Laid Off or Displaced? Get Help

Has your employer laid you off from your job? Do you think you might be displaced from your work in the near future? Under certain circumstances, you may have the right to be trained to do other work. You may also be eligible for other benefits.

Let's begin with some definitions:

The term "laid off" is most often used to describe workers who lose jobs because their work is no longer needed.

“Displaced” is sometimes used to describe workers who have been permanently laid off, or laid off due to a big closure. 

“Dislocations” are layoffs due to competition from imported products.

Are You Eligible for Special Programs?

Under certain circumstances, you may be eligible for retraining programs or other financial benefits from the federal government. For example:

U.S. Trade Adjustment Assistance Program: You may be eligible for the program if you lose your job or face reduced work hours or wages because of increased imports or because your job function was moved to another country. If you meet these requirements, you may be eligible for one of the following:

Reemployment services, including career counseling and job-search help

Training of up to 104 weeks, including occupational-skills training, basic education, or literacy classes

A job-search allowance to help cover the expense of looking for a job outside your normal commuting area

Relocation assistance to help you move to a new job outside the area where you previously commuted

Income support of up to 104 weeks, while you are in full-time training (this includes the Unemployment Compensation and Trade Readjustment Allowance)

Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance Program: This program is for those who are eligible for trade assistance (described above) and who are over the age of 50. Under ATAA, you may be able to get a wage subsidy to help bridge the salary gap between your old and new jobs.

Please note: If you receive a wage subsidy under the ATAA program, you may not receive benefits under the TAA program.

To obtain TAA or ATAA services and benefits, a group of workers must first file a petition with the Division of Trade Adjustment Assistance, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, requesting certification as workers adversely affected by foreign trade.

WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification): If you are part of large layoff or plant closure, WARN may make you eligible to receive a 60-day warning notice of a layoff or closure. This gives you time to receive job-finding services, including training. WARN applies to most employers with 100 or more workers. Under WARN, each state has a Rapid Response Team that comes to your workplace to help you learn about and apply for training and other services.

If you work in a union job, your right to receive advance notice of a layoff, along with state services, is part of your employment contract.

Please note that some employers may not know about WARN or about the services that states can give laid-off workers.

Perhaps you work in a small or medium-sized plant that is not covered by WARN. In that case, WARN does not require your employer to give you advance notice of a plant closure or layoff.

However, states are required to give Rapid Response services in areas where unemployment has increased. So it is a good idea to check with your state’s program for dislocated workers about any layoff or closure. The Rapid Response Unit is available to individual workers or groups of employees, as well as to employers.

What About Health Insurance?

One of the biggest worries for laid-off workers is their health insurance. Neither unemployment insurance benefits nor programs such as TAA provide health insurance or coverage.

If you lose your job, the federal COBRA law gives you the right to keep your group health insurance for a certain time. COBRA costs have been high because laid-off workers had to pay both their own premium as well as what the employer paid, plus an administrative cost of 2 percent. Because of new provisions effective March 1, 2009, your cost for this continuing coverage maybe lower.

The federal Health Insurance Portability Act (HIPAA) gives some protection for pre-existing conditions when you change from one group health plan to another, or when you change from a group plan to an individual plan. This may be important for you if you change plans after your COBRA benefits have ended.

Unions may offer health-insurance policies to members who are no longer covered under COBRA. Many people join professional associations or membership groups—sometimes for the sole purpose of obtaining group insurance. You may want to look for policies with very high deductibles that will protect your family in catastrophic situations.

Know Who to Contact for Help

To receive training and other help, affected workers have to be certified by the U.S. Department of Labor as needing that help. A company, plant, or union often applies for certification for its workers. But in addition, any group of three workers or more can apply.

Each state's Dislocated Worker Unit handles applications, certifications, and services. This unit is located in your state’s department of labor, workforce development, employment security, or career center. The unit also handles Rapid Response services for large layoffs or closures.

Get more information on services for laid-off workers at the Department of Labor Web site, or call toll-free, 877-US2- JOBS. 

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