A series of articles about being given working notice shortly before retirement
Senior Project Manager
Retired November 10, 2016
Before I got a chance to retire, I was laid off. It started with a company representative saying, “We’re doing well! But we need to continue improving”. The rumour mill told it differently: “We need to look good on the books. They want to sell.” When an Italian company almost bought us, but failed to meet some Canadian governmental standards, we knew the rumours were true.
During all this upheaval, we got a new director. Unlike his predecessor – who was assigned to a ‘special project’ – he didn’t try to connect with us. He kept his distance. After all the layoffs were completed, he was hired by another company.
A year later, the rumour mill started again… with justification. The company was suddenly bought by an American company. Some employees were moved to the Canadian counterpart; 500 (of the almost 3,000) employees were let go. I was one of them.
Receiving the devastating news
It all happened within a week. As many of us were teleworkers, we received notices in our electronic calendars of a 30-minute face-to-face meeting. No phone call, no email, no preamble. Just a swirl of rumours.
At the meeting, after a very brief blah blah blah from the director, he left the room. The Human Resources representative read the letter of termination. My termination date was set 18 months from that day! WHAT!!! I could no longer listen to the HR rep talk about outsourced help, pension, the employee stock ownership plan, etc. I thought: A year and a half from now! And you expect me to perform my duties professionally? To be respectful of my director and his superiors? To meet with my peers and project team like nothing has happened? Are you nuts!
This layoff process is called a ‘working notice’. With a working notice, you have time to find another job elsewhere before you leave. With a working notice, the company doesn’t have to pay a big severance package because, literally, the company has given you notice. However, according to Canada Labour Code, the company is required to pay you 2 days per year worked or 5 days, whichever is greater.
I had worked for this company for 28 years. Until 1994, the company offered a non-contributory pension plan: salary-based and entirely paid by the company. Expensive for the company, sure! I was lucky, yes! Employees hired after 1994 had to contribute to their pension: a percentage from the employee and a percentage from the company. With 28 years of service and at 50 years of age, I only had 5 years left before a fully-paid retirement.
When we found out which employees were let go, we noticed that most of them were employees hired before 1994. What does that tell me? The company didn’t want (or couldn’t afford) to pay these expensive pension plans. Who can blame them after all? And yet, I had given this company all that I could give, working long hours, often through weekends and during my vacations.
Realizing that I no longer wanted to work as a project manager of high-pressure, high-exposure projects, I took advantage of the outsourced help: I took tests to determine what I want, what I’m good at, and what kind of work to avoid. I learned about resume writing; I had not created a resume in 20 years! I did some therapy. Am I not good enough? How unfair to be let go after 28 years! How was I to make a living now? Should I retire or find work? I also had a major financial challenge to face: my leukemia pills cost $5,700 per month. My company’s insurance used to pay completely.
So, this was the start of my long, painful termination. Working notices may be good for companies, they may even be good for some employees. For me, it was very difficult, stressful, and unnerving. Twenty-eight years of unstinting service, 50 years old, 5 years from full-pension retirement, 18 months notice. Now what?