“I am sorry but we have decided to go in a different direction.  Human Resources is expecting you.  They have the details of your package.  Thank you.”

You have just been sacked, shown the door, fired.

Even if you knew there were issues, when it finally happens it is one of life’s most jarring moments.  If this doesn’t spin your emotions and jumble your brain, even if the termination is not for performance, you are in the minority.

By the time you arrive at HR, the shock has settled in, joined by hurt, confusion and embarrassment.  That is normal.  So, here is a checklist of issues that you should focus on as well as some suggestions to help with the transition that I developed in collaboration with my colleague Nancy Swain who is the practice leader for our outplacement/transition coaching service.

  1. Severance
  2. Extension of benefits and the cost of COBRA
  3. Outplacement/transition coaching
  4. Non disparagement agreement
  5. Agreement on employment verifications
  6. Access to your personal effects

Here are some suggestions you may want to consider:

Severance:  If you are an executive with two years or less of tenure, you can typically expect about six months of pay and benefits on average, unless an employment agreement specifies other terms.  Senior leaders typically receive a year’s pay, or more, and benefit coverage.

Benefits:  Given the tightening job market for healthcare executives and the increasing competition for executive jobs, the amount of time it will take to find a new position will be between six to 12 months.  It is a good idea to get an estimate of the COBRA cost upfront for financial planning purposes.

Outplacement/Transition Coaching:  Ask for this benefit in the strongest possible terms.  When HR tries to assure you that you will be fine, that it is an overrated severance benefit, do not believe them, even for one second.  Even the most senior executives need guidance, unless, of course, this is a regular career occurrence (if that is the case, a career change is probably in order).

You should request input, politely but firmly, into the decision regarding the selection of an outplacement firm.  Some larger organizations have contracts with national or regional outplacement agencies that may, or may not, have more depth in healthcare.  Moreover, not all outplacement coaches are equal.  You want someone with industry experience (critical), prior experience with P&L responsibility and, yes, someone who has been fired before.  Career coaches who have never had this type of experience, I do not care how many degrees or credentials they own, cannot possibly understand.  More than likely they will be using a one-size-fits-all template.  The larger outplacement firms may have industry experience but that does not mean the consultant assigned to you has that experience.  This is where you should be particularly firm.  If you get a junior adviser who does not know your industry, complain to your former employer as well as the outplacement firm.  Do not just walk away.

Note: Some companies will provide additional cash in lieu of a payment to an outplacement firm, however, it has been my experience on the recruiting side of the process that the candidates who argue they do not need that help are usually the ones who need it the most.

Get It In Writing:  HR executives come and go, and people tend to forget, especially when it is in their financial interest to do so.  Get all the details in writing, especially those made regarding additions to the agreement.  Then have your attorney review it.  I have seen so many of these agreements – fortunately my knowledge base on this issue is not based on personal experience.  They are very one-sided in favor of the employer who “is now going in a different direction.”  For example, a non-disparagement clause that only protects your former employer and does not mention you is ludicrous.  Remember, when they hired you it was not about you.  Now they are showing you the door, it is still not about you.  Ideally they would like a nice, neat termination that costs as little as possible.

Do Not Sign Anything:  It is not uncommon for HR to encourage you to sign an agreement before you leave the premises.  They have a variety of reasons – expedite your last check, etc. – but this is more about them wanting to tie up the unpleasantness as soon as possible, preferably in their favor.  That is business and because it is just business you should ask a lawyer or some other qualified advisor, preferably someone with experience in employment law, to review any documents they want you to sign.  Besides, even the best, most noble of organizations make serious mistakes in terminating employees and you do not want to waive your rights to enhance your package.

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Personal Effects:  I do not care how secure you feel, never, ever keep personal documents, including your personal digital Rolodex or current resume, on your work computer without a current back up at home.  If you are prohibited from returning to your office, that information may be lost.  Besides, there is no expectation of privacy for information on your company computer, including emails.  Even if you did nothing wrong, you may have to suffer the humiliation of being escorted from the property by security.  Some companies routinely employ that approach for a variety of reasons.  That experience is particularly distasteful and embarrassing but it is not the end of the world.