As we move into our 50s and 60s, the idea of losing a job takes on new fear. These are the years when you are supposed to be maximizing your retirement contributions and if you lose your job, that income will be hard to replace. Even if you can find another job, it may be for less money. If you think the ax may fall soon (or just for peace of mind), you should start taking some steps to prepare:
- Document your performance. Gather your past performance reviews. Keep track of emails, conversations and comments related to your performance. If you are fired or laid off, these could help your case for compensation. Employers want to avoid potential age discrimination claims and if you have a positive employment record, it makes it harder for them to say they fired you for poor performance or because your job wasn't needed anymore. If your employer has not conducted performance reviews in the past, it provides even more leverage.
- Watch what you say to others at the company. You don't want to discuss your job performance, your thoughts about the company's decisions or spread gossip. It can come back to haunt you. Unfortunately, a “trusted” colleague could tell others or end up as your replacement or your boss.
- Get a copy of your company's severance policy. You want to know what you are entitled to in the event of a layoff.
- Be prepared to negotiate your severance package. Talk to a financial advisor about the present and future value of your compensation and benefits until you retire. You may not be able to get another position so it's important to know how much money you are losing so you can present a counteroffer to whatever your employer offers. Your employer won't take you seriously unless you can back up your numbers. In addition, you may want to volunteer to sign a nondisparagement or nondisclosure agreement in exchange for getting more money.
- Find a qualified attorney. Ask friends and other advisors for referrals to an experienced employment law attorney who primarily represents employees. Many attorneys are more interested in getting employers as clients and may not best represent your interests. An attorney can help you negotiate as well as assess whether you have grounds to sue.
- Think about your next steps. What will you enjoy doing next? Do you want to become a consultant, start a new career or a new business?
It's scary to lose your job, but it also opens up a new opportunity. Make sure you understand where your finances stand, talk with your family and start contemplating the possibilities.