If you're one of the 800 million employees who can expect to have their jobs taken over by robots by 2030, now might be a good time to look over those company policies regarding severance. There might be protections in place that will keep you from moving into the poor house even if you do find yourself out on the curb.

What Is Severance?

Severance is an employee benefit paid to workers who are laid off or terminated for matters unrelated to their job performance. Is your department being eliminated? You might get a severance package. Fired because you stole from the company? Or quitting to live your dream of #vanlife? Sorry, severance is likely not in the cards.

Who Gets It?

In general, companies aren't required to provide severance packages, and most employees do not have a legal right to a severance package when their employment ends. When companies do offer severance packages, it's not just to be nice. Severance agreements can help reduce an employer's legal liability, and as such, many companies will offer severance packages regardless of whether they are required to do so. Check your company's policy or the employee handbook to find out what's on offer.

When to Negotiate

There are two good opportunities to negotiate a severance package, Jaime Klein, founder, and president of Inspire HR, told Refinery29: At the beginning of the road, when you're hired, and at the end.

Bringing up severance during the hiring process is a little like asking someone to sign a prenup; it's a delicate subject at best. These days, though, with so many industries on shaky ground, Klein says it's usually okay to ask once an offer has been extended. After the layoff, remember to be polite and have a rationale for your negotiation request.

Remember: If your workplace is unionized, you will likely be able to negotiate better severance policies, and your right to do so is legally protected.

What Can You Expect in a Severance Package?

Severance packages usually include some form of payment based on length of employment, typically one to two weeks for each year you were with the company. It's given as a lump sum or paid over a number of weeks or months. Your severance agreement should also include any accrued but unpaid PTO or vacation pay.

Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1995 (COBRA), a terminated employee is entitled to continue medical/health coverage under the company's plans for up to 18 months after termination (or up to 29 months if the employee is disabled). These premium payments are your responsibility (Sound no bueno? See "What Else Can You Ask For?" below.).

You might be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) as a requirement to benefits like severance pay and COBRA. More on that below.

What Else Can You Ask For?

The agreement isn't cut and dry, notes Richard Harruch on Forbes, and there are a number of things you can ask for:

Can you get the severance in one all-cash lump sum upfront, instead of spreading it out over time?

Can the severance pay also include any partially or fully accrued but unpaid bonus?

If the severance pay is the continued salary for some period of time, does the continuation pay continue even if the employee gets a new job?

Can your employer cover the COBRA payments for anywhere from 6-18 months?

If your termination is a result of a "change in control" of the company (like a merger or other acquisition), you might successfully argue that the severance pay should be greater. But be aware that such change in control payments could rack up a 20% excise tax on the employee.

Go over any non-compete clauses of your severance or hiring package with special attention to geography, scope of the agreement, and duration. Many employers will be open to narrowing the scope of this after a layoff.

That NDA you had to sign? They might make it a two-way street, suggests Harruch. Language that some employers have approved is: "The Company shall not authorize and shall take reasonable measures to prevent its present or former officers or directors from making derogatory or disparaging statements regarding Employee to any third party."

You might go one step farther than including language that bars the company from speaking ill of you and require that a section of the severance agreement include language that requires your positive recommendation. For example, "company acknowledges and agrees that Employee has performed admirably in his/her work with the Company and Company will provide positive recommendations to any interested new employers of Employee." Or, you ask for glowing recommendation letters from supervisors and have the company provide those letters to any prospective new employer.

Know Your Rights

If your company has more than 100 employees and plans to lay off a lot of people, your employer is required to give you 60 days notice of a company closing or a large departmental closing. If they don't, you are legally entitled to severance pay, thanks to the W.A.R.N. Act (Worker Adjustment and Training Notification).

If you are over 40 years old and the company offers you a severance package, the company must give you at least 21 days to consider it and 7 days to revoke after you sign the package, thanks to age discrimination laws.

Some states, like California, have more protections in place for workers whose employment ends without cause. In other places, such as New York, employment is "at-will," and either employer or employee can end a working relationship for any reason. Wherever you live, research and familiarize yourself.

Look to the future

Getting laid off is like a breakup you didn't see coming. It's disorienting, can ruin your sense of self, and rock your most basic sense of security. It's also part of life and something you will survive.

"Getting reorganized, laid off, restructured happens to nearly everyone," Klein said, and it's rarely personal. "Unfortunately, companies have very little loyalty to employees anymore."

Once you've picked yourself up and dusted yourself off — and yeah, you might need to cry and sulk, just like your last broken heart — get back to work. Your job now is finding a new job, and often a former employer will offer outplacement services to help you spiff up your letters and resume. Even if they don't, work your network and keep your head high. You've gotten a job before, and you can do it again.

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Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.

What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.

The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.

There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!

Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.

Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”

While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.

That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying

the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.

This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.

Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.

That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?

Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”

While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."

In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.

We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.

As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.

What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.

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Did you hear about the Great Resignation? It isn’t over. Just over two years of pandemic living, many offices are finally returning to full-time or hybrid experiences. This is causing employees to totally reconsider their positions.

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