Table: If a Layoff Is Lurking...

PREPARE FOR THE WORST

Update your résumé and check in with your professional network. Take home the company manual outlining severance benefits and make copies of any positive evaluations and contact info you may need.

SAY LITTLE ON THAT FATEFUL DAY

Don't sign anything. Instead, ask for the terms of any severance package in writing and schedule a time when you can return to discuss them.

SEEK ADVICE EARLY

Talk to an employment lawyer or read up on the subject. Deciding you were treated unfairly after you sign an agreement may be too late.

BE PREPARED TO NEGOTIATE

Try to get the best deal on severance pay, outplacement help, health coverage, bonus, retirement benefits, and stock options. Make sure you'll get all the vacation and comp time pay you're owed.

PROTECT YOUR REPUTATION

Negotiate what kind of reference you'll get, then get it in writing. Avoid resigning. If you feel you must, get a side agreement entitling you to unemployment benefits and severance.

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