Difference Between Laid Off, Fired, And Terminated (And What To Say)

Although laid off, fired, and terminated are sometimes used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing. In an actual sense, each term is different and has a different implication for an employee’s outlook and the employer’s responsibilities. 

If you were laid off, you do not want to sound like you were fired so it’s important that you learn the difference so that you can use the right language when speaking to your employer. 


In this article, we will look at the difference between laid off, fired, and terminated and what to say if you were either laid off, fired, or terminated. 

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The Difference Between Laid Off, Fired And Terminated

Termination refers to the end of an employee’s duration with a company and it could be voluntary or involuntary. If an employee decides to leave a job or end a contract via resignation, you can say it’s a voluntary termination of employment. 

Being fired or laid off can be classified under the involuntary category. In either case, the company decided to end your employment “for cause”. 


If the company fires you, the reasons could be unsatisfactory work performance, bad behavior, or violation of company policies. Still, if you were laid off it means that the company eliminated your position for strategic or financial reasons and not through any fault of yours.

Also, layoffs usually happen to more than one person at a time and are caused by company changes, acquisitions, restructuring, financial struggles, pivots in the business model, economic downturns, etc. 

In summary, the major difference between getting fired/terminated and laid off is that;

  • Getting fired is specific to you and it’s a result of factors within your control like your performance, communication, and behavior in the workplace.
  • Being laid off is not specific to you and it is a result of the company’s strategic reasons which are beyond the sphere of your control

The status of being laid off or fired can affect your eligibility for employment benefits, your possibility of receiving a reverence package, and your future employment prospects.


Example Of A Layoff

The example below is to provide you with a better understanding of what a layoff is; 

Philip Klein has been working for Company A for over 15 years. Company A starts having cash flow problems and deemed it fit to reduce its labor expense to avoid going out of business. It decides to drop 1,000 workers, of which Philip is one. This mass termination is called a layoff.

Read Also: Save Your Job If You Are About To Be Fired

What To Say When You Get Laid Off

If an interviewer asks “why did you leave your last job?” (Interlink), the best way to give a response is to be clear and direct.

Many businesses lay off some staff if they deem it strategic and necessary for their establishment. 

It’s a common practice and should be nothing to be ashamed of. You can simply say that the company was undergoing some restructuring and your position was no longer needed. 

Try to be as honest as possible when answering the question and avoid using the word “terminated”. Using terminated gives the impression that you were fired and not laid off. 

Here are a couple more examples of what to say when you’ve been laid off:

Examples Of What To Say When You Get Laid Off

  • “The company went through a restructuring and our team was let go. I’m looking for a full-time position now and hoping to find a role where I can continue developing my career as a Project Manager, ideally with a technology-focused company like yours.”
  • “I was laid off during a restructuring. The company acquired another firm and decided our group was redundant. 12 other people were laid off as well.”
  • “After the company underwent restructuring, it had an impact on my role and that’s why I got laid off from work.” 
  • “The business had experienced some serious financial issues and these changes caused the lack of resources to sustain my position.”

In the examples above, you would find out that you are clear as to why you were laid off and it was not as a result of your actions. Try to be clear when crafting a response.

What To Say When You Were Fired

If you were fired from your previous job, you should be upfront and take responsibility. You further explain the steps you have taken to ensure that the mistake would not repeat itself. 

Examples Of How To Explain Being Fired

Here are some excellent examples to explain being fired. They show that the candidate has taken responsibility and has learned from his actions. 

  • “My skillset just wasn’t a good match for my previous employer’s needs. When I was originally hired, they thought that they needed someone with my skill set. However, as time went on, we realized that they needed someone with a background in that specific industry. I didn’t have the background they needed to successfully do the job and after a year, we decided the best thing to do was to part ways.”
  • “In my previous job, I made the mistake of letting personal circumstances get in the way of my attendance at work. However, my personal life is now stable and my attendance at work won’t be a problem. I’ve learned how to separate my personal life from my work life and communicate problems with my supervisor in advance if necessary.”
  • “I made some mistakes in how I handled a conflict with a coworker. If I could go back again, I would have a discussion with them on how to fix it. However, after being let go, I realized the job wasn’t the best fit for my career path. I can now explore jobs that better meet my interests and qualifications. I was excited when I saw this role and think it’s the perfect match for my skills.”

