When your Human Resources Department calls you in to offer you a severance package upon your termination, it is important to remember that they are doing so because they want something from you.
In the best of circumstances, a severance package will be offered as a gesture of goodwill. Your company wants to maintain a positive relationship with you and cares about their reputation. Therefore, they will offer you a generous package so that both parties feel they can part on good terms.
On the other hand, your termination may be a point of contention for both you and your employer. Maybe it is coming at a time when your employer is already under legal fire from other sources and want to prevent more lawsuits. Perhaps your company is suffering economically or is on the verge of bankruptcy. Or maybe your severance is being offered pointedly to only you due to mismanagement, harassment or discrimination.
Whatever the reason, you hold the power over severance negotiation. By following some basic rules and principles, you can protect yourself and garner a better severance deal for yourself.
Do Not Be Pressured To Sign Right Away
Many severance packages will be offered with a cut check and contract to sign immediately. Human Resources Departments do this to make you feel like this is a take it or leave it kind of deal. That is not the case. Most companies are required to give an employee at least 21 days to consider a severance deal before signing. They cannot adjust it or reduce the terms during that period of time.
Use those 21 days to seek counsel from an employment lawyer to review your package. Also go through any documents you have from your hiring during these 21 days. Compare the language in the severance agreement to the language and conditions in your employment contract to make sure your rights are not being dismissed for too little in return.
Do not feel pressured in any way during your initial meeting. Simply tell your HR representative that you need some time to think about it before signing.
Seek Legal Counsel
An experienced employment attorney and review your severance package to help you understand the specifics of the offer. Most attorneys will offer a flat-rate severance review. You can simply send a copy of your agreement and they will review it for you with suggestions for changes and explanations of terms.
Your severance package could determine more than just how much money you will take as you walk away. Keep in mind that there are legal ramifications that may be included in your severance agreement that could hinder your future employment, healthcare coverage, and reputation. A severance lawyer can help you protect yourself.
Who Will Negotiate?
If there are terms you would like to negotiate in your agreement, you need to consider if you or your attorney should handle the negotiation. In some cases, it may work in your favor to keep your attorney on the sidelines.
If you handle the negotiation, you will most likely continue to work with the HR representative. In some cases, if you have your lawyer present at negotiation, HR may step aside to have the company legal team take over to work directly with your attorney. This decision will largely depend upon the nature of your termination and the atmosphere surrounding the circumstances of your dismissal.
Ask for More Severance Pay
There is nothing that states you must either accept or decline a severance package in its entirety. Most companies use some formula to determine severance pay, which includes your current base salary and the length of your employment. However, this number is not a hard, fast standard.
If you are part of a large layoff, find out what others have been offered and use your seniority and experience as leverage to ask for more.
If bonuses are part of your pay structure, ask for a prorated portion of that year’s earnings to be added to your severance pay.
Consider Benefits, Investments, and Equipment
Make sure to negotiate healthcare coverage and other benefits for you and your family as part of your severance package. It takes time to find a new job, so you do not want to be without coverage in the interim.
If your company offers 401(k) investments and company matched funds, find out if you can continue those accounts. Be sure to tie up loose ends if you have any loans against your existing 401(k), so your employer cannot turn that against you.
When you leave your job, it may surprise you to be without your laptop, cell phone, or other technology equipment you had been given by your employer. Chances are, you can request to keep your used equipment and change over service plans to your name as part of your severance agreement.
Remember To Protect Yourself
Remember, your employer is offering a severance package to you in order to protect themselves. Do not blindly accept any agreements without using all of the time and resources at your disposal.
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