More US workers are receiving pink slips as the Fed slams the economic brakes in an attempt slow inflationwith layoff announcements in September.

Job cuts rose 46% from August to nearly 30,000 in September. Workers who find themselves suddenly out in the cold may wonder about their rights if they lose their jobs and what steps they should take in the event of a layoff – key questions that are easy to overlook in the midst of a difficult moment, but which can seriously affect a person’s immediate financial prospects after being fired.

“Most employees don’t realize how much is at stake in being fired or separated for a reason that isn’t a violation of the rules,” said New York employment attorney Christopher K. Davis. “There’s a lot of money and rights at stake that most people don’t think about, and there’s really a lot that can go wrong.”

Most workers in the US work under “at-will” agreements, which allow either the employee or the employer to terminate the agreement at any time and for any reason, as long as it is not discriminatory.

However, there are state and federal laws that may entitle workers to compensation and benefits if they are fired. And even if a company is not required by law to pay severance pay to employees who quit, it may have a policy that helps laid-off employees return until they find a new job.

Make sure you are eligible for unemployment

One of the first things a laid-off worker should do is make sure they are eligible for unemployment benefits through their state’s labor department. Generally, if employees lose their jobs through no fault of their own, they can apply for unemployment compensation. However, Davis said, companies sometimes unfairly challenge workers’ unemployment benefits.

“Make sure the company recognizes that your layoff qualifies as unemployment,” he said. “This is something that can be discussed. Say, “Hey, you’re not going to challenge my right.”

If the worker has committed a violation of the rules, he will not be entitled to unemployment benefits.

“A lot of people go through the unemployment process without asking for help. It’s self-defense,” Davis said.

If you are involved in a mass layoff

If your job loss is the result of a plant-wide shutdown—for example, if the company shuts down production resulting in mass layoffs—the company must give at least 60 days’ notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice (WARN) to act.

“If you were fired and the company didn’t give you notice, you have to file a claim,” Davis said.

Moreover, if you are the victim of a mass layoff and believe you have been discriminated against, consult with a lawyer. “With mass layoffs, things are messy, and the layoffs are rife with bias,” Davis said.

It is illegal for companies to fire people based on protected characteristics, such as race, age, or gender, or to fire someone in retaliation for protected activity, such as reporting misconduct or organizing a union.

Ask for a complete list of everyone who was fired, including their titles and ages, to determine if the actions were discriminatory. “If it disproportionately affects a protected class, then there may be grounds for discrimination,” Davis said.

Can I get severance pay?

US workers have a fairly weak public safety net to support them after being laid off, and often don’t have access to information about their rights when an employer downsizes.

Companies are not required by law to pay severance pay to employees, unless it is stipulated in a contract or executive compensation package. However, many employers have policies that entitle former employees to compensation and benefits.

“Just because someone has been fired or released from their job does not entitle them to any severance pay or severance package. There’s no right to that,” said Laura Ritaford, an employment attorney with Lathrop in Los Angeles. GPM.

But laid-off workers can negotiate severance packages if offered.

“If you are offered a severance package, you have the right to review it and consult with a lawyer about the terms,” ​​Ritaford said.

Most severance packages require the employee to give up the right to sue or publicly speak negatively about the employer in exchange for additional compensation and benefits. It’s up to the employee to decide if they want to accept the terms, Rutherford stressed.

“What you give up as an employee in exchange for money is the right to sue your employer for anything,” she said. “If the employer does not want to give you more money, you have the right to leave and not sign the contract.”

How about health insurance?

Under COBRA, employees generally can renew their health insurance coverage for a certain period, but may be required to pay the entire premium for coverage that would otherwise be terminated with the employee. This can mean a significant increase in the premium.

“Ask your employer when your health insurance expires, find out about your COBRA rights and how much it will cost to keep your health benefits after you’re fired,” said Carrie Hoffman, employment attorney at Foley & Lardner in Texas.

Vacation pay

Workers may also be eligible for compensation for unused vacation days, depending on the state.

For example, in California, employees who accumulate paid time off that they don’t use must by law be paid for that time in their employer’s last paycheck.

In contrast, “in other states, it’s “use it or lose it,” which means that if an employee doesn’t use vacation time, they’re not entitled to benefits after employment ends,” said California employment attorney Anthony Zahler.

Empirical rules

Of course, a productive employee who has endeared himself to his employer might ask for a positive recommendation or access to resources, such as career counseling, that might help him land a new job. Some employers voluntarily pay for job search counseling services.

“It’s always worth asking and having an honest conversation about what you want and need. Asking for severance pay is perfectly fine — just like asking for help finding a new job and a positive letter of recommendation,” said Ritaford.

Hoffman added: “No matter how frustrating a layoff is, I always advise not to burn bridges and try to work with, not against, whatever the situation. In theory, the company may have opportunities. Ask if you are eligible to be rehired.”

In other words, seek information from the employer and try to leave on a positive note.

“Don’t show bad behavior on the way out. Keep your professionalism intact,” said career expert Vicki Salemi.