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What is the Difference Between Being Fired and Laid off?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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In one sense, the only difference between being fired from a job or laid off is semantics. Both descriptions mean a worker is no longer considered employed by the company, and he or she is no longer going to receive regular employee wages or benefits. Some employers may see laid off as a nicer alternative to fired, but under certain employment laws, the terms are considered to be two separate conditions of termination.

Generally speaking, an employee can be fired or involuntary terminated for violating company policies or failing to perform up to established standards. In certain US states that have an "at will employment" policy, an employer can fire an employee for little or no cause during a stated probationary period. An employee can also be fired for harassing co-workers, excessive absenteeism, or reporting to work in an intoxicated state. An employee terminated because of his or her personal actions or performance can be considered "fired," with little to no expectation of reinstatement at a later date.

An employee can be laid off for any number of reasons outside his or her control. The company may be experiencing an economic downturn or a cyclical slump in revenue. An entire department may be let go if a product line is discontinued, or certain employees may be released until their skills are more in demand. The implication of the term is that the company may rehire the employee in the future if conditions change. The company, however, may see the termination as permanent and should counsel the employee to seek other employment opportunities.

There is also a legal difference between "fired" and "laid off" where unemployment benefits are concerned. An employee who is fired for personal misconduct or ethical violations often does not qualify for unemployment benefits following termination, but an employee fired for poor job performance or absenteeism may still qualify. The same holds true for an employee who has been laid off, since the conditions surrounding his or her unemployment were not necessarily a result of personal misconduct.

The real distinction when it comes to unemployment status is between voluntary and involuntary termination. An employee can decide to voluntarily quit a position for any number of personal reasons, or even as a preemptive strike against an imminent firing or layoff. Some employers may encourage unwanted employees to "voluntarily" quit rather than face the extra paperwork involved in an involuntary termination or firing. Extreme measures to force an employee to quit, known as constructive termination, are considered illegal, but an employer can make the work environment so uncomfortable that an employee chooses to voluntarily quit.

Being laid off or fired or pink slipped or downsized still adds up to being unemployed, but it is often easier to use that first, nicer word on a resume or job application rather than the harsher "fired," even though a former employer might see the circumstances a little differently. Under some circumstances, getting fired by an employer may be preferable financially to voluntary termination or layoff, but many potential employers would rather see evidence of a lay-off rather than a firing for personal misconduct or company policy violations.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to SmartCapitalMind, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon321142 — On Feb 21, 2013

"I saw an email from the boss that he was getting rid of me because he found someone willing to work for less pay."

Isn't there a law that protects people from this?

By anon314057 — On Jan 16, 2013

I've been laid off because of lack of work coming in, so can they advertise for staff three weeks after laying me off?

By anon310295 — On Dec 21, 2012

I just got the boot four days before Christmas also. I was told the company needed to cut back and there was no work for me. Interestingly enough, I've been so busy I had to delegate responsibilities to other employees this week. Regardless, the company just hired a new salesman and I saw an email from the boss that he was getting rid of me because he found someone willing to work for less pay.

After nine years with the company, it's a shame it ended this way. It is just deplorable the way employers treat their workers these days.

By anon185818 — On Jun 13, 2011

Involuntary employment status. I left the job due to a work related disability and the company has given me this type of employment status as well as a very small percentage of my pension. The company stated they requested medical evaluation forms back in 2000, and when they did not receive the reports they put me on this work status, which is in my estimation, completely wrong and unjust. They have been investigating my pension throughout their archives and have been taken weeks to do so, still with no end result.

The handbook I have states I left disabled on the job and never worked since the 90's. I am almost 65 now and they say i will get a little piece of vested pension monies, but the handbook says no, you will get a full blown pension until age 65, contrary to them saying i only get like seven to nine years worth. What do you think of this?

By anon146901 — On Jan 27, 2011

did you sign any forms when you exited?

By anon111514 — On Sep 16, 2010

My boss told me today is the last day! Does that mean I got fired or laid off?

By anon65517 — On Feb 14, 2010

I was unexpectedly told one morning that, 'I am going to have to let you go. This just is not your gig'! Then she said she would pay me through the week so I could leave immediately and start looking for a job. This was three days before Christmas!

If that weren't enough I filed unemployment that day, started receiving it for a brief period of time and this past week they halted my benefits stating they understand I was fired! What? Now I have to wait for an interview call from unemployment place and they said if all goes well this could take up to seven weeks.

I am devastated. How will I live? Is there anything I can do? How could an employer fib and get away with this? So inhumane!

By anon31803 — On May 12, 2009

So that means you were fired?

By kdeb — On May 11, 2009

I was told by my boss that I was laid off because there were no orders coming in. One of the boss' family members was also laid off at that time. Last week via e-mail we were chatting, and she e-mailed me back that "unfortunately we were *not* being called back". When I got laid off, I asked if I would be called back, looking him straight in the eye. His reply was "I sure hope so". I have been actively looking for employment, but this bothers me.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to SmartCapitalMind, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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