This whiteboard video is how people can increase their leverage and negotiate for more severance money after a termination.
Let me first say that you should absolutely have a lawyer review your severance agreement. My office does severance reviews all the time for people. But when the severance package is extremely small, or you’re 99.9% sure the company hasn’t broken any laws, you can try to negotiate your own agreement.
Second, you should watch the above video before you read the rest of this page. The video provides an excellent backdrop and the rest of this post will make a lot more sense if you learn the fundamentals.
There was more I wanted to include in the video (but I had to get back to work). So, I’ve added some information in this blog post to further flush out the bargaining chips. Employees can use these bargaining chips to negotiate for more money with their employer.
Offered Severance? Beware!
While it’s practically a taboo subject in our modern, work-driven world to admit to being fired by an employer, there’s something to be said about knowing the right way to be fired. This is particularly true if there’s a severance package being offered as part of the termination. What you do at the moment a severance check is slid across the desk toward you along with legal documents to sign could turn calamity into financial opportunity — depending on how you play your cards.
That said, there are those of us in the employment law business who probably wouldn’t object to schools teaching a class on how to get fired correctly. But barring that, the video attached to this post might just be the next best thing.
The truth of the matter is, whether we’re talking about sports, personal relationships or career, there are going to be days when we win, and days when we lose. What matters most when we lose is how we handle the situation. If it all possible, the goal should be to turn a negative into a positive.
While an employer might offer a severance package as a means of buying cooperation from a difficult employee, if you’re that employee the goal shouldn’t be to act like a big jerk in the hopes of getting a bigger severance.
The following is a list of things an employee should consider before signing a termination agreement.
More Severance Negotiation Tips
Remember, You Don’t Have to Sign
When an employee is terminated and they are given legal documents to sign, the company is looking to cover its rear and avoid a lawsuit. There could be any number of reasons an employee is fired. In an “at-will” state like California, it could be for no reason at all.
But employers know that lawsuits, even if they can be won, are expensive. So they often ask terminated employees to sign legal documents giving up their right to sue before leaving the premises. This can seem demeaning and dehumanizing. The good news is, you are not legally required to sign. You can refuse if you want.
But as mentioned earlier, the termination process should be seen as an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. If you don’t sign, you’re basically closing the door on any severance pay – but you can pursue legal action. So if you plan to sign, be prepared to negotiate.
Don’t Rush It
There are times when companies will tell an employee he or she is fired, and place a severance check in front of them and pressure them to sign the termination contract immediately. If at all possible, tell them you’d like to take a day or two, or even a week to consider the terms. If necessary, if you find something fishy with your firing, you should take this time to discuss the terms with friends and family and have the severance agreement reviewed by a lawyer.
Those who follow silicon valley news might remember in 2011 when Yahoo fired then CEO Carol Bartz. She was granted a large severance package—around $14 million. Not surprisingly, there was a non-disparagement clause in Bart’z termination contract.
But in an interview with Fortune Magazine following her termination, Bartz publically referred to Yahoo’s board as “doofuses” with some other expletives sprinkled in for good measure.
Now, this was an incredibly risky move on Bartz’s part. and, the company was probably within its rights to withhold her severance. It doesn’t look like that happened, but with that kind of money on the line, was it really worth it to risk the loss just to take a couple parting shots at the company?
Another thing you might consider negotiating for is outplacement services. Outplacement companies, which are located all over, help employees with career transitions. These companies often help employees who have had a difficult time at a previous employer articulate the reason for their departure so that they can find more success when interviewing with the next company. They also provide resume and other coaching services. If your former employer can help you move on with your life, why not take advantage of that.
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Cell Phones and Laptops
Often times terminated employees don’t see the company laptop or cell phone as something to be bargained for. But as anyone who’s purchased these items knows, they can be expensive. Companies will often let these gadgets go with the terminated employee. Depending on your specific situation, it could be something worth taking a look at.
If your employer does agree to give you a glowing reference, you’ll definitely want to get that in writing in some form. Whether the employer agrees to offer a positive reference as part of the severance contract, or just provides you with a signed letter of recommendation. Whatever the case, it’s important to get it in writing. A reference is the kind of thing that can be agreed to in a casual conversation, but when the time comes to actually provide that reference, days weeks, months down the road, it’s easy for an employer to brush it aside.