How to Negotiate a Severance Package

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By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 6, 2009

As the national unemployment rate nears 10 percent, many Americans are doing something they had never imagined they would do: negotiate a severance package.

It's a formidable task, more so now that employers, battered by the economic downturn, are offering smaller payouts when they let go of employees. Therefore, experts suggest doing research and soul-searching before walking into negotiations: Figure out what others have received and what you'd like to get.

"There's a lot at stake here, and you really can make a difference in what you walk away with if you prepare," said Maury Hanigan, president of Layoff Coach.

WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?

Many American workers have a misperception about what their employers are supposed to grant them when they are laid off. There is no law requiring employers to offer severance packages.

Many top executives negotiate for severance agreements, sometimes known as golden parachutes, in their employment contracts. Average workers, however, don't have that specific an agreement.

Still, it's important to review your initial letter of employment and your union contract, if you're covered by one, and to study the employee handbook. Look for anything that suggests a contract that guarantees severance or a company severance plan.

"In the absence of those two things, there really is no right to severance," said Evan Fray-Witzer, a lawyer at Ciampa Fray-Witzer in Boston. "This is not something that is a guaranteed right. This is something you ask for."

If you think you've been harassed, discriminated against or retaliated against, you might have a legal claim to a payout. In that case, check with a lawyer.

THE ART OF NEGOTIATING

Losing a job is traumatic. But don't make that obvious when you go into negotiations. "Try to maintain your composure, and don't act emotionally," said Jeff Gordon, a professional negotiator in Raleigh, N.C. "Don't key someone's car outside in the parking lot to feel like you got revenge. That really serves to diminish your own position."

How do you put yourself in the best position? Try these steps:


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