The Chicago Bar Association

Top Tips for How to Get the Most Severance

When an Employer offers a terminated employee severance it is not done out of the pure goodness of the Employer’s heart, but rather because the Employer wants something. We know this because if an Employer would not want something then the Employer would merely hand the now-terminated employee a severance check (or direct deposit money into the now-terminated employee’s bank account), rather than requiring the employee to sign a severance agreement and general release to get such money.

Frequently when an Employer terminates an employee’s employment the Employer will deliver such a severance agreement to the employee, offering to pay severance generally for the following main reasons:

  1. in exchange for a release of potential claims that the employee may bring (which is why the agreement is frequently called a “Severance Agreement and General Release”);
  2. for confidentiality (asking that you keep private information secret); and
  3. non-disparagement (asking that you agree not to air out the Employer’s dirty laundry/ not publicly say anything negative about the Employer).

Additional reasons why an Employer may offer severance/ more severance is in appreciation for the employee’s long employment with the Employer, in appreciation for the accomplishments that the employee had for the Employer (monetary accomplishments are of the most value in this regard), and so that the employee will not compete with the Employer/ won’t solicit the Employer’s customers/ employees.

Many individuals believe - wrongly - that the terms in the severance agreement (monetary and language) initially offered by the Employer are final, and that they cannot negotiate for more or better severance terms. Yet to the contrary as shown by the above, the Employer wants something (in particular the Employer wants something that you have), and depending on the circumstances there may very well be a good likelihood that if handled/ negotiated properly the Employer will increase and improve their severance offer.

In this regard I have negotiated hundreds of severance agreements in Chicago over the years - and I have frequently (an overwhelming majority of the time) obtained more and better severance for individuals than what they were initially offered. I have also frequently obtained substantial severance for individuals who were not even offered any severance by their Employer.

As a result of my experience over the years of being an Employee Rights Lawyer as well as a Chicago Severance Lawyer I am aware that there are certain things that you can do/keep in mind to enhance your likelihood of receiving severance/ more severance. Specifically addressing the situation where an Employer has delivered a proposed severance agreement to the employee, the following practical tips should be kept in mind:

  1. You do not need to - and should not - sign the severance agreement right away.
  2. You should consider deadlines & act promptly.
  3. At the termination meeting listen, ask only pertinent questions, & be professional.
  4. Try to objectively assess the situation - and take into consideration what leverage (positive arguments and negative arguments) you may have that may result in the Employer agreeing to have you receive more and better severance.
  5. Write out a bullet-point list of the top 5-10 accomplishments that you had during your employment.
  6. Write a chronology of relevant incidents/ statements.
  7. Don’t try to negotiate on your own - hire an attorney.
  8. Understand that both monetary and non-monetary terms of the severance agreement have value (to you and/ or the Employer) and may very well be able to be negotiated.
  9. Be organized, focused, and realistic - don’t overestimate your situation and don’t under-value your position.

These tips (and more) are discussed and described in detail upon clicking on the above links.

Because I am well-experienced in negotiating employment severance agreements for individuals here in Chicago, call me to briefly discuss your situation to see if it makes sense for you to come in for an appointment to my Chicago Loop office.

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