Negotiate a severance package. It’s worth the effort.
It’s not uncommon for a new client to contact me, panicked, because their employer is about to terminate their job. I have seen this happen with people whose positions have ranged from CEO or CFO to Administrative Assistant.
When someone is in the process of being constructively dismissed, which means terminated from their position at work without just cause, it can really throw them for a loop. They tell me they never realized a company might get rid of them because they have fallen out of favour with the higher-ups and not because they can’t do their job.
<< Details in the stories that follow have been altered to protect privacy>>
Three examples of constructive dismissals
One woman I worked with was terminated from her position because her boss, who was a VP, didn’t like that she was more popular than the VP with management. She was terminated by the VP three months before her boss was let go. From the outside, this looked suspiciously like an act of vengeance by the VP against the firm.
In a second case, a woman had told her boss that the company had overcharged one of their customer’s 25 million dollars over six years. If this information had been shared with senior management at the company, the boss would most certainly have been let go. Makes sense that the boss would want this woman gone – and quick.
In a third case, a fellow with an excellent work ethic and exceptional track record was told his position was being eliminated because his skills were no longer needed. He was on medical leave at the time. When he checked back in with the company four months later, he discovered that three people were doing the work he had been doing by himself. His position had not been eliminated, as he had been told.
His interpretation? He said he believed that the company didn’t want him to work from home anymore. Because of physical limitations, he was unable to come to the company’s offices. Stated simply, it appears that the company had decided that they didn’t want to accommodate his physical limitations anymore.
So, if you’re in a situation where you’re in the process of being constructively dismissed, what should you do? Based on my experience, here are five ideas to mull over.
Options for how to move forward
1. Talk with an experienced psychologist
Psychologists are required to maintain confidentiality with their clients, so meeting with a psychologist will always provide a place where you can talk through problems without fear that your privacy will be violated. Meeting with a psychologist can be valuable simply because you get to say things out loud to get your thoughts in order.
In each of the cases that I’ve described, my clients reported they received valuable support as they went through the process of being constructively dismissed. By meeting with a psychologist, they had a place where they could talk freely, even though the paperwork that accompanied their constructive dismissals from their employers stipulated that they could not talk to anybody about the case.
2. Review your settlement offer with an employment lawyer
In each of the cases I described, the individual was given paperwork that detailed the lump sum of money they would be paid in exchange for accepting their termination. It makes sense that this lump sum should be big enough to be attractive to the individual being terminated so that they will accept what’s being offered and walk away, right?
In each of these cases, the individual was told that they had a limited amount of time to accept the offer. They were told that if they did not accept the offer within this amount of time, the offer would be withdrawn.
Companies are motivated to do this because, presumably, there must be a significant number of people that will be frightened by the time limit specified and that will accept the offer without exploring their rights. In my experience, however, it has made sense for my clients to at least consult with an employment lawyer to determine whether the offer being made was reasonable.
In each of the cases I’ve described, an employment lawyer was able to negotiate a higher settlement than was initially offered. This will not always be the case, but why would a company offer more money than they may have to in their initial offer? Why would some companies not offer you half of what they are prepared to offer in case you accept the initial offer put forward?
3. Don’t be intimidated
In the first case I described, my client taught me the value of involving an employment lawyer in reaching the ultimate settlement. Over the course of a couple weeks, this individual’s lawyer was able to increase his settlement by about 30% over the initial offer. This client was not intimidated by his firm and was able to enter into negotiations to increase his final payout because he was familiar with how employment law works.
In the second case I described, I learned that some people are terrified about being terminated and may not be aware that this is a negotiation they have entered into and not a situation that is cut and dry. In this case, my client summoned the courage to hire an employment lawyer and received a settlement that was 35% higher than what she had been offered initially.
As you consider whether to hire an employment lawyer not, it is important to know that you may not be required to talk to your firm again after you have engaged a lawyer’s services.
4. Don’t get worn down
In the third case, my client taught me that sometimes people are too worn down by the time the final offer arrives to be able to defend themselves. In these cases, the individuals are quite vulnerable. The employer likely knows how exhausted and worn out the person is and may take advantage of this exhaustion by not offering as good an offer as they might have otherwise.
From what I’ve been exposed to, one question that an employment lawyer will ask you is whether you want to fight to keep your job or not. It seems prudent to at least explore the idea of not fighting for the job. Personally, I would hesitate to keep a job where I am not wanted because being in a hostile environment, day after day, would beat me up emotionally. Of course, it’s up to everyone to make their own decision about whether they want to fight to keep their job or not in a constructive dismissal case.
5. Do your homework
I have one final thought about a question that probably arises once you have decided that you want to hire an employment lawyer. And that thought is, “Great, but where do I find a good one?”
My suggestion is as follows. Don’t just pull a name off the internet or ask your neighbour for the name of someone and then use their brother-in-law because this was the easiest name to find. Instead, do your research.
How do you do this? I’m not completely sure, but I do know that anything worth doing, such as negotiating for an additional pay-out on the settlement you have been offered, which, depending on your position, may be substantial, is worth more than 30 minutes of search-time.
Sometimes an experienced psychologist may have picked up the names of several employment lawyers who have done good work for their clients in the past. You might consider asking an experience psychologist a name if you have the opportunity to do so.
— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta