The Layoff

Categories: Short Stories, Writing

It was a cool summer morning when Joe walked into the office. His buddy in HR had tipped him off about the layoffs the night before so it was no surprise when he saw his boss standing at his desk, casually sipping a cup of coffee. She walked towards him before he could even get near the chair.

“Joe, Joe, Joe.” She said, way too happily for the hour. “I’m gonna need to see you follow me down to HR.”

He nodded, and walked beside her down the hallway. She went on about how sorry she was for having to let im go, trying to make the blow less severe by naming a handful of his other coworkers who were also in the meeting room they were headed to. There had been some shuffling of management in the last few months resulting in a handful of layoffs for secondary departments. Mostly special project teams that whatever VP of some made up department decided to throw money into. When those VP’s got the axe after poor performance, their teams also were chopped up and shuffled around. Joe wasn’t too worried about his own position, but according to his friend higher up the ladder, some of the guys on the special dev team had contract positions that were not cheap. It was more cost effective to let people go on the data team and move them into there then to even attempt to pay the severance plus broken contract fees.

“You guys could have just called me, would have saved me the commute.” Joe said, disheartened.

“I wish that was the case as well, but there’s some stuff to sign first.” She said, opening the door to the meeting room across the hall from HR. It was a wide office with a huge fake wooden desk, surrounded by unused chairs and unconnected A/V equipment. Most of the seats were filled with some of his other coworkers, and a couple folks he recognized from the sales team. “You aren’t the only one on the chopping block today, Joe.” She said and took a seat alongside him at the table.

The director of his department, the sales department, and an HR rep were there with a stack of folders, papers, and pens. Gladys, the HR rep, was an older woman who had been at the office since it opened. She began the meeting by passing out the exit paperwork and various NDA’s. Due to a boatload of government contracts the company held, everyone at the table had to sign a contract saying they would not discuss any data they may have come across while working for the company. Being found guilty of possessing data outside the office or leaking it online could land any one of them in prison. Everyone quickly scanned the pages as Glady’s read aloud the terms of each contract, all signing in unison when she concluded a section. The whole process took a solid forty five minutes to complete.

Joe’s boss had extra forms to fill out, given she had real clearances. Those sheets were on fancy purple paper, which made it somewhat hard to read. Their final packet was a severance package, tailored for each employee. Gladys stood at the doorway along with the two directors and a couple of security personnel. She called each person up to the door and handed them their packet before being escorted back to their desk to collect any personal equipment. They had to be careful, since last year one guy had been tipped off about the firing two days in advance, and copied some client data to his own computer. The cops were at his house before he got back home from his exit interview.

Gladys called Joe’s boss up to the door, she took her packet and Gladys thanked her for time working at the company. The director walked her down to her office and Gladys called Joe up to the door. She handed him his severance folder. It was much thinner than the one his boss received but he was just an entry level data manager. She thanked Joe for his work and one of the security guards escorted him back to his desk.

Back in the office Joe loaded his various things into his backpack. One of the IT guys was also there to take over his work computer and make sure he wasn’t taking anything that wasn’t his. After cramming the last desk toy into his bag he handed the laptop over to the IT guy picked up a small desk plant from beside his monitor and headed down the hallway with the security guard. As Joe passed the reception desk he placed the little desk plant on the counter, as a gift to them. The security guard accompanied Joe all the way to the elevators, down to the front lobby and to the front doors where he collected Joe’s parking pass and door key fobs.

Joe made his way to his car, his backpack heavy with stuff he wished he could have taken home the day before. None of his other coworkers said goodbye to him. They simply continued working at their desks while their new boss hovered over them trying to get a grip of how the department worked. Joe unlocked his car and chucked his backpack full of desk junk into the passenger seat. He was angry now. He wasn’t angry the night before when he found out. In fact, he spent a few hours looking up other jobs. Joe glanced at his severance package, and opened it to see what he actually got. He ripped open the white envelope to see the paperwork inside. There was no actual check, of course, but a breakdown of his time worked and various percents and taxes. Three or four tables of numbers that didn’t really make sense to him at the time, followed by a “total” and the sum of $50k. Twenty years ago he could have lived for a year off $50k, but now that would probably only last him two to three months given his rent and electricity bills. He had gone ahead and cancelled his food delivery and tv subscriptions the night before. They both had a few weeks before their month ran out. Joe tossed the papers in the seat, threw the car in reverse, and drove home.

