are providing you. Yay government!
  3. What about your health benefits? Are you covered under a spouse/domestic partner’s plan? Will you have to go onto COBRA? How much will that cost? Depending on the plan and your company, that could be between $400-$2,000+/month.
  4. How much severance would you receive if you are eligible (and don’t assume that you are)? And remember a lot of companies tax severance at the supplemental rate for federal and state taxes, which, depending on the state you live in, could result in a total tax bill of 40-50%.

OK, so let’s say you’ve thought about all my questions above and you still want to be on the Jack Welch express out the door. Your question is if you can ask to be laid off. Sure you can! Will it work? Maybe. Will you still be eligible for unemployment? Maybe. (BTW, do y’all get sick of me answering questions with the word “Maybe”? Yeah, well, get over it. This is the spectrum of HR, homies, so deal). Will you receive severance? Maybe. Ha-take that!

Try and do some recon (I’m not sure how you find this out without tipping your hand, but these are things that will help you form your strategy):

  1. How bulldog-ish is your company when it comes to UI claims? I’m guessing they are expecting a lot of claims coming out of this layoff. However, do they manage UI claims themselves? Do they outsource?
  2. What’s the severance plan? Is everyone eligible?
  3. Are they offering retention bonuses to key employees who are staying? Could you possibly be eligible for that?
  4. Who is being laid off, are they targeting a specific division or area in the company? Maybe they are doing the whole “bottom 10% thing” or just targeting newbies.

Here’s the thing, I don’t know enough about your job, your performance, your manager, your HR Department or your company to make an educated guess of how this is going to work for you. If your Company/HR Department is/are a bunch of hard/asses, then this could be difficult. If you are a high performer in a critical position, why would they lay you off and then pay you for the privilege?

Look, I’ve negotiated plenty of “let’s call it a layoff” scenarios with employees over the years. My goal in those situations was to get rid of problem employees and give them the extra bone of allowing them to file for UI and they could tell their next employer that they were “laid off” as opposed to “fired for having sex in the supply closet with the mail guy.” So, again, I ask you, and you should ask yourself, why would they lay you off?

Something else to think about: are you a woman? Are you over 40? Are you working in a department where everyone has penises and is younger than you? Guess what? You are stuck there for life! LIFE! If your skin has some pigment to it, your chances just went down even more.

Why? Up there, in the atmosphere of the Executive Floor, they are making their wish list of all the old slow poor performers that they’ve been wanting to get rid of for years but have been too chicken shit to actually discuss performance, develop, etc. with. Next, HR comes in and adds demographics to that list. No smart company is going to want to look like they are targeting a particular ethnic group, gender, age group etc. If you fall into one of these groups, it might not make sense for them to lay you off. Some of them get brave and think they can lay anyone off because they are giving you a severance package in exchange for your signature on a release of claims. Remember, dear readers, that you cannot waive your right to not be discriminated against. Companies who think that way are playing with fire, so most don’t.

You should think about your role and position in this company. Maybe you can spin this as a win-win for all involved. They might be relieved, more than happy to get your sorry ass off of their headcount reports. They might be suspicious. They just might be stupid and not understand why you are asking, or how they can do this.

And now, I am going to hopefully briefly explain how UI works. I am going to assume you live in CA (though I imagine it’s similar in other states). OK, it’s scenario time! Every kid loves scenario time!

You ask to be laid off, your company obliges you. You apply for unemployment, and put as the reason “laid off.” To combat fraud, the UI office sends a notice to your employer letting them know that so-and-so just applied for benefits and said they were “laid off.” The employer is usually given 10 days to refute that statement.

Best case scenario: They don’t hear anything different from your employer and hooray! You get your little ATM card from the state.

Worst case scenario: The employer responds, lists the reason you left as “asked to be laid off.” The state UI agency does not agree that you were unemployed due to “no fault of your own” and denies your claim.

You appeal- provide the documentation you received from your employer. Hopefully, you made sure they put “layoff” on all the letters, etc. they gave you. Plus, if they are giving you severance, this adds more evidence to your claim that this is a lay off. If the appeal still doesn’t work then you can get a hearing, yes, a hearing in front of a real live judge and everything. The great thing about hearings (for you) is that employers don’t usually show up and then the judge usually rules in your favor.

So, what went wrong? Well, remember, your employer has a financial interest in not allowing employees to draw unemployment benefits. In CA, and probably other states as well, employers are graded based on the amount of money they’ve paid into the UI program, vs.  how much has been paid out against their account. The worse grade you have, the higher your unemployment rate is. Personally, I’ve never been at a company that wasn’t an F+ (yes, F+, isn’t that cute? I’d love it if my CFO didn’t yell at me every year).

