Like finding a job, actually leaving a job takes some preparation. Here's a brief overview of what you may want to know before you make the final separation:
No matter if the signs were already there being fired from your job can be devastating.
But is it legal?
If you haven't signed a contract that clearly lays out the length of your employment (you've signed up for two-year contract job, for example), you are probably at the mercy of an "at will" clause. In the fine print it says that you may be terminated at any time for any legal cause, and most companies adopt it as a precondition for employment.
It may only be time to call a lawyer In the event of discrimination, harassment -- or if you're targeted as a whistleblower for informing on the company's illegal activities. Also be prepared to push back against any company that neglects your right to take family and medical leave, or to take time off work to vote or serve on a jury.
Bloggers will also be happy to hear that reporting on illegal or unsafe conditions ("whistlebloggers") or attempting to unionize the workplace via a personal blog is still protected under current US labor law. Just remember that companies can legally oust employees who write about illicit activities they engage in while off the job, or who blog about coworkers in a manner either discriminatory or harassing. (For more information see the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Legal Guide for Bloggers.)
Being laid off
In the US, under the federal level the WARN Act companies must inform employees of a looming layoff at least 60 days in advance. In some US states, these protections are beefed-up even further (New York extends the 60-day notice to a 90-day notice, for example) to help employees prepare to retrain and/or find other employment.
Mass layoffs often make headline news about the negative impact to families and entire communities. But despite hard economic times -- or a company's decision to move operations overseas -- there are other provisions that help protect employees. Contact your state labor office for more detailed information on what's provided, by law, in your state.
Which brings us to unemployment benefits. Those who involuntarily separate from a company, either through layoffs or being fired, are usually eligible for benefits.
Employees who wake up one morning and decide to quit their jobs are usually not eligible. However, depending on your reasons for quitting, there are exceptions. These include being forced to quit because of dangerous working conditions, or for medical reasons directly related to the job. Other instances where you may be eligible for unemployment benefits include a spouse accepting a position in another state, or when you are compelled to leave a job to take care of a sick or dying family member.
Typically, once you apply for employment benefits it will take at least a week or two of processing before you receive your first check. How much you will receive will vary by state. It is sometimes based on your last paycheck. but always anticipate a state cap on the maximum amount. You will also probably have to return to the unemployment to report periodically on your search for gainful employment.
First, have another job lined up. Or, you may be lucky enough to have a family member willing to back you up financially while you look for other work. If not, think twice before quitting any job before you are financially able.
When you're ready to head for the door, there may be cause for badmouthing the company. But common sense dictates that you make your departure as gracious as possible. The reasons are many, not the least of which are protecting your professional reputation or getting a letter of recommendation from a manager with whom you have a good working relationship.
Whenever possible, give the requisite 2-weeks notice so that the company is not left in the lurch upon your departure. Also be prepared to hand in a written notice in the form of a resignation letter. Again, the tone of the letter should be upbeat and positive no matter how eager you are to leave.
Finally, always maintain your professional demeanor on social networking sites when posting about your departure to prevent accidental public disclosure about your true feelings about a former boss or job position.
More about job separation around the Web:
Employment Law - Losing or Leaving a Job - An overview and FAQ of your legal rights, tips on severance packages, health insurance, unemployment insurance and final paychecks, references and unemployment compensation, from Nolo.com.
What to do if you're afraid of being fired - Advice on nailing down the facts, and necessary preparation if it turns out to be true - such as polishing up your resume, collecting letters of recommendation and identifying available unemployment benefits.
Wrongful Termination Claims - FindLaw.com's definition of terms with a guide to legal rights, filing a claim, tips on severance packages, and related articles.