A severance agreement is a document that allows an employer to let go of an employee without being further liable for them. For this document to be legally binding, it must contain severance pay, which is the consideration that the employee receives in exchange for being released from the company’s liability.
Sample Severance Agreement
Below, you can download a severance agreement template in PDF or Word format:
Is Severance Pay Required By Law?
No federal or state laws require severance pay, but companies can choose to offer it to maintain goodwill and mitigate some legal risks. For example, employees who receive severance pay may be less likely to initiate a lawsuit in retaliation for being fired.
What Is a Severance Agreement?
A severance agreement lets an employer fire an employee and release their liabilities toward the employee. It shields both the employer and the employee from potential claims of misconduct, as it acknowledges that either party could be accused of wrongdoing (whether warranted or not).
An employer should be aware of their liabilities without a severance agreement, including worker’s compensation, harassment, and discrimination. Similarly, employees may have liabilities without one, such as solicitation, harassment, and negligence.
What Does a Typical Severance Package Include?
A severance package will vary from company to company. A typical severance package includes:
Severance pay is usually the central element of a severance package. It’s additional pay awarded to thank an employee for their time with the company and put them in a better financial situation while they look for a new job.
If the employee has any business expenses they haven’t received reimbursement for or any vacation time left over, they can receive these amounts in their severance pay.
You can determine an ideal severance amount to pay an employee based on several factors, including:
- Their length of service
- Their job level
- The reason for the end of the employer-employee relationship
- The value of other benefits you’re providing (besides the monetary payment)
Continuation of Insurance
As an employer, you can’t maintain the employee’s insurance indefinitely. However, you can extend their coverage for a specific period while they search for a new job, either by keeping them on your insurance plan or using the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).
This severance benefit is particularly beneficial for long-term employees who depend on this insurance for their families.
Help Finding Other Work
While this is unnecessary, some employers will offer to write a letter of reference for a former employee to help them find a new job. You can also provide access to specific outplacement services, including:
- Career counseling
- Resume writing and optimization
- Job training
Severance Package Example
Here’s an example of the severance package an employee could receive, including continued pay and benefits:
Employer and Employee agree that Employer is obligated to make a payment upon Employee’s termination. The Employer agrees to pay the Employee:
In installments. $3,000 in each installment every two weeks, continuing until December 1, 2023. This payment is subject to applicable state and Federal taxes and withholdings.
The Employee’s benefits, including but not limited to health, dental, and vision benefits, will continue for two months following the termination date. The Employee will be responsible for paying any premiums or other costs associated with these benefits during this period.
What Does a Severance Agreement Include?
Severance agreements outline the terms and benefits to both parties involved, including:
- The effective date of the document
- The name and address of the employer
- The name of the employee
- The employee’s termination date
- The severance payment amount
- The continuation of benefits, if applicable
- The employee’s release of claims
- Confidentiality, non-compete, and non-disparagement agreements from the employee
- The employee’s and employer’s signatures
You may also issue a formal termination letter to confirm that the employee knows their employment is ending.
How to Negotiate the Severance Package
Negotiating a severance package with an employee requires a fair approach and transparent communication. Here are some steps you can follow to negotiate their severance package successfully:
Step 1 – Prepare for the Conversation
Review the employee’s employment contract and your company’s policies to determine any baselines for the negotiation. You can also consider the employee’s tenure and contributions to decide on a suitable amount of severance pay.
Step 2 – Initiate the Conversation
Schedule a private meeting with the employee to discuss their termination and severance. Be honest about the company’s decision to let them go and present them with the company’s initial offer. Include the severance pay, outplacement services, the continuation of health benefits, and any other severance benefits you want to provide.
Step 3 – Allow the Employee to Counteroffer
Once an employee acknowledges your offer, allow them to counteroffer. Listen to their thoughts and concerns to see their reasoning for the counteroffer they provide. Acknowledge any specific needs they have.
Initiating this conversation requires compassion and patience. For related tips on navigating difficult conversations in the workplace, review how to fire an employee.
