Layoff shit

January 28, 2023

I survived the layoffs at work, a lot of other people did not.  It occurred to me that I have some unfortunate experience with unplanned loss of job, and should pass on a little bit of what I have learned over the years.  Some of this is dated, some of it is better now, but this is also somewhat about setting expectations and avoiding mistakes.

First, expect it to take at least two months to find a new job.  Maybe three.  It was worse in 2002.  Things might be better in this economy, since we’re not actually in a recession (2022 4Q real growth of 2.9% according to Justin Wolfers on Twitter — not a recession).  You should treat this like a full time job, not just send out a few resumes and wait for the magic to happen, but make lists of places you know, and people you know, and ask those people, etc, and keeping going until you have a written offer that you have accepted.  You may want that second or third offer to help with negotiation, or if the negotiation goes poorly, or maybe you’ll just turn up a better offer late in the game.

If you have friends or former colleagues who were laid off, if you hear about job openings, tell them, pass on probes from recruiters, etc (I may ignore pings from recruiters if I am happy and busy at my job, but I am never, ever rude, you never know, if not for yourself, maybe for a friend).

Some places you interview, even famous respected tech companies, may not acknowledge receipt of your application.  In at least one case they may not let you know that you did or didn’t get the job after an interview (in that case, asshole that I am, I just applied again a few months later and was amused by the confused/embarrassed response from the recruiter, yes, this was 2002, you take your fun where you find it.)

And, isn’t it fucking amazing that you have to pass an interview again?  Like, you cleared the hurdle to work at BigCorp, they had interviews, you worked there for years, maybe, interview for the delta, did you learn anything since the last interview?  But no, write a function to plot the time on a clock, or how would you deal with a difficult co-worker, or design a login system for tiered access to different magazines from the same publisher.

Second, health insurance.  COBRA is the thing that requires your employer to give you the option of paying to continue your group insurance with them.  It’s a law, you can thank Ted Kennedy for it.  HOWEVER: there are deadlines, and they are hard, not “fix it with penalties”, if you miss them, boom, no health insurance.  I hand-delivered checks.

If you/spouse is pregnant and has a child born under COBRA-extended insurance after a job change, it may be the case that the mom’s costs are paid by COBRA but the new child’s insurance is under the new job (a brand new dependent, right?).  This causes paperwork, the hospital will not get this billing right.  Also in this situation, continue the COBRA coverage for mom until the postpartum seal of approval from a doctor.  This may have changed since Obamacare, because insurance companies are no longer allowed to play the pre-existing condition game like before.  But, beware, and beware of conservative political shenanigans (judges etc) that might revert things to a worse state.  Conservative politicians don’t care if their actions kill or bankrupt you, so just be careful (maybe enthusiastically support their better-to-at-least-less-awful competition, so the future will suck less).  To summarize, if you are in this situation, (1) you do have access to insurance if you get the Mother-May-I incantations right and on time (and perhaps pay for it) but (2) get good advice on the details and (3) be a little careful about any single source of advice; ideally former-HR, hospital billing, and insurance will all agree on how things are supposed to work, and (4) do not be late with any bills or paperwork.  Best healthcare in the world, that’s us here in the USA, ain’t it great?

If instead you decide to retire, there are some weird deadlines involving Medicare and change of job.  I don’t know these exactly, but if you get these wrong, the costs are permanent.  Again, get good advice, there’s enough time to do this right if you don’t dilly-dally.

Third, new employers.  If this is your first job, or you’ve never worked for a startup, or only at California companies, here are some things that I learned along the way.

Depending on their size/age/competence, startups may or may not have all benefits, they may or may not offer a competitive salary, a lot of your compensation may be in the form of magic beans which it turns out are usually worthless.  Their funding may get uncertain, for example, if there’s an angel investor involved, the angel may have a cash flow hiccup, or a divorce, or who knows.  If there’s two angels, they may get into a “renegotiation” over investment shares that ends badly for the startup.  Or a bunch of Saudi Arabian “religious” fanatics might decide to fly some planes into buildings and tank the economy.  So, that is startups.  Startups can be fun, it is different as heck from paperwork and process-filled mega-corps. But they might not be stable.  I am still good friends with many of my former startup colleagues, from Centerline (aka Saber), NaturalBridge, Oryxa, and even Thinking Machines.

If you’ve only worked at California companies (e.g., Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google, Oracle, Intel, Twitter) you have probably not been asked to sign a non-compete agreement.  If you get a job offer from a not-California company, a non-compete may be a condition of the offer.  These are bullshit things that employers in a lot of other states do, they are bullshit because one sure (if not easy) way to get rid of them is to get a job with a California company, especially if you move to California.  They’re also bullshit because the California economy shows that non-compete agreements are not only unnecessary for a healthy, diverse economy, they might even be bad for it; rational business owners who wanted to be more successful would organize to get them banned everywhere, to help replicate the California experience (perhaps business owners as a class are more control freaks than income maximizers, that’s one explanation that fits observations).  Employment lawyers can help, or you can just sign the damn things, knowing that they are likely unenforceable.  These are not always carefully drafted, especially at startups, and startups may have ridiculously grandiose ideas about the scope of their business (“software, all of it”).  There’s intermittent efforts to get rid of these, but for now, they’re a thing.

So, that’s what I’ve learned, or at least what I recall learning.  To anyone in this situation, I am truly truly sorry, I have been there, it really sucks.  Long-term consider supporting unions, consider voting for actual European-style social safety nets, consider voting for actual job protections.  And always have a plan B, if you can manage it.

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