One of the most pervasive myths about severance pay for involuntary terminations is that it is non-negotiable. Everything, to one degree or another, is negotiable.
The vast majority of companies offer severance for involuntary termination. A 2014 study by Human Resources consulting firm Radford found that 68% of the 240 companies in its survey offered “not for cause” severance benefits, with cash payouts that ranged from 2 weeks to up to 6 months! Unless you are being terminated immediately for some major policy violation or malfeasance, you probably will be eligible for severance.
What HR doesn’t want you to know is that each and every termination is as unique as a fingerprint, and there is almost always room for some negotiation. Severance pay, medical benefits, extended time on the payroll, accelerated vesting of stock awards, reimbursement for professional fees; these are some of the literally dozens of potential benefits that may be negotiable as you get ready to pack up your desk and say goodbye to your colleagues. While you won’t be able to negotiate everything, you should be able to negotiate something.
Reality check: most mid-sized and large companies have “standardized” severance payouts, meaning that they typically have a set formula that limits cash severance pay based on some combination of your salary, your tenure, and your level. For example, an employee who has been at the company for 3 years might be eligible for 5 weeks of severance pay (in this case, 2 week’s notice, and then one week of severance for each year of service). Companies use a wide range of methods to calculate severance, so this is something you should investigate with others who have been laid off or terminated.
Cash severance is only one of many potentially negotiable benefits. One of the easiest benefits to negotiate is additional time on the payroll. Let’s say you are being terminated on the fourth week of the month, and your spouse is having major surgery the first week of the following month. You should explain this to your manager (or HR) and ask for additional time on the payroll so you will have benefits coverage for the surgery. Or, perhaps you offer to work from home while you transition your responsibilities and look for a new job. Most companies will honor requests like this. If they won’t give you time on the payroll, ask them if they will pay the medical premiums (or COBRA payments) for you so that you will have continued medical coverage. And so on; you get the idea.
When negotiating with your company, you should be the coolest, calmest, person in the room. Be reasonable, no one likes conflict, and aggression or anger on your part will derail things quickly. It may seem personal, but it's not.