5 Severance Pay Negotiation Tips for When You’re Fired

Negotiate your financial exit from a job carefully.
  • CBS CEO Les Moonves has resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, and CBS is donating $20 million to organizations supporting the #MeToo movement.
  • Moonves’ exit will no longer include the severance his original contract allowed, a package originally valued at over $180 million.
  • Executives negotiate hefty exit deals, and you should know the laws about severance pay before negotiating an exit from a job when criminal allegations aren’t involved. 

Leslie Moonves, the longtime chief executive officer and chairman of the CBS Corp., quit on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, just hours after The New Yorker published the second article this year detailing sexual harassment accusations against Moonves.

Since the bombshell reports and accusations, CBS announced Moonves’ severance package is on hiatus until two independent law firms conclude research on the allegations. In the interim, the network plans to donate $20 million of Moonves’ potential financial settlement to organizations that support the #MeToo movement. The New York Times reported he could still walk away with more than $120 million, according to two people familiar with the settlement agreement. Prior to Moonves’ resignation, the network executive commanded a nearly $24 million a year salary and boasted a $184 million package consisting of a salary and bonus, company stock and a pension close to $1 million if he leaves the network without cause, reported CBS News.

Moonves’ situation is regrettable — and getting a good deal shouldn’t exactly be your top priority when criminal allegations are involved. But if you’ve acted in good faith, here are lessons to keep in mind on how to appropriately negotiate an exit from a job. Depending on your industry, you might also need to know exit package options when you’re negotiating your salary to start a job.

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Severance Pay and Package Lessons Employees Need to Know

Moonves’ fall from grace marks another in the stream of high-powered executives and celebrities who’ve abused their power to exert force in the workplace. These situations highlight several high-priority workplace behavior issues for employers and employees to discuss, such as harassment and respect, but they also have shed light on the sometimes-enormous exit packages executives negotiate for themselves.

See These: 26 Huge Severance Packages Worth More Than Most Salaries

You can learn relevant lessons on how to negotiate your severance or exit package — when criminal allegations aren’t involved — and how to understand what your personal options are when you’re terminated or laid off.

Here are five key takeaways about severance packages:

1. You Don’t Have to Sign Your Severance Package on the Spot If You’re Over Age 40

Exercise your right to at least 21 days to consider the terms — or 45 days if you were a part of a group termination. If you sign, you also have seven days to revoke. In the interim, it’s best to seek out a lawyer who will comb though the details to best position you to collect money and search for a new job.

2. Leverage Your References and Network

Lean into your employer and press for how the company will respond to future reference checks or recommendations. As long as it is warranted based on performance, cement your good standing in your severance agreement. If the company is in a major upheaval, it’s also a good idea to secure letters of recommendation from supervisors and connect with colleagues on professional networking sites like LinkedIn.

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3. Consider Lump Sum vs. Installments for Severance Pay

Depending on your cash situation, consider whether a severance lump sum or a series of installments is more beneficial for you and negotiate. Your severance money is income in the eyes of the IRS, so there also are tax implications for receiving the severance package, and it is subject to Social Security, Medicare and payroll taxes just like your paychecks.

4. Know That Severance Isn’t Guaranteed

It’s a harsh reality, but there’s no guarantee you’ll see extra money after being laid off. Depending on the size of your company, you have some rights pertaining to advance warning of a layoff.

There’s no rule written in stone when it comes to severance, but the rule of thumb is that executives often receive severance equal to a month’s salary for every year worked, subject to an 18- or 24-month cap. Non-execs can generally expect a week’s salary for every year with the company.

5. Tap Into Other Benefits

The dollar figure is paramount, but don’t lose sight of negotiating other items that have monetary value like health benefits, outplacement services, stock options or equity, tuition forgiveness, and keeping company assets such as phones, cars, or computers.

Click to find out what you need to know about your paycheck.

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