Severance Package: Ultimate Guide

By: | Updated: November 02, 2023

You found our ultimate guide on severance packages.

A severance package includes every form of compensation firms give employees after their employment contract ends through dismissal or termination. Examples include monetary compensation and other benefits like continued health coverage, vacation pay, and outplacement services. The severance package may be a goodwill gesture from the employer to help workers deal with unemployment. Offering severance as part of an employee’s benefits package is one way for companies to stand out as competitive places to work and attract and retain talented personnel.

This guide is related to layoff best practices and employee attrition.


This article contains:

  • severance package definition
  • elements of severance packages
  • examples of severance packages
  • severance package negotiation tips

Here we go!

Severance package definition

A severance package is a compensation and benefits package that an employer offers to an employee leaving the company. These exits may be due to circumstances such as layoffs, termination, or voluntary separation programs. The primary purpose of the package is to provide financial assistance and support during the transition period as the employee seeks new employment opportunities. Severance packages typically consist of several components, which can vary based on company policies, industry norms, and the individual’s job position and tenure.

The core elements of a severance package often include a lump-sum payment or a series of payments based on the employee’s length of service, position, and salary. This financial compensation is intended to help the departing employee cover immediate expenses. In addition, the package aims to bridge the gap until workers secure a new job and alleviate some of the uncertainties associated with sudden job loss. In addition to the monetary component, severance packages may include temporary health insurance coverage, access to career counseling services, and outplacement assistance. The employer and employee typically negotiate the exact terms of a severance package. Additionally, the company typically outlines these terms in a formal agreement or contract.

Severance packages offer financial relief and support to departing employees. These packages also benefit employers by fostering a more positive employee-employer relationship, even during challenging times. By offering a well-structured severance package, companies can show their commitment to their employees’ well-being and reduce potential negative sentiments. Moreover, such packages can help companies safeguard their reputation and maintain employee morale. This aspect can be crucial for attracting and retaining talent in the long run.

Elements of severance packages

Even if your firm already has a severance plan, it is a good idea to revisit it periodically to ensure it adequately addresses your business’s requirements and your employees’ expectations. The primary objective is to design a plan that is affordable for the company and beneficial to the departing employees. Severance packages may contain the following elements.

1. Severance Pay

Severance pay is a critical component of a severance package, providing financial support to employees leaving a company. This lump sum or series of payments is typically based on factors like the employee’s length of service, position, and salary. The primary purpose is to alleviate the immediate financial burden from sudden job loss, giving employees a financial cushion as they transition to new employment opportunities.

The amount of severance pay can vary widely, depending on company policies, industry norms, and the specific circumstances of the employee’s departure. Companies often calculate the amount using a formula that considers the employee’s years of service, salary level, and sometimes even performance evaluations. In some cases, high-ranking executives may receive more generous severance packages due to the nature of their positions and contractual agreements. Severance pay is both a means to assist employees during their transition and a way for companies to demonstrate empathy and goodwill.

2. Health Insurance

Companies are obligated to let dismissed workers keep their health insurance coverage under the employer plan for up to 18 months under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1995. However, the business is not obligated to cover the cost of the premiums. The firm can choose to pay the COBRA premiums as part of the severance package, often for three to six months. Therefore, the worker may continue to get health insurance benefits throughout their job search. A severance package can include the continuance of benefits other than medical insurance, such as life or accidental death and disability coverage.

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3. Retirement Benefits and Stocks

Some firms include a portion of an employee’s unvested interest in a pension, IRA, or 401(k) as part of a severance package. What happens to folks’ 401(k), pension, and stock options when they leave their jobs varies by jurisdiction and company. Employees can ask for a copy of the policy and have their lawyer review them.

If the firm has an employee stock option plan, then it can convert unvested stock options to cash or vest them quickly as part of a severance settlement. However, the organization can grant impacted workers more time to take action if necessary since these programs often require employees to execute stock options within six months.

