By Amy E. Feldman

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

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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.

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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.

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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.