Negotiating your Severance Package
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the economy in many ways and likely touched every individual personally. Have you just received your pink slip and become an economic casualty of the pandemic? Your immediate reaction may have left you shell-shocked. A job loss is devastating at any time, but in a tight job market, it is so much worse. This is precisely why you must pick yourself off the ground immediately and tend to the termination documents your employer has handed you. Your severance package determines how strong a bridge you have to navigate the choppy waters ahead. And it is crucial to take a good hard look at it. Focusing on getting the maximum possible will not only give you purpose, it is also a very constructive way to begin your healing journey into the next stages of your career.
Seek Legal Counsel
Do not let your employer’s deadline on the termination documents intimidate you into making poor decisions. You must control the agenda to ensure you don’t leave money behind. Seeking legal counsel should become your first priority. You have every right to ask for an extension to get advice and very few employers will refuse to negotiate beyond the deadline. Do not sign the bottom line until you have received this counsel.
An hour with an experienced employment lawyer should suffice to obtain an opinion. The legal fee for the lawyer’s time will be well worth your while if only to assure yourself you have received all your entitlements.
Is the Minimum Enough?
The law stipulates the minimum your employer should pay when they end your employment without cause. However, contrary to popular belief, this is not where the counter stops. Rather, this is where it begins. Common laws also require your employer to give you reasonable notice or pay in lieu, to find equivalent employment. And the minimums are often woefully insufficient under certain circumstances.
Consider the example of a 55-year old career executive who has spent the last 20 with the same employer, in an industry that is now economically stressed. Still too young to retire, it might take him or her several months to find equivalent work. This individual might require retraining to work in a new industry or time to pivot into a consulting career. The severance package, in this case, should be far superior to the minimum amount set out by law.
An employment lawyer will take your age, position, length of service as well as the job market to determine what your severance package should look like. Employers and employees are often at opposite ends of the spectrum on this argument. Rely on your lawyer to guide you with these discussions. If needed, you can engage their services to negotiate a better severance package. Many lawyers offer this service by charging a percentage of the settlement they obtain for you.
Medical Benefits and Extras
Your severance package should include the value of medical benefits and bonuses if they were part of your employment contract. Discrimination, harassment, bullying or unfair treatment during your employment term, which also includes how you were treated during the termination, could qualify you for extra compensation.
Job Loss Counselling
Recipients of severance packages have a duty to mitigate the job loss. This means you have a legal obligation to actively look for work. However, job losses can be psychologically hard on some individuals. You might go through a mourning process, where the shock turns to anger, denial and finally, grief. During this period, the task of job hunting will simply become a hapless exercise.
At Equity, our services begin with job loss counselling for those individuals who are simply paralyzed. You might need this important initial intervention before proceeding with your mitigation obligations. If your lawyer has not already proposed it, you should ensure your severance package includes funds for outplacement services so you are covered financially for the support you will require.
Regardless of job loss counselling, most job hunters find the services of a career coach invaluable for their mitigation duties. A career coach is professionally trained to be a sounding board to help you develop a plan, strengthen your resume, practise your interview skills and keep you motivated.
They help you explore avenues for learning new skills and they find opportunities to transfer your talents to new and emerging industries. Your coach will guide you step by step to transition into a new business or consulting role, should you choose this route. And most of all, they bring solid experience to your side as you negotiate your employment contract, close the deal on the new job and get settled in.
Ensure your severance package includes funds to permit you this leg up. A young professional, just starting out may need a modest amount compared to a senior executive or someone who requires retraining and a career change. An experienced lawyer will skillfully negotiate these intangibles as appropriate for your situation, to convert them into tangible line items in your severance package.
A Fresh Start
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, life came to a standstill, suddenly. It gave many individuals pause and time to reflect on their lives, both personally and professionally. If you have faced a job loss, then you will find it helpful to change the paradigm and consider it an opportunity to begin something fresh. Negotiating your severance package to the maximum will buy you time to figure out what this means for you. So, don’t linger too long after a layoff to lick your wounds. Your severance package is a very important document, and it will serve you well to give it the full attention it deserves.
Susan Heim is the president of Equity Career Transition and Outplacement Services, offering personalized coaching services for individuals in their quest for the perfect job and career. Equity also provides cost-effective outplacement services for organizations, large and small, in both the private and public sector.
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