4. Outplacement Service and Career Transition Support

Outplacement services are a valuable component often included in severance packages. Outplacement aims to support employees in their job search and career transition after leaving a company. These services include a range of resources designed to help individuals navigate the job market with greater confidence and success. Outplacement assistance often includes personalized career coaching, resume and cover letter writing guidance, interview preparation, and access to networking events or job fairs. These offerings give departing employees the tools and knowledge they need to secure new employment opportunities swiftly.

By providing outplacement services, companies showcase their commitment to their employees’ well-being even during transitions. This support fosters a more positive relationship between the employer and the departing employee and maintains the company’s reputation and employer brand. Outplacement services can help employees regain their professional footing more quickly, potentially reducing the period of unemployment and its associated financial and emotional strain. Ultimately, these services offer a win-win scenario, benefiting both departing employees and the company’s image.

5. Employer Reference

The severance package allows employees to stipulate how their employer handles references and recommendations. The employer may offer to provide the departing worker with a neutral or favorable reference or even a letter of recommendation. However, many organizations have a policy to confirm a worker’s employment at a company, which means teams should ensure the severance is in line with the company’s standard practice.

6. Assistance with Relocation

As part of the severance package, a company may provide departing employees with valuable assistance for relocation. Recognizing the potential upheaval caused by a change in employment, this support covers various aspects of the moving process. This benefit often includes financial aid to help cover moving costs, such as transportation expenses, temporary housing, and even assistance with finding suitable housing in the new location. By offering this relocation assistance, the company aims to alleviate some logistical and financial burdens associated with transitioning to a new geographic area.

7. Counseling Services

In recognition of the emotional toll that leaving a job can have on individuals, a severance package may include access to professional counseling services. These services provide departing employees with a supportive environment to address the emotional challenges often accompanying such transitions. Employees may be coping with feelings of loss, managing stress and anxiety, or navigating the uncertainties of the future. The counseling services offer a confidential space for individuals to discuss and process their emotions. This inclusion underscores the company’s commitment to the well-being of its employees during both the practical and emotional aspects of their departure.

8. Miscellaneous Benefits

Businesses can give additional, one-of-a-kind benefits that the impacted staff would appreciate, and providing these benefits may be relatively simple.

Here are some other examples of severance package benefits:

  • Permitting workers to retain any company-issued devices that they used in the course of their employment, such as a phone or laptop
  • Continuing payments of educational benefits if the worker is still participating in the program
  • Allowing employees to keep using discounts or perks the firm offers, such as discounted or free gym memberships and employee support programs
  • Canceling noncompete agreements

Since every worker has unique life experiences, the benefits included in a severance package should be according to the requirements of the departing employee.

Severance package negotiation tips

The following tips will help employees negotiate a better severance package with their employer.

1. Understand Your Rights

Before entering into negotiations, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of your legal rights and entitlements in your jurisdiction. Labor laws can vary significantly from region to region, so research the specific regulations. For instance, look into severance pay, benefits continuation, and any other relevant aspects. This knowledge empowers you to engage in negotiations from an informed standpoint. Thus, you can advocate for fair treatment and safeguard your legal rights throughout the process.

2. Gather Information

As you prepare to negotiate your severance package, taking the time to gather information is a strategic move. It is important to research industry norms and benchmarks for your role and level of experience. If available, investigate your company’s history of providing severance packages to departing employees. Additionally, study the details of your employment contract, employee handbook, and any relevant policies. Armed with this information, you will be better equipped to evaluate the initial offer, understand how your situation compares to others, and make informed decisions about what to request during negotiations.

3. Consider Legal Advice

The complexity of employment laws and the intricacies of severance agreements make seeking legal advice a smart step. Consulting with an employment attorney can provide personalized insights tailored to your situation. An attorney can help you navigate potential legal pitfalls, review the proposed terms of the severance package, and ensure that your rights are respected. This guidance is particularly valuable if the negotiation involves elements beyond standard severance pay. For instance, lawyers can assist with non-compete clauses, equity vesting, or complex benefits arrangements.

