Outplacement Programs for Laid Off Workers

If you've lost your job, your employer may offer outplacement services to help you find a new one.

Each year, many thousands of workers are permanently dismissed by corporations that are shrinking or dying. And, as they bid adieu, many former employers—about 70%, according to a recent tally—offer outplacement services to workers to help ease the sting of losing their jobs.

Outplacement services are not employment agencies. They are not executive search firms. They are not employee leasing companies. They do not find a new job for you, but they do help and encourage you to find one for yourself.

Although some outplacement firms offer packages of services that can be purchased by people individually, outplacement counselors are most often brought in and paid for by employers who want to diminish the risk of being sued for wrongful discharge. Outplacement benefits have even been negotiated into union contracts.

The theory underlying the popularity of outplacement in the corporate world is that fired employees who move quickly and smoothly into a new job typically do not hold grudges against the company that fired them. Nor do they experience the kind of financial problems that can inspire job-related lawsuits. If a person goes through outplacement, cannot find a replacement job, and decides to file a wrongful discharge lawsuit, the company can show a court that it has done all it can to limit the financial damage done to the employee by the firing.

An outplacement program typically begins with classes or individual counseling on how to take an inventory of your marketable job skills. Then, you are assigned a furnished office space from which to launch your search for a new employer. These offices are usually equipped with a telephone, a computer, and an extensive library of business directories, and some of them include services that will pump out resumes and letters for you.

Many outplacement firms even provide the people passing through them with business cards that carry only the person’s name and a daytime telephone number, but no business title. Outplacement offices are frequently equipped with a switchboard operator to answer telephone calls in a corporate style, but without indicating any company affiliation. These props typically get a lot of use, because many outplacement participants are required to turn in daily or weekly logs of potential employers they have contacted to inquire about possible job openings.

Periodic counseling and encouragement sessions with the outplacement firm’s staff continue until you have found a new job or until your former employer’s willingness to pay for the outplacement services runs out. There is no standard duration. Some people spend only a few days in outplacement, but some stay for a year or more. Because many people have a difficult time finding a new job even with the support of an outplacement firm, some of these companies now offer programs that teach new work-related skills.

An employer cannot force you to participate in an outplacement program. However, some employers will continue to pay your salary and benefits for at least a few weeks or months after you are fired on the condition that you actively participate in the outplacement services provided. If you drop out, you are on your own financially.

Your refusal to participate in an outplacement program might also weaken any lawsuit you might later file against your former employer, because you could be depicted as contributing to your loss of employment income. Your participation in outplacement might, on the other hand, provide additional verification that you are a competent and professional individual.

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