Back at his apartment, Joe contemplated what he should do. The obvious choice would be to find another job in the same pay grade as the one he had. With his degree he qualified for most entry level positions in his field. The problem was many data management companies were moving their servers and employees to cheaper states where they could afford to upgrade their hardware according to compliancy laws. Being in the city gave companies a wide pool of employees but upgrading their offices and hardware was becoming a burden. An office had to constantly update it’s computers and hardware to be energy compliant, but those new devices were so expensive and had to be replaced so often that many decided to move to lower populated states without these rules in order to keep the lights on. Joe couldn’t afford to move out of state. Down payments on apartments, paying rent upfront for the first year, utility deposits, moving his stuff, would all cost more than he could afford, even with his job.

He had to find work in town, close enough to keep his current place with his current roommates. Most apartments had two to three bedrooms, and each one could hold two people easily. Joe was lucky to have his own, half room, that was intended to be a child’s room. His two other roommates shared the master bedroom. Rent was about 10k per month, making the payments about 3k each. Joe had told his roommates about being let go when he got back to the apartment. They both worked remotely and were always there, typically working odd hours depending on their workload. One of his roommates, Rick, told him about some openings where he was employed pointing out that he wouldn’t have to drive to the city every day.

Joe hated being at the apartment all day and frantically worked to find a job in the city that would work out. He applied to three dozen places, all of which were offering less than he could afford. The few times he applied to lower positions or other types of work, the was turned down for being overqualified. Lower paying jobs were legally held back for students or those without certain levels of education. Things began to look bad as the weeks went on and his money ran thin. Joe talked with some friends of his that worked closer to the city in cheaper apartments. He could move in with them at the end of the month if the apartment approved it.

The cheaper apartments were much smaller than the one he lived in currently, and each two bedroom section was designed to house at least four people. He wasn’t looking forward to going back to dorm style apartments but he needed to save money. Joe drove down to the other apartment complex one morning to talk it out with their office and hang out with his buddies. They worked in restaurants, each managing a different bar or burger shop in the outer rings of the city. Working in food service was tricky as the tax rates could easily push you in either direction as far as housing applications went. His friends living there made just enough under the limit to stay there and accepted tips on the side to maintain a comfortable life. Joe couldn’t do that at a desk job. Once at the apartment office he sat down with the manager to look over his application. A quick glance at the numbers and a quick double checking of some public tax records, showed that Joe was overqualified -even while unemployed- for the cheaper apartments as well. To ensure enough affordable housing the city had to exclude some folks from being able to move in to any building they wanted. Joe figured this would happen, he had been working at the office for nearly three years and his tax bracket was set for at least another one. The manager apologized and offered to send him some other property listings that fit his bracket. Joe declined, knowing those places were all more expensive than his current place.

He walked up the stairs to the apartment to hang out with his old buddies, play a few games, and have a beer. Knowing that one beer would turn into seven or so, he took an autocab to the apartment complex. The guys caught up on stories about the old days when they all waited tables during college, about the fun they had staying up all night playing video games only to have to go to work a few minutes after finishing some raid boss that took them all night to get to. Joe had a few more beers and stood out on the balcony for a few minutes to watch the fish swimming in the little decorative pond fixture between the units. His phone went off and he answered it. It was his old boss.

“Hey Joe, I just wanted to touch base and all. You find a new job yet?”

“No, still looking. Things are a little thin in my area.”

“Well, I just got a spot at DataForge over on the west ring. They’re looking for more database guys. Same pay as BaseTech. If you’re interested I can set you up with an interview next week.”

Joe thanked her profusely over the phone, almost to the point of tears. Actually, he did cry after he hung up. He figured it was because he was drunk, but in reality, he had no other options left. She set him up with a 9am interview for the following Tuesday and told him to get a haircut. Joe walked back into the apartment and had another beer with his buddies before taking an autocab home.

The following Tuesday he arrived back at his own apartment, and greeted his roommates with an entire large pizza for dinner. Not individual slices, not from a delivery chain, but a real whole pizza from an Italian restaurant across the street from his future office building.

“Guess who is going to be able to pay rent in two weeks!”

His roommates cheered, turning their attention away from their computer games long enough to see the pizza.


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