What does that mean in $$?

In CA, employers pay between 1.5%-6.2% into UI on the first $7,000 of wages paid to an employee. Let’s say you had 100 employees that at some point during the year made $7,000. If you were an A+ and had that, what we in the biz call “the purple unicorn rate,” of 1.5%, your annual UI expense would be $10,500. Now, if you were an F and your rate was 6.2%, your annual UI expense would be $43,400. That’s a difference of $32,900. It can take years sometimes to get your rate down, years of low charges against your account.

That’s a big difference. Did you know that many companies, especially large companies, will outsource their UI administration to other companies that specialize in fighting UI claims, thereby reducing the UI rates of their customers? Yes, it’s true. They do this in two ways:

  1. They fight every claim, every appeal, show up at every hearing.
  2. They try and move you onto disability. Why? Because disability is paid for by employees, not employers, so it doesn’t count against them. How do they do this? The same way you got your medical marijuana card, “back pain.” The hardest diagnosis in the world to disprove.

You see now why I said what I said above. I can’t really predict if this will work because I don’t know your company. I’m assuming they aren’t going to fight too much because this layoff is already giving them a hit, but you never know.

Time to keep it real. Every kid loves keeping it real time! I get it. You hate your job. You have been there for 13 years, that’s a petulant adolescent’s worth of time. You’re thinking you can take your severance, maybe go lie on a Hawaiian island for a few months sipping Mai Tais and choking on smog. Maybe you won’t need to work again, maybe not. Maybe this could be the best thing that has ever happened and maybe the worst.

If you want my advice, and apparently you do, I would be patient. Wait and see what happens with the layoff and everything else. I’ve gone through millions and millions of mergers and layoffs and reorganizations (maybe not millions) and the one thing I’ve learned is that things never look at the end the way you thought they would at the beginning.

If it’s really bad, and you just can’t go on for another minute, then go out on leave. You state above this might be an option for you, call your doctor. Take a month off. Repeat after me: “back pain.” Eh? We’re either gonna save the world or go straight to hell but at least we’ll have THC Jolly Ranchers to console ourselves with. This buys you some more time, clears your head a bit, maybe you’ll feel completely different about all of it when you’re done. Plus, State Disability Insurance pays more than unemployment! I’m just saying.

And, as I’m sure you know because you read my 2012 treatise on LOA, your benefits will be cheaper. And again, this doesn’t make you immune from being laid off (despite it being designated FMLA) because if they were going to lay you off anyway because of your position, or whatever, they still can. Maybe you can have the best of both worlds, a month off and then laid off with severance.

Take a deep breath. Sit back, everything is going to be OK. Or it won’t. Who knows? Good luck though, I guess. You can do it, I suppose!

Good luck out there,


This post originally appeared on Fierce and Nerdy June 9, 2013.

Questions Madame HR? Submit them via the handy contact form to the right, or email me here. All questions and stories will be kept confidential!

I Need a Doctor!

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Dear Madame HR,

I have a question about benefits. My company’s plan year began on July 1st and guess what? For the third year in a row they have switched our carrier again! Why do they keep doing that to us? To make matters worse, I had made a doctor’s appointment for this week with a pediatrician for my 2 young kids. It took me forever to get this appointment with this doctor at a time both me and my wife could go. Well, guess what again? I didn’t get my new insurance card in time for the appointment. When I called my HR Department to ask what to do, I literally heard the HR Manger in the background tell the person I was on the phone with “tell him not to go to the doctor!” I am stunned, and apparently screwed. What do I do now?

–Why do they hate me?

Dear Mr. Why,

Not to be technical, but you started by saying you have A question and then proceeded to ask me 5 questions. But that’s ok, I can take it, keep it coming! I will answer your many questions in order:

Question 1: Guess what?

I don’t know, chicken butt?

Question 2: Why do they keep doing that to us?

Money honey. There is nothing worse in the whole wide world than trying to convince a CFO to accept a double digit increase in benefit premiums. It’s ridiculous, outrageous, but benefit carriers get away with highway robbery. And they love to throw out the dreaded phrase Obamacare as a reason to justify these increases. I don’t know, maybe it is going to cost them 20% more to administer the quagmire that Obama and Congress has thrust upon us. Maybe, but I don’t buy it. And, to be honest, I don’t really know that much about it, it just doesn’t make much sense to me. Especially since as an employer, most of the burden is on YOU, but maybe I’m missing something.

