“Offered so-called ‘voluntary’ separation, with enhanced severance. Should I accept it?”

Question: My company is offering voluntary separation in exchange for enhanced (double) severance. Some people are specifically being told to take this opportunity, noting that there will be additional layoffs afterwards, and that they are “at risk” (i.e., on the layoff list). The paperwork states that you are accepting “voluntary separation,” but we all know it is not voluntary. Should I still sign?

Dallas, TX

Answer: I see two possible downside risks of accepting this “voluntary” separation. First, it could make it a bit difficult for you to apply for unemployment insurance afterwards, as unemployment is generally offered only to those who lose their jobs involuntarily. Second, if you don’t accept the “voluntary” separation, you just might continue to work for your employer for many years; there just might even be enough employees accepting the “voluntary” packages such that there may be no need for any layoffs.

On the other hand, double severance does sound better than plain, old severance. Additionally, your leaving “voluntarily” might be better for you in future interviews when you are asked, as you most probably will be, “Why did you leave your last job?” Having chosen to make a change in your life, at what seemed an opportune time, is a better reason than “I was chosen to go.”

Overall, the important questions seems to me, “Are you happy enough with your job to fight to keep it?” and “Do you believe you have a good chance of replacing your job before you severance runs out?” Said differently, there are many more important reasons to accept or reject a so-called “voluntary” severance package than its being wrongly titled.

Talk it over with your loved ones. I’ll bet they have some very good ideas on what you should do.

Hope that helps.

Best, Al Sklover

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