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Job rights don't disappear when you leave the building

If you're thinking about leaving your job, then you better think about what your departure will mean to you besides finally escaping a position you've outgrown.

Most departing employees don't give a second thought to their exit strategy until it's too late; that is, until well after the bloom is off the rose, the honeymoon is over and the time to move on, voluntarily or involuntarily, is fast approaching.

Fortunately, just because your job ends doesn't mean your rights do. In most cases, you'll still be entitled to unemployment compensation, continuation of health coverage, accrued vacation pay, perhaps even a severance check.

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The best time to get a clear picture of your exit strategy is before you accept a job, when you can still negotiate how your swan song will play out. Unfortunately, that's a little like bringing up a prenuptial agreement on the eve of your wedding.

"Most people who lose their job aren't ready to lose their job," says Tim Willoughby, a St. Louis employment attorney. "They don't have a year's income in the bank, so they go out frantically searching for new work and they're so thrilled to get an offer that they aren't going to mess it up trying to drive a hard bargain.

"In order for you to have enough bargaining power to get what you want on the front end, you've got to be willing to walk away from the deal. Most people don't have that willingness."

Still, Lauren Herring, a St. Louis outplacement firm, says an awareness of post-employment issues can help you maintain balance and move ahead when you're been knocked off your horse.

"The first thought is usually along the lines of, 'I can't believe I've been fired!' followed by feelings of rejection and other issues related to the personal tragedy of losing their job. But there are a lot of practical issues like insurance, unemployment and vacation pay that need to be addressed," says Herring, director of international sales and marketing for The IMPACT Group.

Here are the most important topics to be addressed when you and your employer part company:

Health insurance
Whether you quit, are laid off or fired for anything short of a criminal offense, you are guaranteed continuation of your health coverage under the 1986 federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, commonly known as COBRA.

Under COBRA, companies with 20 or more employees must offer you the option of continuing coverage under their health plan for a specified period, usually 18 months. Some states have laws that enhance the COBRA offer by applying it to smaller companies or extending the benefits. In most cases, your employer must offer you COBRA coverage within 30 days after leaving, and you have 60 days to elect coverage.

The good news is that COBRA guarantees that you can continue coverage for you and your family under the company's negotiated group rate with its health care provider. In the event of your death, your dependents may continue COBRA coverage for up to 36 months.

The bad news is, COBRA guarantees you continuation of coverage at your expense, not the employer's. Unless you've negotiated otherwise with your employer as part of a severance package, you'll have to pay the premiums that previously were picked up by your company.

Details on COBRA can be found at the U.S. Department of Labor's COBRA Web site.

Unemployment benefits
On the face of it, unemployment insurance seems pretty straightforward: You file with your state unemployment office for benefits, usually a portion of your previous pay, designed to help you get back on your feet. Most unemployment benefits run out at about 26 weeks.

"If you're laid off, you absolutely are entitled to unemployment," says Amy Delpo, an Oakland, California-based employment law attorney and legal editor for "If you're fired, unless you are fired for something really egregious, you're still entitled. If you quit, in some instances you are still entitled."

But Willoughby says unemployment compensation, actually a joint program between federal and state governments largely funded by employer taxes, can be complicated.

"You may live in one state but work in a different state. Where do you file? The benefits differ from state to state, and you have different options depending on where you file," he says. Your state's unemployment or labor department will have the information you need to file correctly.

-- Posted: March 18, 2005




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