It doesn’t matter though, for purposes of answering your question. Carriers are notorious in my experience for giving you a really great “introductory” price to get companies to sign up and then in year or two, it’s rate hike city. Companies counteract this by looking for that next carrier who wants to give them that next “introductory” price and so begins the dance. Eventually it all catches up with you and carriers don’t want to touch your jumpy ass with a ten foot pole, but until that happens, hop away I say!

Depending on your rate structure, your company demographics, etc., etc., etc., I don’t know, blah, blah, blah. The bottom line is that no matter how annoyed you are right now, I’m sure your HR Department is equally annoyed. It’s not easy to administer a carrier switch. If you have a big company, aren’t automated, have lots of employees who are pregnant or annoying or both, this gets even worse.

I don’t know if it helps, but this is the reason, there you go.

Question 3: Guess what again?

Jeez, I don’t know again, I’m going to stick my original answer: Chicken butt.

Q4: What do I do now?

Don’t get mad at me but I literally laughed out loud at your story of what the HR Manager said when you called asking for help so you could take your kids to the doctor. I mean, if I had been you, I would have been PISSED, but since I’m not you, I thought it was pretty amusing.

Usually I try to defend the HR Manager in situations like this, but in this one, it’s hard. I could give her the benefit of the doubt and say she was joking. But I don’t think you thought it was funny, and it doesn’t seem like she then called you back and told you the real answer.

Sorry, it sounds like your HR Department kind of sucks. Usually, when a company switches to a new carrier, the broker the company works with, along with the HR Department, and the new carrier come up with a transition plan so there are no lapses, no situations like this.

Here are the steps I would take if I were you: (Yay! Numbered list time!!)

  1. Call HR (this failed, so feel free to skip to the next step)
  2. Call your company’s broker. Did you go to your Open Enrollment meeting? Usually they give you the customer service line or something for the broker. This is just the type of situation where brokers are useful.
  3. Call the new carrier, explain your situation. Chances are it’s not news to them that your company is switching to them. Hopefully they have already assigned a group number to your group, and an ID number to you. If so, sweet! Just get those numbers and give them to your doctor. If not, they should instruct you what to do. This happens all the time. Most likely they will tell you to tell the doctor’s office to call them and verify coverage.

There are a couple of things that could muck it up:

  1. The doctor you are going to see isn’t covered by the new insurance carrier. This happens a lot in HMO situations. Your old primary care doctor (PCP) is not in your new plan. Oh the horror. What you can do in these situations, especially if you are in the midst of being treated for something (i.e. pregnancy) is to apply for a continuation of care that will allow you to see your old doctor until you have completed treatment (i.e. given birth) and find a new doctor. If you are in this situation I strongly recommend you skip ahead to #3 in the list above and get advice from the carrier asap.
  2. I can’t think of a second thing. However, I feel compelled to have a second point because I started this list with the words “a couple of things.” Insert your own here.

Here is some good advice:

  1. If you are on an HMO, do your gosh darn darnedest not to pay up front with the hopes that you can file a claim later and be reimbursed. HMO’s are not designed that way, their contracts with doctors are weird and impossible to understand. If this were a dental HMO, you are kind of screwed, but under NO circumstances should you EVER EVER EVER EVER pay full price with the hopes of getting reimbursed later in a dental HMO plan.
  2. If you are on a PPO, you don’t have as much to worry about in regards to paying first and getting reimbursed later. However, keep in mind that the insurance companies have negotiated with doctor’s what they can charge them for services. This is called “reasonable and customary.” If you are paying cash out of pocket, the doctor can charge you whatever they want, however, the insurance company will only reimburse you what is the “reasonable and customary” fee (less your deductible, coinsurance, etc., etc., etc.). You might not get a full reimbursement. Proceed with caution.
  3. Just because you haven’t received your card in the mail doesn’t mean you aren’t in the carrier’s system. Go to their website, try and register, if you can, usually you can also print a temporary card. Then you are in like Flynn!

Basically, in a nutshell, you need to get your doctor’s office to call your new carrier and have them verify you are covered, what your copay is, etc. Hopefully your doctor’s office is willing to do this. Some doctor’s offices get persnickety and won’t do anything unless you have a card.

Nothing could possible go wrong. Wait…ok, everything could go wrong. But hopefully it won’t. Carriers are usually pretty good about stuff like this, they deal with it every day. Thumbs up! Everything is going to be fantastic!

Question 5: Why do they hate me?

I don’t know. This is a loaded question. HR Departments have a complicated relationship with the employees they serve. I mean, yes, we love you guys. You’re why we are here, right? But, come on, many times you don’t freaking listen, or you do some pretty stupid stuff, or you just won’t shut the heck up already. But we love you—basically, pretty much.

