In my job as an employee rights attorney, I’ve encountered thousands of situations where a fired worker contacted me about a severance agreement they were presented. In some situations, such workers have potential legal claims and strong leverage to negotiate better severance terms and higher payment. Generally speaking, fired managers and executives have a better opportunity (than do non-managerial workers) to negotiate a significantly improved severance.
There are many common reasons for this. One reason is that employer companies often believe (often correctly) that former managers have important knowledge, i.e. knowledge about the company’s employment and severance practices, about sensitive factual circumstances that give rise to potential legal claims, etc. If that manager is wise enough to partner with an attorney with employment-law know-how (which can then be applied to the factual circumstances at issue), the employer knows it faces a credible threat of legal exposure. The employer thus treats that manager/attorney combo more seriously and reasonably in negotiations as compared to the lone fired employee who does not have an attorney yet is blowing off steam about how she or she “could” get an attorney and “could” sue for [insert wildly-misdiagnosed legal claim], plans to write the board of directors (who at best won’t care or change anything), etc.
Yet I often see managers who, before getting an attorney’s assistance, do many of the things above and squander opportunities for a better severance. Why is this? My theory is that managers are used to getting things done, i.e. successful project management, and approach the severance negotiation like any other project that they are qualified to handle. The problem is, they are not qualified to handle severance negotiations. Not well anyway. Why? Because knowing your legal leverage points for a severance requires diagnosing the correct potential legal claims. Many managers who initiate severance negotiations assume they have correctly diagnosed the best potential legal claims and leverage points. The vast majority who bring their diagnoses to me are wrong. But in that case, I can take what they told me (the true facts), correctly identify the best potential legal claims (or lack thereof), and help negotiate a better severance in those instances that is possible.
If you are a manager presented a severance agreement, and you are about to attempt negotiations on your own, take pause for a moment. (Of course, don’t pause beyond any deadline!). Do you really know what your best potential legal claims and leverage factors are? Do you really know the potential legal value (damages) of those claims? Do you really know what you’re doing? It’s okay to admit you don’t. We all encounter projects we can’t manage. I myself am incapable of managing a plumbing project (even a minor one), and, knowing that, I find someone to do that, saving myself hundreds of dollars I’d cost myself by botching the job (and creating more expense later). If a manager botches severance negotiations, he or she could squander thousands of potential dollars, depending on the situation. So consider contacting an attorney, whether it’s me (in my admitted self-interest) or someone else who seems to know what they’re doing, whom you can readily identify by them listening to your situation and spouting off terms like “Title VII”, “wrongful discharge contrary to public policy” or other legal evaluations you hadn’t considered in your own diagnoses.