“How long is an offer of severance good for?”

Question: I am 64 and expecting to get an early retirement/severance agreement. Once offered, how long is the offer valid?

If I ask for more and the company rejects my offer, does it negate the original offer?

         Ernie 
         Chicago, Illinois 

Answer: Dear Ernie, How long the offer is valid depends on the words of the agreement, which must be read carefully. 

That being said, it’s almost definite that the words of your agreement will provide you with either twenty-one (21) days, or forty-five (45) days, in which to accept the offer. It’s a bit complicated, but two federal laws that protect older employees from discrimination (Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or “ADEA,” and the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, or “OWBPA”) require that either 21 days, or 45 days, be provided, depending on your circumstances. I’m certain one or the other of these two federal laws applies to you. Be sure to read your agreement carefully.

As to asking for more severance, it’s a matter of basic contract law that, if you make a “counter-offer” to an “offer,” the original “counter-offer” acts as a “rejection” of the offer, permitting the party making the offer (here, your employer) to negate or withdraw the original offer. Your concern, and forethought, are wise.

In practical terms, though, it is quite rare for an employer to withdraw a severance offer because an employee asked for improved terms. That is because employers actually want their employees to accept the severance offers given to them, and by doing so eliminate you from their workforce, without any disputes or litigation. If they withdrew your offer, you would have very little alternative but to sue them for age discrimination, or some other alleged transgression, which is the very thing they seek to avoid by offering you severance in the first place. There is an old Italian proverb that illustrates this point well: “Beware of the man with nothing to lose.”

Every step involves risk, and taking no steps involves risk, too. We usually recommend to our clients that they ask for better terms of severance in an email (a) with respect, (b) accompanied by a good rationale or reason you believe you deserve it, and (c) a reminder to your employer that to withdraw your original offer would seem to be illegal retaliation, which is an issue all employers want to avoid if at all possible.

I can’t say you should do this, but I can say that most of our clients approach the problem this way, and is quite rare that an employer ever even suggests withdrawing the original offer. Usually, the worst an employer does is say, “No.” And the best is that they get part of, or all of, what they asked for.

If you would like further information about the severance process, in general, [click here.]

If you are interested in obtaining a model letter illustrating how to best request better severance, [click here.]

Hope this helps. Thanks for writing in. 

Deadlines are important; don’t let your severance deadline expire. To help you ask for more time, we offer our Model Request for More Time to Review/Sign Your Severance Agreement. It shows you “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

My Best,
Al Sklover

P.S.: You might be interested in our Master 94-Point Severance Negotiation Checklist, to give you the peace of mind and freedom from worry that you forgot to raise or entertain certain points of discussion and negotiation. To obtain copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

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