Q. I was recently laid off, and I now have a huge pile of paperwork from human resources in front of me. I am overwhelmed I know I need to look for a job, but what are all these documents for, and do I have to deal with it all now? Do I need help?
A. Being laid off is stressful for many reasons, and you have identified one of the starting points. Some of the information you have been given is regulated by law, and other materials are needed to help you process your benefits information. These documents, though time consuming, and potentially confusing, will prove to be important for you in the near and long term.
Many people focus on information regarding severance first. You will want to take note of the day your lay off is considered effective, which may be different from your last day on the job. This is considered an added benefit by many people as everything stays the same – you are considered “whole” as an employee until the day the separation is effective.
Information regarding unemployment benefits is also available for your review. In Massachusetts, employers are required to provide the DUA booklet “How to File for Unemployment Insurance Benefits” (Form #590-A). To review the full spectrum of services visit http://http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=elwdhomepage&L=1&L0=Home&sid=Elwd. There are many other lookalike sites which are not associated with the state, and will try to collect your personal information. Be very clear about whose web site you are on.
If you had health insurance coverage through your former employer, you are allowed to continue that coverage. Your employer may pay a portion of the premium, or you may have to pay the full premium through COBRA. COBRA is a federal law that gives workers who lose their jobs the right to purchase group health coverage provided by their former employer at 100% of group rates (plus a small administrative fee) for up to 18 months.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, some individuals who are eligible for continued health insurance coverage under the federal COBRA law, or the Massachusetts mini-COBRA law, may receive a subsidy for 65% of the costs of the health care premium. If eligible, instead of paying 100% of the premium, you pay only 35%, for up to nine months. Review this information carefully, to determine your eligibility. There are other health insurance options to research as well.
Review any offerings for career transition services or outplacement. These services are broader than most people imagine, ranging from targeting new opportunities, developing job search strategies, resume development and production, interview training, and access to currently available positions. Take advantage of the benefits provided at no cost to you.
As benefits get more sophisticated, you may want to seek professional assistance.
There are many types of retirement plans with 401k plans, profit sharing plans, and pension plans being the most common. I consulted Jim Smyly, an Investment Executive at Stoneham Bank, who points out that all plans have different rules regarding what you can and cannot do upon separation from a company or organization. It is essential that you understand all of your choices when considering what action to take regarding a retirement plan at a previous job. The actions you take can have a significant tax impact, and determine the amount of future benefits you receive as well as the benefits your spouse or beneficiaries might receive.
There may be many other types of information you need to make decisions about including life insurance. Smyly suggests you review the portability of your life insurance policy. This might be especially important if you have health issues since you can usually move the coverage from a group policy to a personal one with no health underwriting.
A careful analysis is needed if you own any stock options from your employer. Do they have any value now or are the options under water, are the options vested or not, what type of options do you have, what are the tax consequences of exercising options. These are all questions that need to be analyzed before taking actions.
Each of these documents will have deadlines to be aware of, and many need to be returned to human resources. Use the expertise human resources can offer to help you with initial information, and take the time to review each document and analyze how each can support your transition.