Who Gets Severance?

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feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – What is your right to severance if you are laid off?

When the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe laid off 1500 employees, it gave them what’s been described as a ‘golden handshake’ – a handshake as they walked out the door with a check for $5000 each. Many who have been laid off in the United States were given a variation of the way less favorable variety: a hearty handshake, and an hour to collect their stuff and get out.

What is the law in the US on your right to severance if you were terminated through no fault of your own, and what can be done to negotiate a more favorable severance package.

Unless you have an employment contract or are party to a collective bargaining agreement, you are an employee at will. As an employee at will, there is no law that requires any severance pay – no matter how your performance or how long your service.

But, just because a company doesn’t have to offer severance doesn’t mean that they won’t or that they wouldn’t negotiate. You might ask if they would be willing to give severance in exchange for a waiver of all claims or tell them you’ll have trouble making ends meet to see if there’s more that they can give you than simply a handshake.

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