Don't sign anything right away. First you want to make sure you know exactly what you're signing. Plus, you might be able to negotiate for more.
"You are stunned," said Donna Ballman, an employee attorney in Florida. "Losing your job is as devastating as losing a family member — the trauma is real. You wouldn't sign something the minute you find out you lost a family member."
Severance agreements are designed to protect the company, noted Gregg Zeff, an employment lawyer in Philadelphia. They can include nondisclosure agreements and clauses that strip the company of any wrongdoing and prohibit a worker from suing.
"When you get a package, unless it's everything you wanted and more, you should contact a lawyer — there is no one protecting you," Zeff said.
You might be able to negotiate a better severance package, if you have some leverage.
"If your negotiation is 'please be nice to me,' sometimes that works," said Ballman. "Better yet, look for some potential claims you might have that could give you leverage to negotiate."
Ask for the reasoning of the layoffs and review who is getting eliminated: Are all the workers over age 50 getting laid off? Were you told it was a "last in, first out" situation, but you've been there for a decade, and are pregnant?
If you think you're being singled out due to race, age, sex or national origin, Ballman advised noting the ways you believe you've been treated differently. Any potential discrimination claims can bolster negotiations for a better severance package.
Always ask for a copy of anything you signed to keep for your own records.
If the company isn't willing to budge on the numbers in the severance package, there are other things you can ask for, according to Jay Zweig, a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner law firm. He suggested asking for a letter of recommendation, outplacement services or a set period of time for how long your company email or voicemail will remain functional.