Being discharged from a job is not the same as being laid off, although one can morph into another, depending on the circumstances. In general, though, being laid off implies a temporary situation, while being discharged is viewed as permanently "getting the boot." In either case, there are laws that may provide financial help while you’re off work, and offer you protection if your employer acted negligently in releasing you from employment.
Being discharged from your job means you’ve been fired. This is a permanent condition where your employer has severed employment dealings with you. In most states, employees are hired under the term “At-Will Employment,” which gives employers the right to end your job with or without cause. However, discharging you for no good reason may place a burden on your employer because she must prove “misconduct” on your part that resulted in the termination. If she’s unable to do so, you may be awarded unemployment benefits, which your employer pays for through state and federal taxes.
If you’re laid off from your job, it may not be a permanent condition -- although it can turn into one. For example, employees who are laid off are often temporarily released because of a lack of work, with the understanding that they will be rehired when business improves. However, if business remains poor, being laid off can become a permanent thing if your employer can no longer afford to keep you. Employees who are laid off can generally apply for, and be awarded, state unemployment benefits.
The differences between being discharged from work and being laid off lie in the reasons behind the action. For example, if you’ve been caught stealing from your employer, you’ll probably be discharged. On the other hand, if the winter season is causing fewer people to support the business, such as might occur at a hotel that guests don’t visit during the winter months, you may be laid off temporarily until spring arrives.
The similarities between being discharged and being laid off include: you’re out of work in either case; your paychecks have stopped; you have no guarantee of being called back to work; and, you’re free to look for or accept other employment. Additionally, whether you are discharged or laid off, your employer is not protected from legal liabilities if you were released based on discrimination or harassment.
Title VII, under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, protects you from discrimination involving race, color, religion, sex, national origin age, disability or genetic information. What this means is that your employer cannot decide which workers can be discharged or laid off based on any of these factors. Also, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires most employers with 100 or more workers to let their employees know 60 days in advance of a plant closing or a mass layoff.
- Inc: Layoffs, Downsizing and Outsourcing
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices
- United States Department of Labor: The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN)
- United States Department of Labor: Unemployment Insurance
- Nolo – Law for All: Employment At Will: What Does It Mean?
Michelle Reynolds has been writing about business, careers and art since 1993. She was the publisher of a newsletter, “Working Parents Monthly," as well as a graphic design guidebook. Reynolds also served as human-resources director at a resort/spa for eight years. She is an artist and promotes the arts and other artists through ElegantArtisan.com, a website she developed and maintains.