“I accepted a severance package four weeks after the deadline. Can my former employer refuse to pay?”

Question: I was offered a severance package dated April 2, 2009, and given 21 days to accept it, that is, until April 23rd. On April 15th, I signed it, but forgot to mail it back until May 20th, that is 35 days late. Can my former employer refuse to pay?

Simi Valley, California

Answer: Legally speaking, the answer is “Yes.” Is your former employer likely to reject it? The answer to that question is almost definitely, “No.”

First, “legally speaking”: An offer is considered “accepted” at the moment the “acceptance” is delivered. In your case, that would be May 21st or 22nd. Since a “deadline” of April 23rd had been set, the employer could “reject” the late acceptance.

Second, “practically speaking”: That being said, I want you to know that it is very, very rare for an employer to reject a signed severance agreement, no matter how late it is delivered. That is because it would in almost all cases be counterproductive to the employer’s goal: getting you and as many other terminated employees to sign the agreement. Additionally, if your “acceptance” (although tardy) is rejected, you will likely hire an attorney, who might want to bring a lawsuit, and that is the exact opposite of what your employer is trying to achieve in the first place. I’ve seen severance agreements rejected in the circumstances you describe just two or three times in the 26+ years of my work on severance issues.

Think about it: If your employer wanted to take the severance agreement “off the table,” it would not have been put “on the table” in the first place.

Please do write back if you have any problem in this regard. I would be surprised if you did.

Best, Al Sklover

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