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Can I ask to be laid off?

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

The company I work for is going through an outsourcing, and a few people were let go. There is a possibility that more will be let go. I would like to start my own business, and I am very due for a career change as I have been very stressed and unhappy for a few years. I would like to ask to be considered for a layoff so I would be entitled to a severance package. Can I approach HR or my manager with this?

The quick answer is yes, you can approach either HR or your manager about getting laid off. Which one you choose depends on your relationship with both people. If you have a good relationship with your manager and she isn't likely to fire you for asking, then go to her first. Managers generally prefer to be told things directly than to hear stuff from HR.

But, if your manager is someone who will screech about loyalty and fire you for letting her know you'd be happy to be laid off, it's best not to bring it up with her.

HR is the next stop. But keep in mind that this department works for the company and that they would have to inform your manager that you've volunteered to be let go (unless your manager is too low in the hierarchy to be the decision-maker in a layoff. Often, layoff decisions are made at top levels, and managers are informed only days or even minutes before the affected employee is informed.)

Now, if I were a manager faced with having to lay people off, I would be thrilled to get a volunteer. (And have, over the years, had many people volunteer for layoffs. In fact, the very last major layoff I ran we created a form that employees could submit if they wished to be considered.) Most people hate laying people off, so if we know that you'd like to go, it means that we can terminate you and keep someone else who wants to stay. Win-win.

However, we still have to consider the company's business needs. If your position is still critical, it makes no sense to give you a severance package. If your position is important and someone else's isn't, but that person could do your job, then shuffling is possible, and everybody can end up happy.

However, before you rush toward the exits, think through a few things. Volunteers for layoffs often regret their decision after they realize severance isn't forever and doesn't take replace a regular paycheck. Some considerations:

You say you want to start a new business. Are you ready to go on that? Do you have funding other than the proposed severance?

Are you prepared for a change in lifestyle? Starting a new business is very different than starting a new job. Not bad. Not good. Different. Which means how you live will change as well. Are you prepared for that?

Will you be eligible for unemployment on top of your severance? In some states you can get both, in others you can't. And if you will need unemployment in order to get your business going you may wish to check.

Your own business means self-employment taxes and boy do those come back to bite you. You think a lot of money is taken from your paycheck now -- just be prepared for the quarterly taxes you'll have to pay as a self-employed person. The income you thought you might need may not be accurate once you've taken the taxes into consideration.

If you've thought through all of this, are relatively confident that your current boss isn't a jerk and still want to volunteer, then let your manager or HR know that you're stepping up in order to get a package and prevent someone else from being terminated.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to

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