Career Transitions – Your Termination Rights

Your Rights When You Leave a Job

Whether you leave your job voluntarily or through a termination or lay off, there are a number of loose ends you will want to tie up before you walk out the door.
Severance Pay
No law requires an employer to provide severance pay to employees who the employer terminates or lays off. Nevertheless, many employers may offer one or two months’ salary to employees who are forced to leave their jobs through no fault of their own. Some employers may be more generous to long-term employees, giving perhaps one month’s pay for every year an employee worked for the company.
While no law requires severance pay, an employer may be legally obligated to give you severance pay if it promised to do so — for example, through:
• a written contract stating that the employer will pay you severance
• a promise of severance pay in an employee handbook or manual
• a long history of the company’s paying severance to other employees in your position, or
• An oral promise to pay you severance — although you may run into difficulties proving the promise existed.
A severance package can include more than just money. If you are in a position to negotiate a package (perhaps your termination is questionable and your employer wants to keep you from going to court), consider asking for these other benefits:
• Insurance benefits. Health insurance continuation laws allow you to keep the same health care you had with your employer but require you to pay the full cost of the premiums for continued coverage. There is, however, nothing in these laws that prevents your employer from picking up the tab if it agrees to do so as part of a severance package
• Uncontested unemployment compensation. Sometimes, employers will try to contest the unemployment claim of a terminated worker. Ask your employer to agree not to do so. It will make getting unemployment benefits a lot easier.
• Outplacement services. Outplacement firms help employees find new jobs. They may offer counseling, job skills training, tips on resume and cover letter writing, and leads on potential jobs. In addition, they may give you a place where you can use a computer, receive faxes, and have a receptionist answer the phone. Many employers are now paying for these types of services as part of a severance plan.
• References. If you are leaving your job under less-than-pleasant circumstances, you might work with your employer to come up with a mutually agreeable letter of reference.
Final Paycheck
Many states have laws that specify when departing employees must be given their final paycheck. Often, the outcome depends on whether you are leaving because you quit or because you were fired or laid off.
For example, in some states, employees must be given their final paycheck immediately or within a certain number of hours if they are terminated or laid off, but not until the next scheduled payday if they quit. Some of these state laws also specify whether your accrued, but unused, vacation pay must be included in your final paycheck. For more information, contact your state’s labor department.
About the author

Alan Ludmer is the president of ARL, Inc; specializing in individual career transitions, outplacement, and career and executive coaching, and search/recruitment. He is the lead consultant for the JF&CS LifeLine Program. For more information contact

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