Can You Say You Were Laid Off If You Weren’t?

You could tell an employer you were laid off if you weren’t, but, it comes with its consequences. From what we discussed earlier, we already know that being laid off is entirely different from being fired and employers will consider you as being dishonest if they found out you lied to them. Typically employers carry out a background check to verify the following;

  • Job title
  • Dates of employment
  • The fact that you actually worked for the company
  • Your reasons for leaving

If your future employers discover that there were no layoffs and your employment was terminated for other reasons, you could lose the job offer.

Can You Be Laid Off For Poor Performance?

During layoffs, companies have t make really tough decisions that ultimately affect the future of the establishment. It is possible that companies will lay off poor-performing staff first but they would not tell you. Typically, they will say that you are being laid off or your position has been eliminated. Essentially, this means that your performance is not a criterion for lay off if it were, you will be informed. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What To Say When An Employee Is Terminated?

If an employee who is terminated wants to vent or express unhappiness, you can say, “I understand the way you feel, but the decision is final.” And, if you weren’t the one that made the termination decision, resist any temptation to distance yourself from the situation.

Is Fired The Same As Laid Off?

The difference between being laid off vs. getting fired is that a layoff is the fault of an employer and a firing is a result of the employee’s performance and behavior. 

How Do You Explain Termination?

Here are six steps to take to explain a termination;
Know what you can say. 
Leave emotion out of it. 
Be honest and direct. 
Accept responsibility. 
Discuss what you learned. 
Reiterate why you are the best fit.

What Are The Most Common Types Of Termination Letters?

Termination letter due to layoffs/downsizing.
Termination letter for cause (misconduct/performance/attendance, etc.)
Termination of business contract.

What Should I Put As A Reason For Leaving If I Was Fired?

Provide any relevant details without using negative language about your previous employer and keep your reason for being fired direct and concise.

How Do You Explain Termination Without Cause?

Termination without cause is when a company ends the contract of employment of an employee for reasons like restructuring, cost cutting, realignment, or poor work performance.

How Do You Answer Reason For Termination?

Try to be honest when answering this question and give the potential employer the most objective explanation for why you were fired.

How Do I Tell My Future Employer I Was Fired?

The following are tips to help you explain a termination to a potential employer.
Honesty is the best policy.
Don’t bash your old boss. 
Don’t pass the blame.
Stick to the point.
Don’t sound bitter.
Explain what you’ve learned. 
Promote your positives. 
Practice makes perfect.

How Do You Layoff An Employee Gracefully?

Establish your game plan. 
Handle layoff conversations with care. 
Identify employees needed for a transitional period. 
Establish incentives for transitional staff.
Give flexibility to transitional staff.
Provide outplacement assistance and support.

What Are The Three Types Of Termination?

Voluntary Termination.
Involuntary Termination. 
Employment at Will.
Mutual Termination.

What Are The Grounds For Immediate Termination?

The following are 20 acceptable reasons for firing an employee in the state of California:
Unethical Conduct. 
Damaging Company Property. 
Possession of Drugs or Alcohol at Work. 
Falsifying Company Records. 
Poor Performance. 
Using Company Property For Personal Business
Too Many Absences
Violating Company Policy
Does Not Fit the Company’s Culture
Fails to Commit
Lack of Enthusiasm and Drive
Constant Negativity
Falling Behind
Lying on a CV

To Wrap It Up

Fired and terminated are terms used interchangeably. They refer to when a company ends or terminates your employment for reasons specific to you like work performance, attitude, policy violations, etc.

It is generally difficult to explain why you were fired from your previous job to interviewers or employers. 

Giving a good response requires a strategic approach to avoid sounding like you have ongoing issues or attitude problems. Your response has to show that you take responsibility and you have taken active steps to ensure the mistake never happens again. 

A layoff is when a company makes a strategic decision to discharge you for reasons that are not specific to you. Layoffs are often a result of restructuring, acquisitions, economic downturns, or financial struggles.

Losing your job can be shocking, distressing, and even scary whether you were laid off or fired but do not be discouraged. With our guide, you can get back to your feet and land a job of your choice.

We hope this article has been helpful. Kindly share and leave a comment in the section below. 


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