Are you trying to negotiate a severance package in Missouri? An employment lawyer is your best bet for getting a package that’s in your best interests. A lawyer brings a thorough understanding of the law, familiarity with typical company policies, and experience with negotiations into your corner.

How to Negotiate a Severance Package in Missouri

Remember that in Missouri, the law doesn’t require employers to offer severance packages except in specific cases, such as where the requirement is already outlined in an employment contract or where certain collective bargaining agreements are in play. However, many employers choose to provide them as a goodwill gesture or to come to a mutually acceptable agreement over a termination that allows them to get some things they want (like your agreement to a non-disclosure or non-competition agreement).

Learn About Your Rights 

Since Missouri is an at-will employment state, most of the time either party can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason (so long as it’s not illegal). If your termination was wrongful or discriminatory, however, this can be something you bring to bear in a termination package negotiation.

In some cases, it may be best to bring a lawsuit or file a complaint with the relevant state or federal authorities. In other cases, and if you’re not interested in continuing to work for the employer anyway, the fact that there was something discriminatory or wrongful in your termination can be used effectively by your lawyer in negotiating a package.

Other rights may apply in your situation, too. For example, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act may apply to you if you worked for a company with 100 or more employees and there was a mass layoff or plant closing. The WARN Acts requires that employers give you at least 60 days’ notice of termination or plant closure. If these rules weren’t followed, tell your lawyer right away.

Evaluating the Offer

Once a severance offer is on the table, the last thing you want to do is jump to accept it without some careful thought. First, think through the financial compensation that you’re being offered and evaluate it based on the role you had as an employee, your tenure, and the specific circumstances of your termination. You and your lawyer should also take the time to compare it with industry standards, and, if possible, other severance packages from your employer.

Something else to consider it benefit continuation. How long will your health coverage go, and will your soon-to-be former employer be paying for it during that time, or will you use the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), which allows you to continue under your employer’s group coverage but at your own expense? COBRA will only apply temporarily and is only applicable in situations where you’ve been covered in the past year by a group plan that covered 20 or more people.

There may be other elements to think about, too, such as outplacement services to help you find a new job or whether any unused vacation or sick pay get included in your severance. If your employment contract included stock options or bonuses, be sure to clarify how these will be handled upon your departure.

Strategizing Your Negotiations

Once you have a clear idea of what is being offered, and unless it’s a generous offer right out of the gate, you’re likely going to work with your lawyer to bring it up to what it should be. Start by thinking through your contributions and achievements during your tenure at the company and finding proof of these to highlight the value you’ve provided over the years.

Something else to consider as you negotiate is the financial situation of the company. If the company is financially stable, there might be more flexibility in improving your package. If the company is struggling, remember that you can’t get blood from a stone and may need to adjust your expectations accordingly.

Preparing for the Negotiation

Your lawyer is going to help you be fully ready for all negotiations, and you can expect them to work with you to get together all the documentation that you need, from your employment contract to documents highlighting your value and successes of the company, to the employee handbook. Your lawyer will also thoroughly research the industry standards for these packages that apply given your position and tenure so that you can negotiate from a place of strength.

It’s also important that you spend some time working through your own financial needs and calculating how long you’ll be able to get by without employment as well as the average amount of time it takes to find a new job in your industry. This will give you an idea of the minimum package you’ll be able to accept.

Timing Your Negotiation

Ideally, you should begin discussions with your employer as soon as you receive your termination notice, as this is often when a company is most amenable to negotiating terms. If you haven’t yet been let go but are anticipating a layoff, proactively initiating a discussion can sometimes lead to better results.

Consider the company’s timing as well. It can sometimes work in your favor to begin negotiating during a company’s financial reporting period or just before significant changes like mergers or acquisitions, since companies often like to finalize severance agreements quickly to avoid financial uncertainty during these periods. Talk with your employment lawyer about the timing (and get a lawyer as soon as you get notice of your termination or suspect that it’s coming).

Communicating Effectively

A calm and professional demeanor always works better than emotional reactions. This can be hard, since your employment is obviously personal to you. Try, however, to keep calm in all discussions, and have your lawyer act as your go-between to keep things professional. Frame requests positively, focus on mutual benefits to be had from changes you suggest, and be willing to engage in give-and-take where it may be useful.

Listen actively to your employer’s concerns and the reasons behind their initial offer. If you actually understand their perspective, you’ll be able to address their points effectively and more easily find some common ground.

Addressing Common Severance Clauses

Severance agreements frequently include non-compete clauses, which can restrict your ability to work in your industry for a specified period. Ensure that any non-compete terms are reasonable in both their scope and duration, and if they are too restrictive, negotiate for their removal or for a reduction in the limitations.

Confidentiality agreements are also common in these packages, and they usually require you to keep quiet about the terms of your package and the circumstances of your termination. These are fairly standard, but you still want to find out exactly what you’re allowed to discuss and how this may work if you need a reference from your former employer.

Release of claims may also be a part of a severance agreement, and you need to think through this with your lawyer. By signing this, you are agreeing not to sue the employer for any claims related to your employment or termination, ​so you want to be certain you’re not signing away any important rights here.

Working With an Employment Lawyer

If you’re facing termination or suspect you soon will be, don’t just assume your employer will “do the right ​thing” by you in your severance. Contact Holman Schiavone, LLC and let us help you get the package you deserve.