Step 4 – Engage in Continued Negotiation
Negotiate the terms of their severance package while remaining within what’s reasonable for the company’s budget.
Step 5 – Get the Agreement in Writing
Once you and the employee agree on all the terms for their severance package, get the agreement in writing. Follow through with the promises you make and acquire the employee’s signature.
How to Write a Severance Agreement
Step 1 – Provide Introductory Information
The first paragraph of the severance agreement serves as an introduction to the document as a whole. It lays out the severance date, the names of the employer and employee, and the employer’s location.
Step 2 – Write the Date of Employment Termination
The date the severance agreement is entered into is not necessarily the same as when employment is terminated. In some cases, one or two weeks may be left of the employee’s time with the company. However, the termination date of employment should be laid out in the severance agreement.
Step 3 – State the Severance Payment Amount
State the amount of the severance payment. Clarify if the employee will receive a one-time lump payment or installment. If they’ll receive installments, explain the frequency and end date of the installments.
Step 4 – Clarify If Benefits Are Continued
Clarify if benefits are continued. If they are, state for how long the employee will continue to have access to them.
Step 5 – Include Non-Competition and Confidentiality Agreements
Include the specifics of any non-competition and confidentiality agreements. For example, you may specify that the employee isn’t allowed to work for a competing entity for a certain period after their termination. You can also ask that they withhold from sharing confidential or proprietary information.
Step 6 – Ban the Employee and Employer From Disparaging the Company
Prohibit the employee and employer from speaking negatively about the opposite party in private or public settings.
In this section, you can indicate whether you’ve attached a reference letter for the employee to use as they apply for new jobs.
Step 7 – State the Provided Benefits
Outline the benefits provided to the employee as compensation for the severance and ask for other agreements from them. Those benefits will be described in detail in the next section of the severance agreement.
Step 8 – Specify the Governing Law
The severance agreement will also detail the state that holds the governing law for both the company and the employee. Laws about unemployment and insurance may vary from state to state, which makes this essential information if an issue arises.
Step 9 – Acquire Signatures
Once the employee agrees to all the terms, you can both sign the severance agreement. Both parties’ signatures make the document official and enforceable.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a fair severance agreement?
A fair severance agreement compensates the employee according to the time and effort they dedicated to the company and offers a continuation of benefits to ensure they are cared for while looking to accept employment elsewhere.
This may look different depending on the employee’s experience and the benefits offered during the employment. In exchange, it is fair to ask the employee to keep information about the inner workings of your business or your customers confidential and not to disparage your company.
Can an employee reject a severance agreement?
Yes, an employee is not required to sign a severance agreement. There may be terms, such as a non-compete clause, that the employee is uncomfortable signing. In doing so, the employee forfeits their right to severance pay and a continuation of benefits.
Generally, it is in the interest of both the employer and employee to agree to the severance agreement.
Why would an employer provide severance pay?
Some employers with high turnover rates, like retail stores or fast food restaurants, don’t typically offer severance pay because it would be challenging to keep up with demands.
However, some employers choose to provide severance pay for the following reasons:
- To comply with company policies
- To abide by the terms of an individual employee’s employment contract
- To encourage employees to leave voluntarily during a merger
- To abide by industry norms in specific sectors
Can an employee file for unemployment if they receive severance pay?
It depends on where you live, but most U.S. states allow employees who have received severance pay to file for unemployment. They may have to wait to apply until they’ve received all their severance pay. For example, if an employee received eight weeks’ worth of salary, they won’t be eligible for unemployment until those eight weeks have passed.
In an ideal situation, an employee could use the length of their severance pay to search for a new job so they won’t have to apply for unemployment benefits.
What are final paycheck laws?
Final paycheck laws govern how employers must issue employees’ final paychecks after termination. Some states don’t have specific statutes, while others specify employers must give employees’ last checks immediately or within a certain number of days/weeks. The laws may vary depending on if the employee was fired versus if they quit.