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You’ve been offered severance – should you take it?

Your employer is downsizing, and you’re being let go. Or maybe there’s another reason you’re being forced out. After the shock wears off, you start to think about the future – and you’re initially grateful that your employer is offering you a severance package to soften the blow.

Then, after you give it a little more thought, you start to get suspicious. You don’t believe your employer is an altruist, so you’re starting to question why they’re offering you anything at all.

Should you take what you’re being offered? Here are a few things you need to consider first:

Severance pay is often called “the layoff payoff” because employers don’t have to offer it – but they often do in order to create some goodwill and get signatures on their release of liability forms.

You need to be asking questions like:

  • Is this really a company-wide layoff, or are certain people being targeted? Are all the people being laid off over 45 years of age? Does the layoff seem to target people of color or women of childbearing age? It usually doesn’t take long for a pattern to emerge.
  • What happened in the weeks leading up to this? Did you file a sexual harassment complaint against a long-time manager? Were you asked to give a statement about something illegal you witnessed? Did you make a safety complaint? The termination could be retaliatory action since you upset the status quo.
  • What is the company worried about? Many employers are concerned that layoffs and downsizing actions will open them to claims of wrongful termination or discriminatory treatment – especially when those claims are justified.

Quite often, it’s in your best interest to take a step back, think about the severance offer you’re being offered and look at your bargaining power. It’s also wise to evaluate how much you’re being offered to see if it’s justified based on your experience, length of service to the company and your position.

If the company really wants you to take the deal in exchange for your goodwill or a release form that absolves them from any additional liability for letting you go, you may easily be able to negotiate perks like a bigger lump-sum payment, the continuation of your insurance, final bonus payments and more. Experienced legal guidance can help you get what you’re rightfully due.