Quick Tips for Negotiating a Severance Agreement

You don't have to be an executive to negotiate the terms of your severance when you get laid off. When HR presents you with a severance agreement and a pen to sign on the dotted line, ask for some time to review it: It's well within your rights, and could make all the difference to you financially. Here's how to play the severance game to your best advantage.

The moment you find out you're being laid off, when your boss tells you that your position is no longer needed, it's nearly impossible to think clearly, especially if the layoff is a surprise.

Because your mind is racing and your emotions are rising, it's one of the worst possible times to have to consider a legally binding contract-the severance package your employer may be eager for your to sign, says Martha Finney, author of Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss.

That's precisely why it's so important for you to take the time to read and understand the severance package your employer is presenting, says Finney.

In fact, you may be doing yourself a great disservice by blindly accepting whatever your employer offers. "Your being super-cooperative by signing that severance package right then and there could cost you many thousands of dollars," writes Finney in Rebound.

You don't have to be an executive to negotiate your severance. Though employers are under no legal obligation to offer severance packages, if you are presented with one, you owe it to yourself to review it carefully and to try to negotiate for more if you're unsatisfied. Your employer can always say no, but, says Finney, there's no harm in asking. You have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain, especially if you keep in mind the following three tips for handling the severance discussion.

1. Stay Calm

There is perhaps no more important time to maintain your cool than when management nudges that severance agreement and a pen in your direction. If you get angry or act snarky, you could completely blow your chances of getting any severance pay at all, writes Finney. In Rebound, she quotes an attorney who says employers can call a loud voice "workplace violence," which then gives them cause to fire the employee on the spot and not give them a severance package.

2. Ask questions

Finney advises professionals to take notes on what management tells them when they get laid off. If you don't understand what your boss or HR is telling you, or you miss something they say in your notes, ask them about it. Finney recommends asking questions during this meeting, such as "What's your reasoning behind this" and "Why am I part of the group being laid off".

"The HR person and the hiring manager are probably working against a script, and if you're asking them questions, you're forcing them to go off script," says Finney. "That's when they could say something that could serve your purposes later."

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