Laid Off? Here's What To Do To Protect Your Family

Your finances aren't the only thing you need to evaluate if you're a parent who's lost your job—making sure your mental health is strong is a big priority, too.

Mom applies for job at the kitchen table with her daughter sitting next to her.

Brothers91 / Getty Images

Here's a staggering fact—31% of American professionals are concerned their employers might be planning budget cuts or layoffs. Sadly, as we move along in 2023, that concern is becoming a reality for many working parents. I look at my LinkedIn and other social media feeds every morning with a knot in my stomach, worried about friends or colleagues posting they were blindsided by a layoff. While being laid off is earth-shattering news for anyone, there's an added layer of stress when you have a family—or family on the way—dependent upon your income.

Jill* wasn't shocked when layoffs within her retail company (where she worked as a recruiter) eliminated her position as part of an 8% corporate reduction in the workforce. What surprised her was that it happened at the end of her third month of a planned six-month maternity leave for her first child, born last October.

"I was especially shocked because, as a recruiter, I know all the company values we espouse to applicants, such as caring for our people and working together as a cooperative," she explains. "While it certainly wasn't illegal for them to eliminate my position while on leave, it was a surprisingly cold turn of events for a company that I loved working at because of how much they supposedly cared for their people."

"At the end of the day, the security of your job is subject to the organization's bottom line." —Jill, a new mom and recruiter

For Jill, it was a tough reminder that even if you're a top performer, on a leave, or work for a company with strong core values, "at the end of the day, the security of your job is subject to the organization's bottom line."

Then there's Maria*, a mother of two, who was alerted via an email from her CEO that layoffs were imminent and impacted employees would receive their notice within the hour. "I called my husband immediately and we agreed there was no way I'd be let go—I'd worked there over four years, and was set to start my maternity leave that coming Friday," she explains. "But by the time we got off the phone, I got word that I was being let go."

Though both Maria and Jill's husbands are still employed, they share similar concerns about suddenly living off one income. That includes reconsidering childcare plans, figuring out how much savings they could realistically dip into, how long they could manage on one income, and of course, the stress of job searching while raising young children.

"We were in the early stages of planning a big trip for my daughter's first birthday, [which] will now be on hold," Jill explains. "I was hoping to hire a nanny to work in our home since both my husband and I were working remotely. Now I'm not sure if that will be within reach financially. My mom is retired and lives nearby, so we may have to lean on her more than we had planned to patch together a care plan."

Luckily for Maria, her company offered a very generous 16-week maternity leave—and allowed her to continue it with her severance paid out at its conclusion. But there are bigger picture issues she must take into consideration. "I do have a mortgage; I had a car accident last year and needed to get a new car with a much higher car payment than I'd previously had," she explains. "And my older daughter is in daycare full-time, so we need to make sure we can continue to afford that."

For Lilly*, the breadwinner in her family, losing her job was a financial strain for her husband and 3-year-old daughter. "My husband is working toward a Ph.D. and has no income, though he's done gigs like grocery deliveries," she says. "We've explored him returning to work—but his background is theology and I am six years older, meaning my earning power is significantly more than his. Nevertheless, he is searching as well."

So how can families cope with this worst-case scenario? With the financial, emotional, and professional stress that comes with losing a job, here are a few things you can do to help take some of the strain off you and your family.

Money Matters

File for unemployment benefits immediately

According to Anjela Mangrum, President of Mangrum Career Solutions, the smartest first step to take upon learning you've been laid off is to look up your state's requirements for applying for unemployment benefits. "Your state's unemployment website should guide you about any unpaid waiting period before being eligible to apply, which is one week in most regions," says Mangrum. "These benefits can help you get by during your job search period."

Lock in your health benefits

One of the biggest concerns of a layoff is being left high and dry without health insurance for your family. But you do have options, especially when it comes to COBRA.

“Many companies who are doing layoffs will provide a set amount of funds to cover COBRA for one to three months after you leave,” says Jeanniey Walden, founder, and CEO of Liftoff Enterprises. “It’s okay to share your personal circumstances and see if that can be extended.”

While COBRA can be expensive, Walden strongly recommends getting it for even one month and using that month to make a strategic plan. “Use the time to talk to your doctors, explain your situation and ask for medicine now, while you have coverage, to buy you some time. This works really well if you have monthly medication that you know you will need,” she says.

While in transition, you can look into teaching universities for urgent care as many provide clinic hours at a low cost for medical and dental that won’t break the bank.

Finally, you can at least consider a part-time or side job that offers benefits while looking for a permanent new job. “Companies, such as Starbucks, have great benefits programs to help you make it through,” says Walden.

