In 2004, after working over 11 years for my employer, I was told that my position was being eliminated. This, of course, was quite a devastating shock and my immediate concern was loss of income and health benefits, as well as vacation time that I had worked hard to earn.
While employers are not required to offer severance packages to terminated staff, it is common practice among large firms and well-established organizations. Offering severance packages helps to ease the transition for all parties involved, and diminishes risk for the business of potential backlash related to the lay offs. Severance packages are typically offered to exiting staff holding mid-management level positions or higher.
Due to the sensitive emotional state that many employees find themselves in during this time, most will take a severance offer at face value, grateful to claim any aid that may carry them through the days and weeks ahead. Make sure that you clearly understand your offer, and all of its stipulations, before acceptance. Most severance offers provide a designated time frame in which acceptance must be made. This can span anywhere from a few weeks to a few days. By establishing a deadline, this enables the company to control the duration of the process and allows them to bring closure to a difficult situation rapidly. So pay attention to the details and act fast so you can meet their specified deadline.
Employers will usually low-ball their initial severance offer, hoping that the employee will accept it graciously and move on. However, it is in your best interest to take the full amount of time provided to review your severance offer in detail. You have a right to enter negotiations with the company if you feel what they are offering is unfair or inappropriate considering the circumstances. While evaluating the severance package, you should consider: major contributions that you’ve made during your tenure; ways that you’ve bettered the organization or saved them money; your level of loyalty and commitment to the job; performance reviews, special achievements, career longevity and overall responsibilities. Maximize upon any opportunities that may help better your offer.
If you are uncertain how to proceed with negotiating a severance package, it’s wise to seek out professional help. Though this may cost you a few hundred dollars in lawyers fees, the investment is worth it to assure your peace of mind and confidence in making your final decisions.
My attorney informed me that it would be best to deal with the company directly and not have him respond on my behalf with a negotiation letter. He mentioned some companies go on the defensive when legal counsel is brought in to negotiate, and they may renege on their initial severance offer as a result. He also recommended that I place a clear deadline for the company to respond to my counter-letter, equivalent to one-half of the amount of time which I was initially given. For example, if you are given two weeks with which to make a decision, your counter-letter should allow one week for a response.
The level of legal involvement necessary really depends on your unique case and should be discussed thoroughly with your attorney before taking action. In my own circumstance, after a few hours of discussion, I felt prepared to go home and write my negotiation letter.
When you’re feeling betrayed by a company, it’s easy to become greedy, wanting to milk them for as much as possible. But I caution you, do not react this way! Instead, opt to be fair, realistic and sensible. Make a clear case for each specific item you’re requesting. Appeal to the decision maker’s emotions and sensibilities. Let them know that while you appreciate their severance package offer you would like them to consider some modifications based on your supporting information. Be professional and polite, as difficult as it may be, for this will only help keep negotiations moving in a positive direction.
If an agreement is reached, keep in mind that there is some trade off when accepting a severance package. It usually involves several pages of legalese that you must sign stating you will not divulge the specific details of your severance agreement to anyone. It also may request that you refrain from any activities which intend to cause harm to the former employer, or from making future claims for reparations from the company and its representatives.
Severance packages buy your release, ensuring that a terminated employee will go away quietly and allow the organization to get back to business with as little disruption as possible.
If you should find yourself in a position to negotiate severance, I wish you luck! Try to keep a clear head and always remember, that no matter what the outcome, you are a valuable individual with much to offer!
Being let go may feel like the end of the world, but consider it a new beginning to recreate yourself and where you want to be.