“Can I be denied severance, or unemployment benefits, if I don’t accept a position offered to me by the company that just laid me off?”

Question: “Can I be denied severance, or unemployment benefits, if I don’t accept a position offered to me by the company that just laid me off?”

A Blog Visitor, Southampton, NY

Answer: Although I am admitted to practice law only in New York State, from my experience with clients all over the county, I am generally familiar with the laws of most states. While employment laws vary from state to state, most are quite similar.

In almost all cases in all states, an employer can set whatever conditions it wants to for its employees to receive severance. In particular, an employer is free to say that no severance will be paid to any laid off employee who turns down another job, even if the offered job is different, lower-level or lower-paying. Unless you have a contract of employment that says you are entitled to severance, then any offer of severance can be conditioned in this way, or in almost any other way.

It’s a little different with state-provided unemployment insurance benefits. You can be denied unemployment insurance benefits if you turn down an offer of re-employment by your former employer. However, there are two common exceptions to that general “rule.” First, if you have a “good reason” for not wanting to return. For example, if you were harassed, threatened or harmed by your former boss, and the job you have been offered would require you to work for her again, then you would probably be considered to have “good reason” for turning down the offered job. Second, if the offered job was considerably below your former position, or paid considerably less, you would probably be deemed reasonable to have turned down the offered position. A CEO is not required to take a new job as a janitor.

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Best, Al Sklover

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