Temporarily trim your budget

Review and cut back on non-essential expenses such as delivery services, memberships, or subscriptions—at least for now. If you're eating out or ordering in often, try prepping a majority of your meals at home instead.

For essentials such as phone or internet, look into what plans or special deals carriers may offer. For example, Visible, the Verizon-owned, all-digital wireless carrier, is introducing the Connection Protection program to offer wireless service to recently laid-off Americans. Three months of service will be covered, in addition offering to mentorship and career resources.

Evaluate your debt

Lucia Jensen, CEO of WeLoans, an online credit broker, recommends taking stock of your current debt situation. "Review how much you owe and how much you currently have. It is vital that you be proactive and contact all of your current lenders for relief before there's a problem, as many of them tend to make decisions on a case-by-case basis," she explains. "However, keep in mind that if you can get your payments deferred, you should read the fine print to see if any interest is still accruing, if there are any fees associated with it, etc."

It's especially important that you know when and how your lender expects you to repay what you owe, as some banks expect deferred mortgages to be repaid in one lump sum. Another option is to look at potential forms of financial aid, such as 0% APR credit cards or a personal loan with a low-interest rate that can give you at least a year to pay off the balance. "You can often try to apply to federal credit unions, as they tend to offer lower interest rates than traditional banks," says Jensen.

Research your rights

While it may feel against the law to lay off someone who is pregnant, on parental leave or has a family to take care of—it’s actually perfectly legal in most cases. “Unfortunately, the United States offers very little in the way of protections for parental leave,” explains Ben Michael, Attorney, M & A Criminal Defense Attorneys.

The one law you may have on your side is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but this essentially states that an employer cannot fire you simply for taking parental leave. ”It doesn't mandate any kind of paid leave, and as long as the company can demonstrate that you were laid off as part of a broader effort, there is little you can do from a legal perspective,” he explains.

"Unless you can prove that your layoff was discriminatory or an act of retaliation, you have little legal recourse available."

—Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer

Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer concurs. “Unless you can prove that your layoff was discriminatory or an act of retaliation, you have little legal recourse available. In the end, you may end up costing yourself valuable time trying to find a lawyer for your case—time and money that may be better spent on getting your affairs in order and planning the best way to financially survive your layoff.”

Polish Your Portfolio

As you start the process of job hunting again, make sure you're putting your best foot forward by updating your profile, online, on-the-page, and in real life.

Update your resume and LinkedIn profile

Mangrum strongly recommends updating your professional calling cards—immediately. "Don't underestimate the value of a stellar LinkedIn profile," she says. "If you don't already have an updated, complete profile with relevant connections, set one up, then make sure to turn on the open to work option."

Keep your resume up-to-date and try highlighting specific, quantifiable achievements at past jobs for a higher chance of impressing potential employers. Lilly turned to a career coach and resume writer after her layoff for a work revamp of her resume and a refresh of interviewing skills. "It was so helpful to restore some confidence after being laid off," she explains. "And, since I was the only one to be laid off, it felt much more personal and a reflection of my skills and impact instead of the overall direction or needs of the organization. The coach's support was crucial to helping me get my head back in the game and understand how much I can contribute to my next role!"

Set broad search criteria

While you might wish to work for only selected firms or positions, try seeking out diverse opportunities, even at lesser-known companies, suggests Mangrum. "Once you get hired at a less-than-ideal job, continue your search for something better. Go after your dream job, but while employed—being choosy in today's tight job market could land you in deep financial trouble if you aren't careful."

Consider alternate income sources

This can include freelancing, starting a side business, or taking on part-time work, Mangrum suggests. For Jill, she's realized that her next job doesn't have to be her "forever" job. "In the past I have always taken new jobs that position me in more dynamic roles with larger companies. Having a child has shifted my focus," she says. "I'd like to live a more balanced life and focus on my family. I would be okay with taking a position that may mean I'm treading water for the next couple of years.

Take Care of Yourself

Perhaps most importantly, if you've been laid off, it's important to put yourself first, even if that feels counter-intuitive. Even in a time where you need to think about your family and your future together, you'll be better equipped to face the challenges ahead by taking time for yourself and focusing on your mental health.

Christa Reed, a career expert and the Head of Job Market Search at Job Searcher, was laid off halfway through a parental leave. "It came as a jolt, but I couldn't waste time dwelling on it. An excellent way to cope with such a challenge is by using your break to reassess your situation and determine which job opportunities you most want to pursue."

And, Maria agrees. The best advice she received post-layoff was to take the time to enjoy her new baby. "I've loved getting to spend time with her, but am definitely stressed about the prospect of job hunting between nap times and trying to get in the right mindset to interview," she says. "However, my first daughter was born during the height of Covid, so it's been really nice getting to experience life with an infant in a bit more 'normal' times."

*names have been changed

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles