Guide: being discharged from a job vs laid off (plus FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 10 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Employment with any given organisation can end in several ways, whether it's the employee or the employer who wishes to end the working relationship. An employee may choose to resign from the position or the employer could terminate employment for a violation of company policies or business contracts. There are many reasons why employment can end, but how you leave may be important for your personal or professional development. In this article, we discuss the different ways a professional relationship can end and what it means if you're discharged from a job.

What does it mean if you're discharged from a job?

Being discharged from a job means that your employer has elected to end your working relationship. Employment discharge can happen for a variety of reasons and it can happen with or without cause. If you elect to end the working relationship yourself, this typically isn't considered to be an employment discharge. Instead, you'd call this a resignation. There are different types of discharge an employer may use depending on the employment circumstances.

Related: How to deal with job loss

Being laid off vs being discharged

When you're laid off or discharged, your employer elects to end your working relationship. Both result in the conclusion of your employment by the company and may leave you wondering what comes next in your career path. Though they may seem similar in process and experience, it's important to remember that there are still key differences between the two. Consider these differences between the implications of being laid off or discharged from a job:

Employment conditions

Companies perform layoffs due to conditions that are outside of their control, such as an unfortunate financial situation within the company, a lack of work for their employees or outside issues that restrict the number of employees the business can have at a given time. But companies discharge employees regardless of a financial situation or any external conditions. An employee can choose to leave for personal reasons and an employer may choose to discharge employees as a result of any number of undesirable employment conditions, such as underperformance, inappropriate workplace conduct or a breach of contractual obligations.

Related: How to move forward after being laid off

Permanence

It's beneficial to have a conversation with your employer when they perform layoffs to ask for clarification on whether the situation is temporary or permanent. Since the reasons for these layoffs may result from company changes, rather than staff, there might be instances where the positions become available to past employees again. But discharges by an organisation are typically permanent as they're often in response to employee actions. The reason for an employee's discharge is the primary condition of whether the employee may return to work at that organisation at a later date.

Responsibility

While layoffs are unpleasant, they're typically due to conditions outside of your employer's control. They're consequences of external factors that cause the company to take action. Being discharged is an active decision by the employer, which means they decided to initiate the discharge. This often occurs after taking steps to better satisfy or amend working conditions or behaviour, including official reprimands or recorded conversations with the human resources (HR) department.

Related: What does laid off mean? (With reasons, steps and benefits)

The different types of discharge from a job

The type of discharge from a job determines the possibility of whether the company may rehire the employee at a later date. The employer may have more than one reason for the discharge, whether the factors are internal or external. The discharge itself may result from the employee's actions and work ethic or data-driven pressure points, such as sales or labour percentages. You may find it beneficial to leave on good terms whenever possible, even under stressful conditions. The following list explains the ways that your employer can initiate a discharge and how they differ from one another:

Dismissal

Dismissal means that an employer initiates the discharge by choosing to dismiss their employee from the company. An employer may choose to release an employee for reasons such as workplace misconduct or unsatisfactory completion of job responsibilities. Employers often offer a termination letter or a recorded exit interview with HR personnel, a direct supervisor or another representative of the company.

Related: Best steps to take after getting fired

Mutual agreement

Mutual agreement means the employer and employee agree to mutually initiate discharge according to certain conditions. These conditions can include continued employment for a set amount of time or assistance with transitional training. An employee also has the option of accepting an early retirement package from an employer as part of the mutual agreement.

FAQs about leaving a role or being discharged

Ending a working relationship can be confusing. You may have specific questions about how you were discharged from your position. If you decided to initiate a resignation or extended leave, you may wonder how that affects your career path or your remaining time with the company. Read the following FAQs about being discharged from a role if you have any questions about the end of a working relationship:

Can I receive severance pay after being discharged?

This depends on your employment contract and the type of discharge that occurred. If you left on good terms, you may receive compensation and benefits based on your agreement with your employer. The company may still pay out certain benefits even if you didn't leave on good terms. Discuss this question with your employer's HR representative for clarity and request the answer to this question in writing.

Am I eligible for rehire?

This may depend on the type of discharge, or whether you left the company on good terms. Discuss this with an HR representative or your direct supervisor in an exit interview. If the company is doing well financially, and you left on good terms, you may be able to return to your position in the future. It's always best to ask a representative of the company directly about any confusion. Consider discussing this with a member of the HR department or your former supervisor.

Am I the only person affected by the discharge?

You may find the answer to this in the reason your former employer gave for the discharge. If you don't fully understand the circumstances of your discharge, request an explanation from a company representative. Gaining full clarity can help you present your reason for a discharge to future interviewers. It can also help you prepare your answers and tailor them towards your interest in the position during an interview.

Can I use a former employer as a reference for a future job search?

Getting a positive reference from your employer after a discharge may give you an advantage for obtaining future employment. Ask a manager to advocate for your skills to help you make a positive impression on new employers. You can also use a reference as a marketing tool to leverage a position for a company where you would like to work. Ask your previous supervisor if you can use them as a professional reference or if they'd be willing to provide a reference letter for you to use in your future endeavours.

What happens to my benefits?

Find out the status of your benefits from your employer after receiving the discharge. Ask them for an answer in writing for your personal records. You may continue to receive benefits for an extended period after your employment ends, which gives you more time to explore your options in terms of your career. Discuss with your benefits' provider for clarification on how long your benefits will apply after your resignation or if you were discharged.

Related: When to claim unemployment benefits (plus criteria and FAQs)

Am I expected to train the person replacing me?

Typically, your manager has a plan in the event of your departure from an organisation. If you have two weeks available for training, this can help you review your job duties before starting your next job. This may also give you a more thorough understanding of your position's direct responsibilities, which can help you effectively describe your job responsibilities on your CV or to an employer during an interview.

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