Often, when employees are let go from their positions, they are offered severance packages. This is especially true for those who work for large corporations or who have positions higher up in the corporate hierarchy. A severance package, which consists of money and other benefits paid to a laid off employee upon (usually unexpected) termination of employment, can ease the employee’s burden while they search for a new job, but it can also be an employer’s way of pressuring the employee not to sue the employer for wrongful termination of employment. If your employer has just announced that they are terminating your position and is offering you a severance package, contact the Alabama severance agreement lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP before you decide to accept the offer.
Will You Get a Severance Package?
Most employers in Alabama are under no obligation to offer severance packages; Alabama is an at-will employment state, which means that, except where there is an employment agreement saying otherwise, employers have great flexibility to terminate their employment relationships with workers as they choose. If you belong to a labor union that helped to secure your employment contract, then your contract contains a clause requiring your employer to offer you a severance package if the employer terminates your employment ahead of schedule.
Even if you are not a member of a labor union, it is worthwhile to ask, before you sign a contract for a new job, whether the employer offers severance. An Alabama lawyer can help you negotiate a severance package at the beginning or end of your employment. Even if you do not get severance, your lawyer can help ensure that your contract includes other benefits that will provide you with income after your employment ends, such as a payout for unused vacation days.
What Does the Severance Package Contain?
The best severance packages include an amount of money equal to several months’ salary. They also include a continuation of employer-provided health insurance benefits for several months, or reimbursement by your employer for money you spend on COBRA insurance after your employment ends. If the job that is offering you severance required you to relocate, the severance package might also include reimbursement for relocation expenses to help you move to another city for your next job.
What is the Real Reason Your Employer is Terminating Your Position?
Compared to being booted from your job empty-handed, you might feel like you hit the jackpot if your employer offers you a severance package. Before you sign, though, ask yourself, and ask your lawyer, whether the shiny severance package is not just a way of distracting you from the truth. It is cheaper for an employer to offer a severance package to an employee than it is to litigate a wrongful termination lawsuit and have to pay a judgment.
These are some questions to ask before accepting a severance package:
- What reason did the employer cite for terminating your position? Was it credible?
- Which other employees had their positions terminated? Did they share a protected characteristic, such as race or gender?
- Did the termination and severance offer come shortly after you took FMLA leave?
In some cases, if you accept the severance package, you are letting the employer get away with bad behavior. If you have a gut feeling that your employer is only offering you a severance package, even a seemingly generous one, to cover up for actions that are grounds for a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit, you should discuss the situation with your lawyer. Filing an employment discrimination lawsuit requires an investment of time and emotional resources. Not everyone who is eligible to file a lawsuit against their employer for their discrimination chooses to do so. Your lawyer can help you make the decision that is best for you.
When Do You Have to Make a Decision About Whether to Accept the Severance Package?
Most of the time, your employer can set any deadline they choose for you to make a decision about whether to accept or reject the severance package. (If you accept the package, you get the money being offered, but you lose the right to sue your employer, but if you reject the offer, you keep the right to sue, but you do not get any money from your employer besides your last paycheck.) Therefore, even if your employer tells you that you only have a few days to decide about the severance package, you should still meet with an employment lawyer to discuss the decision. Alabama’s age discrimination law requires that employees ages 40 and up must be given at least 21 days to decide about severance packages; it is legal to give younger workers a shorter deadline.
The reasoning behind this rule is that older workers tend to have bigger financial responsibilities; they are more likely to be the sole source of financial support for younger or older family members and to have entered into major financial commitments like home ownership. They are also at higher risk for developing health conditions that would increase the financial burden on employers who provide health insurance for their employees. Therefore, if you are in your 40s or older, Alabama law allows you time to think about whether the severance package your employer is offering is fair.
Contact an Alabama Employment Lawyer About Severance Packages
An Alabama employment lawyer can help you negotiate for a fair severance package if you get laid off from your job. Contact the Alabama employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.