What to negotiate in a layoff from your job

While July layoffs hit near record lows, according to the Labor Department, the headline-grabbing cuts at some of the biggest companies — like Apple, Best Buy, Ford and Walmart in recent weeks — could make you question the stability of your own job. Half of employers say they are already downsizing or have plans to do so, according to PwC’s most recent Pulse Survey of 722 U.S. executives in August.

There’s not much you can do to prevent your job being axed, but there are some ways to make the transition a little smoother, says Andres Lares, managing partner at the Shapiro Negotiations Institute.

Many people are unfamiliar with severance packages, and the terms of a layoff are negotiable, Lares tells CNBC Make It. And when they do, they may avoid it simply because negotiating feels uncomfortable.

Lares emphasizes that although a layoff feels personal to you, it is a business matter for the company.

“Step one: Have a positive attitude,” says Lares. “Then prepare yourself.”

Here’s what you can negotiate if you’re fired and how to do it.

Negotiate the details of your severance package

When you hear rumors about your business being downsized, it doesn’t hurt to think about what you want or need from them on your way out.

Various parts of your severance package may be negotiable. You may be able to negotiate higher compensation if you are a high performer, in a leadership position, or if you anticipate a bonus in the near future. The severance pay is paid either as a lump sum or in installments, and you could negotiate for one method over another.

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You can also ask about extended health insurance coverage, access to other employee benefits, or your PTO bank payout. Check company review sites like Glassdoor to see if former employees have talked about what happened to them during a layoff and what they requested or offered.

The key is to prioritize what’s most important to you, what your business can offer, says Lares. If these issues are not raised during your severance interview, be specific and concise in your request to Human Resources. “Make it easy for them to say yes,” says Lares.

And remember, it’s harder to negotiate as time goes by, so try to raise your queries during an initial interview with HR or within a day or two afterward.

Ask for an extended exit or a consulting appearance

Perhaps you were sprinting toward the completion of a project at work, but your resignation takes effect before the delivery date. If you’re in good standing (and you get fired for reasons unrelated to your performance), see if the company will keep you on until you meet your deadline.

Think of it this way, suggests Lares: “I’m 75% done on project X and I understand how important it is to the company. Would you be open to me continuing until it’s finished?”

If you can’t stay as a full-time employee, maybe they could use your help as a freelancer, contractor, or consultant, says Lares.

If you have nothing to do with the company, you should come back in a few weeks or months (after the layoff hiatus has worn off) to see if they hire you as a consultant. This can be a win-win: contractors cost your business less than employees, and you get some money until you’re ready for your next step.

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With that in mind, do some research to set your new tariff. In general, your hourly rate as a contractor should be higher than as an employee, Lares says, because you’ll need to cover things like health insurance coverage.

Keep in touch

Be strategic when asking for a reference. There’s no perfect script or rule of thumb for making the request, Lares says, other than showing empathy. Yes, your ex-boss or ex-colleague still has their job while you don’t, but those jobs have likely only gotten harder, too, with fewer staff and more complicated business requirements, Lares says.

Don’t be afraid to check back in a few weeks after the dust has settled. Again, make it clear how they can help you, whether that’s connecting you with a former colleague at another company or serving as a professional reference for a specific role.

You can also ask old co-workers to write a recommendation for you on your LinkedIn page and offer to do the same in return, recruiting pro Bethalyn Staples recently told CNBC Make It. Having them on your profile can opt you out stand out to recruiters.

“It’s going to be a tough road for the rest of the year and we need to rely on each other to be successful,” said Staples.

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