What’s the Difference Between Getting Fired and Getting Laid Off?


Losing your job is emotionally taxing no matter how it happens. However, it’s important not to let the shock of the news cloud your understanding of what is happening.

Getting laid off and getting fired are two very different things, and each can impact you and the future of your career in different ways. An employer may not always be clear about the terms under which they have decided to let you go, so it’s up to you to figure out exactly where you stand when it’s time to walk away.

Here’s what you need to know about the difference between getting fired and getting laid off:

Getting Fired vs. Getting Laid Off

Nearly all employees today are “at-will” employees. In short, this means both employer and employee can terminate the working relationship without cause at any time. Still, even though your employer doesn’t have to give you a reason for terminating the relationship, it is important you leave with a clear understanding of the situation. Be sure you know how the company will categorize your separation when asked by future employers or by the the unemployment office if you plan to apply for benefits.

When an employee gets fired, it’s usually due to poor job performance or behavior. An employer’s rationale for firing an employee can span a wide range of justifications, from not being a good fit for the role to publicly embarrassing the organization.

In the case of being fired, you’re generally terminated and removed from the premises upon notification. You’re usually not eligible for unemployment benefits, nor are you eligible for rehire with the organization. Getting fired is a permanent termination.

On the other hand, getting laid off usually has less to do with employee performance or behavior and more to do with organizational operations. Employees are usually laid off when a company is facing financial constraints or undergoing internal restructuring. A layoff is an indication that the employee is in no way at fault for the separation. Generally, a laid-off employee is eligible for rehire. Employees who are laid off are permitted to obtain unemployment benefits, and in some cases they may receive some sort of severance package.

What Am I Entitled to?

It’s important to know your rights when you are forced to leave an employer.

For example, depending on the state you work in, you may upon termination be entitled to payment for unused paid time off and/or vacation days. Any company policy regarding this subject will ultimately be subject to the laws of the governing state.

Commissioned employees find themselves in a precarious position if they have uncollected commissions at the time of their departure. Policies on collecting commissions after termination can vary from company to company, but don’t take your organization’s word for it when it comes to your eligibility. Research the relevant state laws governing these issues. Being well informed and knowing exactly what to expect is critical.

Dealing With Your Termination in an Interview

Your termination is a very sensitive topic, but it will definitely come up in interviews with potential employers. The most important thing is to remember not to talk about the separation in a negative way.

It can be difficult to do that, but even if you were fired, you have to find the positive in the situation. There is always something to be learned from every experience — yes, even from getting fired. Think about how the experience has helped you clarify for yourself what you are looking for in a job or employer. For example, maybe the experience has dispelled your belief that you excel in a a less structured environment.

Finding the positive side of things might be harder to do if your termination was due to your own misconduct. However, if this is information that will eventually come to light, it is important to be honest. It is equally important to show that you’ve taken responsibility for your actions and that you have indeed learned from them. Perhaps you were terminated as a manager because you kept overstepping boundaries at work. Share that you now have a real understanding of why your behavior was inappropriate and you know how to avoid such overstepping from happening again.

Whether you are laid off or fired, being terminated can feel like an insurmountable setback. Lean on your support network, give yourself time to heal, and take care of yourself both mentally and physically during the process. In time, you will get back on your feet.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Atrium Staffing blog.

Michele Mavi is Atrium Staffing‘s resident career expert.

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