This time of year I am often asked about the things a departing employee should think about, or do, just before leaving their current employer. I’ve listed some of the key things that come to mind without having a specific situation at hand. Most of these points assume you are controlling the timing of your departure, but most also apply if you’re fired without warning. In no particular order:
- Health Insurance: Make sure your insurance will continue without interruption into your new job. If there will be a gap, find out the steps needed to keep your existing insurance in effect as long as possible. Don’t wait for the employer to send you legally-required COBRA information. That may never happen. Be proactive. Ask, in writing (by email). Be clear in your request, and press for equally clear answers.
- 401K (or other retirement plans): Get copies of plan documents. Be sure you know how to maintain it, transfer it, or cash it out. Be sure you have all necessary contact information for the plan, and all necessary account numbers and balances. If not, ask for that, in writing.
- References: Quickly decide who’s going to show up on the “references” section of your resumes. Don’t assume those who can say good things will do so. Go to your references and get a commitment to praise your work (if they in fact see your work that way). If they won’t say good things, by all means thank them for being candid, but don’t use them. Prospective employers must hear what you’ve promised they’ll hear. If you’re leaving on bad terms, ask your employer to limit reference information to positions held, dates of employment and rate of pay (i.e., the so-called “name, rank and serial number” reference).
- Distribute your new contact information: Give all relevant current colleagues your new contact information before you go. Distribute by email so it will be at everyone’s fingertips and so it will also be keyword searchable. If your clients or customers need to know where you’re headed, distribute the same information to them, again using email. Include your Facebook and LinkedIn information as well, so they’ll know they can find you on the Internet without having to rely on former coworkers. Don’t assume the receptionist will look up information to give out when callers ask. She or he won’t have time to do that for you and the dozens of other former coworkers. It isn’t reasonable to expect that. Do it yourself, and you’ll have complete control over what’s shared, with whom it’s shared, and when. Have a friend occasionally call once you’re gone to make sure the right contact information is being passed along.
- Agree on a departing story line if needed. Obtain agreement as to what the receptionist and others will say to random callers and former customers about your departure. If possible, suggest a standard response for everyone. That can even be included in your departing contact-information email. The information given out should be a sentence or less and very simple. Example: “Chris has left us to pursue a great job at Florida State University. Let me give you his number….” You’ll be amazed what callers will be told if you don’t tie this down (“Oh, God, don’t even ask….” or “I’m not supposed to say anything…” or “We don’t really know where he went.”).
- Negotiate an immediate resignation if you’re being fired. If you’re being fired, insist negotiate a deal that allows you to immediately resign instead. This can make finding another job much easier.
- Website/Tweets/Facebook. Are you mentioned in firm brochures, websites, and social media? How will your information be removed? Or will it?
- Severance Pay/Agreements. Ask about severance pay. Most companies do not offer it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for it. If it is offered, operate on the assumption that the company expects you to negotiate and didn’t make its best offer in the first instance. Companies often start with lowball severance offers with the expectation that employees will demand something better. Don’t leave money on the table by assuming the company’s first offer is their last and best one. It usually isn’t. Ask former employees about their experiences to help you gauge your negotiating stances.
- Customer Lists: Taking them? Be sure you know what’s okay and what’s not. Many employees get sued, or see their reputations smeared, after they take customer lists and begin soliciting their former employer’s customers. This is not an area to guess about. Seek legal advice if you’re not sure.
- Preserving documents that will support a claim. There may be a need to preserve documents that will support a lawsuit, if you intend to bring one for discrimination, harassment or other violations of the law (e.g., whistleblower, wage and hour violations, etc.). There are clever ways to package and preserve evidence without taking a single sheet of paper off-premises. Consult counsel as needed about tips.
- Discussing Your Departure With Current Clients Or Customers. Stay upbeat. Speak well of the company and of the people who will replace you on your accounts or files. It rarely pays to bash former employers, coworkers or customers.
- Check conflicts. Will joining your next employer raise any issues? Are you going to work for a competitor? Will you be working on projects that directly compete with your former employer? Be sure you’ve considered possible conflicts in your transition. A noncompete agreement, for example, often contains strict limitations on your work for an agreed period of time. You (and your next employer) could both become the target of a costly lawsuit to stop you from working on certain matters. Contrary to popular belief, noncompete agreements are usually enforceable.
- Electronic Devices: Have a work-issued desktop, laptop, cell phone or tablet? Consider how to properly remove or delete information (emails, texts, pictures, call logs, GPS tracking data, cookies and web surfing histories, to name a few) that are not related to company business. Assume the company will thoroughly inspect the entire content of any device you used. Be sure you have the right to remove information.
- Giving notice of your departure. Whether and how to give notice that you’re leaving depends on the nature of your position and on the circumstances surrounding your departure. Keep in mind that many employers fire employees the moment the employee gives notice, even if company policy requires you to give notice to be eligible for reemployment or a good job reference. So assume that the day you give notice is going to be your last. Also assume your access to information systems or devices will be cut off the moment you give notice. Many employers have protocols requiring this. Think ahead.
- Review the employee handbook. Handbooks often contain information helpful to departing employee. Take a look at the handbook one last time. Keep your copy if possible.
- Consider your leave balances. Ask the company to pay you for accrued but unused leave time. Know what the company typically does. If the company doesn’t typically pay out for unused leave, consider asking to go out on paid leave until it is all used up, so you’ll receive regular checks, until it’s gone.
- Consider any other compensation owed to you. Have you been paid overtime pay? Been paid for all the hours you’ve worked? Been paid bonuses or commissions due you?
- Cooperation on existing projects. There is value in helping your current employer transition your projects to the next person to work on them. Consider offering to assist, by making yourself freely available, for example, in exchange for something that might be of benefit to you (e.g., being allowed to burn off accrued leave; being paid severance; etc.) Don’t leave the company hanging. Consider preparing a detailed summary of existing projects, deadlines, and concerns.
- Resignation Letters. Not required. Rarely useful. Sometimes harmful. If you must do one, limit it to a sentence or two (“Please accept my resignation effective two weeks from the date of this letter. Thank you.”) Something like that. If you’re leaving on unpleasant terms, don’t write a letter saying how wonderful everyone was and how you loved the experience. Nor should you verbally attack the company, either. Save that for another day.
- Exit interviews. See Resignation Letters, above. It is rare that an exit interview would be of any value to you whatsoever. Skip it.
- Burning bridges unncessarily. Thinking about sending a “go-to-hell” officewide email? Posting something on Facebook? Don’t.
- Signing documents under pressure before you depart. If you’re presented a document to sign – any document – under pressure or without notice, it is critical that you take time to read it and know what it’s going to do. Are you being offered several weeks’ pay in exchange for an agreement not to sue? If so, why? What is the value of the claim(s) you’re giving up, versus the value of the severance being offered? Ask for a day or two to read it.
That’s all that comes to mind without a specific situation in front of me. Good luck!