You could be the greatest, most productive employee in the history of your company, but layoffs happen. If your business has cut you from its payroll to save money or otherwise “restructure,” you’re probably in panic mode. There’s no way to sugarcoat your feelings, either. Losing your job is bound to bring up strong emotions like fear, anger and even depression — even if it’s not your fault.
Take a deep breath. There are important steps to take when you’re handed that pink slip, and having a solid plan of action will make you feel more in control. Even better, you’ll be in the driver’s seat when it comes to your finances and making sure you stay afloat through your rough patch until you can find more work again.
How to File for Unemployment
First things first: You need to file for unemployment benefits right away. Depending on where you live, the wheels of bureaucracy can grind slowly, and you don’t want to wait any longer than you have to for a benefits check. The average wait time is about two to three weeks, and that can feel like forever when you have bills to pay.
Unemployment benefits and policies vary by state, so your first job is to find out how to contact yours. The US Department of Labor has a helpful website for those looking for both unemployment benefits and new work. Simply click on your state and look for the link that says “Apply for Unemployment Benefits in _____” to be directed to your state’s website. There you’ll find specific directions, requirements and timelines for submitting your benefits application.
Before you click, bookmark that page for future reference. There’s also a lot of great resources for finding work and training in your state, so be sure to check out the job hunting resources provided when you’re ready to start your job search (more on that later).
Filling Out the Paperwork
Though the forms will vary from state to state, you can expect the same general process just about everywhere. First, see if you can apply online or by phone before you head to your local unemployment office. Though you’ll likely have to go in person eventually, it’s not always necessary for the first step.
You’ll need to gather plenty of documentation. Here are the papers most commonly requested by unemployment offices:
- Your last few pay stubs to prove where you worked and how much you earned.
- Your most recent W-2 form from your employer, if you worked there long enough to receive one at tax time.
- Your Social Security card.
- Photo ID, such as your driver’s license or passport.
- Your pink slip or other documentation about your layoff.
- Your employer’s unemployment insurance account number, which you should be able to get from HR.
You will also need to provide the reason you have been separated from your old job. If you were laid off, say so. If you were fired, it’s best to say something like “let go without wrongdoing or misconduct,” which should keep you eligible for benefits since you didn’t willfully harm your employer. If you quit, explain that you had “justifiable personal reasons” or something similarly vague.