4. Be Prepared to Negotiate

Entering into negotiations with a clear mindset is key. While you may have a specific outcome in mind, it is essential to approach the process with flexibility and openness to compromise. First, begin by understanding your own priorities, whether it is financial compensation, continuation of benefits, or assistance with job placement. However, also recognize that negotiation is a two-way street, and the goal is to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement. Being prepared to engage in constructive discussions and being open to creative solutions can lead to a more successful outcome for both you and your employer.

5. Emphasize Your Value

When advocating for a more favorable severance package, it is valuable to highlight your contributions to the company. You can discuss the projects you have successfully undertaken, the impact you have made on the team, and any unique skills you bring to the table. Demonstrating the value you have added to the organization can strengthen your negotiation position. By showcasing your professional achievements, you can make a compelling case for why your severance package should reflect your contributions and dedication.

6. Stay Professional

Throughout the negotiation process, maintaining professionalism is crucial. It is important to remember that this is a business negotiation, and you need to keep your emotions in check. During discussions, focus on the severance package details and avoid personal attacks or confrontational language. Effective communication, respect for the other party’s perspective, and a collaborative attitude can contribute to a more productive and respectful negotiation process.

7. Propose Solutions

Negotiations involve finding common ground between two parties with potentially differing viewpoints. If the initial offer does not meet your needs, then consider proposing alternative solutions that could address both your concerns and the company’s limitations. This proposal might include adjusting the severance pay, extending benefits, or facilitating a smoother career transition. A willingness to engage in solution-oriented discussions can demonstrate your commitment to reaching a fair agreement.

8. Get Agreements in Writing

Once negotiation terms are settled, it is essential to formalize the agreement in writing. Documenting the agreed-upon severance package ensures that both parties are on the same page. Additionally, this step reduces the risk of miscommunication or disputes down the line. A written agreement provides clarity and transparency, serving as a reference point should any questions arise in the future.

9. Keep Emotions in Check

Negotiating a severance package can be emotionally charged, particularly if it is tied to job loss. It is natural to feel a range of emotions, from frustration to uncertainty. However, maintaining a composed demeanor during negotiations is essential. Emotions can cloud judgment and hinder productive communication. By staying focused on the terms of the severance package and approaching discussions with a level head, you increase the likelihood of achieving a satisfactory outcome.

10. Know When to Walk Away

While negotiation is about finding a compromise, there may be situations where the company is unwilling to meet your reasonable requests. Recognizing when it is appropriate to walk away from the negotiation table is important. If the terms offered do not align with your needs, values, or industry standards, then you might need to consider exploring other options. For example, you may seek alternative employment opportunities or seek legal counsel if you suspect your rights are being violated.


It is as crucial to negotiate your exit from a job as it was to do so in your entry. In most cases, you will have leeway to negotiate with a former employer since they want to keep the process amicable and preserve their company’s image as a decent workplace. You can learn as much as possible about the severance packages offered by your firm and negotiate to get the most out of them. Consultation with an employment law professional may assist you in determining what is typical in your industry or among businesses of your size.

Next, check out our guide to quiet firing.

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FAQ: Severance packages

Here are frequently asked questions about severance packages.

What are severance packages?

Severance packages are different forms of compensation firms offer to employers after terminating their employment contract. With a complete understanding of the value of severance packages, you can decide on the benefits to include in the package your firm provides to leaving workers.

What is a good severance package?

A good severance package should contain appropriate pay, outplacement, and insurance coverage. The package should be reasonable and fair for all the parties involved.

What should you include in a severance package?

The severance package can include retirement benefits, severance pay, and medical insurance. The package can also include outplacement services and support during career transition.

How do you design a severance package?

When designing a severance package ahead of a potential round of layoffs, you may better align with the firm’s long-term goals, get the advice of legal counsel, and send the corporate policy to all workers. You should define the company’s severance objectives to include the right elements.

How do you negotiate a severance package?

You should not be shy about asking follow-up questions or requesting further information. When negotiating a severance package, getting an expert opinion and reviewing your offer carefully is advisable. You can also decide your priorities and set a goal.

Author avatar


People & Culture Director at
Grace is the Director of People & Culture at She studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Information Science at East China Normal University and earned an MBA at Washington State University.


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