I wouldn’t take this benefit switch so personally. I guarantee they were not thinking of you and your 2 adorable little kids specifically (unless one of you has some sort of horrible disease and has run up a fortune in hospital bills. In that case, it probably is your fault). This was purely economics. And ultimately, it’s great for you. You and your kids have health insurance. Hopefully it is adequate. Hopefully you don’t pay too much out of pocket. See, all sorts of silver linings. So just call your new carrier and all will be well (Literally!).

Good luck out there,

Nurse madame

This post originally appeared on Fierce and Nerdy July 7, 2013.

Questions Madame HR? Submit them via the handy contact form to the right, or email me here. All questions and stories will be kept confidential!

Don’t Take My Job–Please!

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Dear Madame HR,

I read with interest your answer a few weeks ago for someone who wanted to be laid off from their job. I have been laid off from my job and I absolutely did not want to be. I am in shock. I don’t know what to do now? Any advice?

Don’t take my job—please

Dear Please,

Gosh, I’m sorry, and I mean that sincerely, I really do. I understand what it feels like to be suddenly separated from your job. Did you know that in some countries they call it being made “redundant?” How freaking insulting is that? I mean, it’s bad enough to lose your job, but then to have the added injury of being called redundant. It’s almost as if they are adding on the extra commentary that you are boring, or superfluous, surplus, unwanted, unneeded, disused. And no, I’m not quoting Morrissey lyrics from 1986, I’m using my Microsoft Word handy thesaurus gizmo. Thank god we live in America, where we go in the opposite direction by coming up with the euphemism: “reduction in force.” In other words, “it’s not your fault, Johnny, we just don’t need as much force as we used to.” We also like to use “separation” now instead of “termination” like the end result is somehow different. Oh language, is there no limit to the ways we can use you to try and make something seem better than it actually is?

Anyway, I digress. You ask what to do now, but you don’t give me many details so I will have to make some assumptions, I apologize if I’m totally off base.

Because of the WARN Act (The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act), if you were part of a mass layoff, there are certain things your company has to do when they lay you off. One of those is notify you 60 calendar days in advance. There are some other things they have to do as well, so if you think you fall under this, Google it and read the info on the DOL website.

Also, if others were laid off at the same time as you, whether or not it qualifies as a “mass” layoff under WARN, there are other things your employer has to do. If you are over 40, for example, they have to provide you a list of all the positions they have eliminated and the ages of the people affected. They also have to tell you the ages of people who are in similar positions to those that were eliminated but who were retained. Basically, what they are getting at here, is they don’t want companies to just layoff all their old people, and if they do, they want the old people to know about it. And I’m not going to insert commentary here about how freaking insulting it is that 40 is their boundary between “old” and “not old,” but I guess I just did. Most employees are mortified when they receive this document, by the way, it feels like a humongous breach of privacy to me (even though we don’t put names, everyone knows who we are talking about).  For all you Googlers out there, this provision falls under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission- EEOC (specifically the Age Discrimination Employment Act- ADEA).

When you were separated from your job, they probably gave you a bunch of paperwork to sign. These documents usually fall into a couple of categories, there is the normal term paperwork, saying that you received your paycheck, that you have been notified of your COBRA rights, that you have turned in your keys, etc. There may also be a release agreement offering you a severance package. This does not need to be signed on your term date, in fact, depending on the nature of the layoff, your age, etc., you have between 14 and 45 days to sign the agreement.

I know you were in shock when this news was delivered. Yes, it’s a little cruel that we dump this on you and then shove a bunch of paperwork under your nose and ask you to sign it. Most of the term paperwork is standard, you aren’t really promising your first born child and giving away anything by signing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. And, if you’ve already signed it days ago without reading it, read it now. Make sure you actually didn’t, in fact, promise your first born child. If you did, I hope you aren’t currently pregnant. But you probably aren’t, cuz then they probably wouldn’t have laid you off, but that’s a different post entirely. However, the release for your severance, I’d wait a few days before signing that.

Why? Well, read the document. A general severance agreement has you acknowledging some stuff, like:

  1. You’ve received all monies and  benefits due to you
  2. You have no pending complaints or charges against the company
  3. You won’t file a lawsuit
  4. You release all known and unknown claims (usually includes fraud, breach of contract, wrongful discharge, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress (my personal favorite), the list goes on and on and on.
  5. A whole bunch of legal language like “Ambiguities” and “Counterparts.”

