Q: My company just experienced [a round of] layoffs. They told us to expect more by the middle of the year. I was surprised to learn that an employee does have some leverage in negotiating their severance package. Should I be part of the next round of cuts, how can I find out what I’m entitled to?
— C. John, Atlanta
A: The human resources department should have the policy on severance packages outlined in the company manual. But according to Dr. Richard Bayer, economist, author, and COO of the career counseling organization, The Five O’Clock Club, most companies don’t follow them because they are out of date. “Years ago, when a person worked 20 years for a company, he or she received one week’s pay for every year of service; and that would be a considerable amount,” explains Bayer. “Today, most people don’t stay with companies that long. If you’ve been with a company for four years, four weeks pay isn’t even an option.”
These outdated plans are good news for the employee, giving him or her more bargaining leverage. Bayer recommends working with a career counseling expert on your severance package. “A little bit of counseling can reap enormous benefits,” he advises. “With this help you are more likely to be treated fairly, and you may be able to get thousands of extra dollars in your pocket.” If you have access, ask what other employees have walked away with. That will give you a better idea of how flexible the company policy is or could be.