Can I Negotiate Severance?


Phyllis wants to know if she can negotiate her severance benefits.

And I say, sure, go ahead, everything is negotiable.

Except it’s almost too late to negotiate anything when you’re being told you are losing your job.

Let’s take a step back. For the ungeeky, severance benefits are an extension of your overall total compensation package. This means that severance packages are governed by crazy-strict rules. For most people in small businesses, you will be lucky if you get anything more than a few weeks notice before you lose your job and are eligible to file for unemployment. For anyone employed in a larger or more established company, severance packages are tough to negotiate. There are (often) inflexible rules because the program is public, is possibly regulated by the Department of Labor, and is offered to all employees based on specific and defined criteria meant to avoid favoritism and discrimination.

So if you want to negotiate something, here’s a strategy.

  • Be savvy enough to see your job loss on the horizon and be ready to negotiate your departure date. Your job ends when your job ends. Why don’t you pick the date and suggest it to your boss before it’s suggested to you? Then use that time to start your job search.
  • Negotiate ‘time off’ before you leave. If you are an exempt employee, this is easy and very common. Under the guise of working from home, take two weeks off and go to Florida. Then get paid out for your accrued and unused vacation/PTO days.
  • Negotiate your original start date. This is really important if you started off as a contractor and moved to a full-time employee. Make sure you ask your employer to bridge your hire date.
  • Negotiate training or conference attendance. Anything you want to learn before you leave? Conferences? Classes? Now is the time to ask.
  • Negotiate a title on your way out the door. Always felt like you were a Senior Designer? A Manager? Ask for a title change to accurately reflect your role and to bolster your resume.

You can ask for more money but  you probably won’t get it. (Sorry.) Severance payments come from a budget and pool of dollars. Anything extra usually hits an operating budget and many companies don’t have the extra cash sitting around. Think about negotiating the soft things that won’t cost your company much money. (Although money is the most important thing when you are losing your job. I know.)  If you can position your idea as a win/win, you’re more likely to be successful with your request.

Good luck!

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