If you looked at the list of things they are asking you to sign away and thought to yourself, “hey, that’s me!” maybe you should show this thing to a lawyer before you sign it. If you’re slapping your forehead right now because you just blindly signed it and didn’t actually read it, I hope you are over 40. Why? Because if you are over 40, usually you have a right to revoke within 7 days of signing (there’s that pesky ADEA again). Now might be the time to exercise that right if you don’t feel kosher about things.

Here are a few more things to think about:

  1. Severance is negotiable. Sure, they have some sort of crazy ass formula (2 weeks for every 10 years, or some such nonsense). However, think of it this way: they want you to sign this document. They really really really really want you to sign it. So, don’t get greedy, but ask for more. Make it something that makes sense. Like some sort of multiple of your annual salary or x amount of dollars for every year. The worst they can say is no, but if you are reasonable, I think they will at least bump up their original offer. By asking and not blindly signing, you have moved yourself into a worrisome category for them and an extra $5,000 or $10,000 is small potatoes to make you go away (especially if they laid off a bunch of people at once).
  2. Severance is taxable as earnings, damn you IRS! And most will tax at the supplemental rate which is 25% Fed, 6.6% state (if you are in CA, rate varies by state), 7.65% FICA (I hate that guy), disability, etc. etc. Usually totaling around 40%. So, yes, that dollar figure they’ve given you might sound really good to you right now, but prepare yourself for sticker shock when you actually get your check.
  3. Severance is not a legal requirement. Maybe they haven’t offered you severance at all, if so, then sorry for spending so much time talking about it. Oh, and if they didn’t offer you severance, ask for it. Why not? If they think they have to worry about you, then it might be worth it to them to pay you money to sign a release of claims (aka severance agreement).

Ok, severance or not, bottom line is: should you sue? Maybe. I don’t know your situation. However, I would advise you to consider that suing is not a slam dunk. Do you have a case? Are there damages you can claim? Will you get more money by suing (don’t forget lawyer fees) then they are already offering you? Lawsuits take a really long time, by the way. It’s kind of like when you are watching Pawn Stars (yes, my favorite TV analogy EVER) and he says: “I’ll pay you in cash money now.” Yes, I’m paying you less than you might get if you went to auction or that you might get on ebay, or wherever. However, here we are right now and I have cash in my hand—that can be worth a lot.

You asked me what you should do, if I have any advice for you. I do have some ideas:

  1. Don’t take it personally- especially if this layoff involved more than one person and wasn’t one of those “Let’s call it a layoff” to get rid of one person that we’re afraid to discipline in a meaningful way.
  2. Don’t panic- if you like reading my columns, I have one for job seekers (yes, it was tailored to more entry level job seekers, but some of the tips still apply)
  3. File for unemployment. There is no shame in that.
  4. If you received a severance agreement, think about it for a little bit before you sign. If there is something fishy going on, call a lawyer to discuss your concerns.
  5. Did your company offer you outplacement assistance? If so, take advantage of that. If not, ask for it. Outplacement assistance can take many forms but usually involves resume and interviewing coaching.
  6. Build up your network. Again, you don’t have to be ashamed. Send out your resume to others you worked with, vendors, competitors, etc. Post your situation on Facebook and LinkedIn and all those other online places. Don’t be crazy about it, just let everyone know you are looking.
  7. Be mindful of your deadlines. How long until you have to send back that severance agreement? Don’t miss your COBRA deadline! What else?
  8. Stock up on some good inspirational Facebook memes. (Is it just me or does anyone else think these things look like little PowerPoint slides from the seventh circle of hell?) Find one that says something like: “Failure is not a stop sign, Hope makes it a yield sign.” With a picture of two roads crossing in the middle of nowhere. Or, how about: “When one door closes just keep knocking until someone asks ‘who’s there?’” You know what I’m talking about. Print it out, stick it in a place you will see it. You can do it! (On a side note, have you ever been to I’m not supposed to say this but their demotivater posters are my favorite things in the whole wide world. I will silently scroll through them on a particular bad afternoon and they soothe my soul. But I’m kind of a sarcastic bitch.)

“You’ll survive this” (picture of a tiger licking his chops), “Every cloud has a silver lining” (picture of a cloud (I know, kind of on the nose)), “it’s always darkest before the dawn” (blank blacked out picture). I wish you good luck and piles of money from your prior employer, hopefully the government won’t take it all.

Good luck out there,



This post originally appeared on Fierce and Nerdy July 23, 2013.

Questions Madame HR? Submit them via the handy contact form to the right, or email me here. All questions and stories will be kept confidential!