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Severance offered for lay off withheld Massachusetts

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  • Severance offered for lay off withheld Massachusetts

    Here's my dilemma: I am currently employed by a large company in Massachusetts who decided to cease all activity within my division pending an internal audit and reorganization a few months ago. We have had no communication as to the state of our employment whatsoever until 2 weeks ago. We have all being in a holding pattern since then. A reorganization was announced and the workforce for my division was reduced by half. All the positions for this division were reworked and have new job descriptions for which we may choose to reapply for and reinterview for. This is true from the executive management levels down to the lower level workers. They have given us a few options: 1) Reapply and accept a new position (which may be a demotion on paper, but no reduction in salary) 2) Choose to not reapply and receive a severance package or 3) Reapply and if the management and structure is not our liking then we may decline and receive the severance package.

    A new communication arose this week detailing that if one chooses to take the severance or does not get offered a new position and is forced to take severance that they will withhold the severance package until a to be determined date of their choosing. The are calling this a "transition period" to which the laid off employees will need to remain in good standing until the company feels that knowledge transfer has been completed. The "timeline" for this is dependent on the current position held and when they see fit, with an estimated completion of December 2011. They said that any employee choosing or forced to take the severance will be given a 45 day notice for their date of termination. So this means that in the coming days the employees will be asked or forced to accept the severance package but will remain employed in their current position until they see fit to dissolve the position. This could take months. In the meantime, if one does find new employment and were not assigned a termination date yet or resign during the 45 day period they forgo the package entirely.

    The "hanging around" of laid off employees just does not seem like a good business decision for those who are remaining to be employed or for those who were laid off. Something about this situation does not sit well with myself or my coworkers and I would appreciate any input into this situation and what exactly people are or are not entitled to. I was under the assumption that once a severance package was formally accepted then a customary 2 week period "transition" period was all an employer could expect. It feels like the company is holding people somewhat hostage during this time. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  • #2
    There is no law that says that severance = two weeks' notice.
    I am not able to respond to private messages. Thanks!

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Marketeer View Post
      There is no law that says that severance = two weeks' notice.
      I definitely understand that, I was speaking to the "custom" of giving an employer two weeks notice. I guess the main gist of my question is when accepting a written severance package agreement is it lawful for the employer to leave the actual termination of employment date up in the air and only at the discretion of them; creating a grey zone between both parties agreeing to and the actual last day of work (when the severance kicks in). It almost appears that the employer is creating a retaliatory situation the severed employees to endure.

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      • #4
        Take a look at the WARN act (federal) requirements and make sure that this is not an issue. I have no idea whether or not it is, but it is worth while making sure. Some states also have their own version of the WARN act, but your state is not my state, and no opinion on that.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worker_...tification_Act

        Assuming that there are no WARN acts concerns, then there are no statutory laws on your issue. A "custom" argument is a common law argument. You can try making the argument but the first question from the judge will be for you to tell him/her what are the court/administrative decisions supporting your position. Citing "custom" by itself does not really help you.

        Alternatively, IF the employer says "do this thing and I will do the other thing", AND you do your thing but the employer stiffs you, THEN you actually have a common law argument with legs. Not a sure thing, but a much stronger argument then a "custom" argument.

        The problem is that conditional severance payments are the rule, not the exception. Severance payments with discriminatory or creative requirements are not unusual, and mostly not illegal. I worked for a place who had one of those creative severance policies where they kept moving the goal posts. I kept my mouth shut and looked for a new job. My employer assumed whatever they assumed but I bailed much earlier then they expected into a much better job. Just because severance is offered does not mean that the conditions make sense. Do not burn your bridges, but you should be looking for a new job NOW and not whenever the current employer gets tired of keeping you around.
        "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away".
        Philip K. **** (1928-1982)

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        • #5
          DAW- thank you so much for your response. I think I'll take that last bit of advice and quietly find a better job and leave. They have made their employee values well known and I'm lucky to get out now. Thanks a bunch!

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          • #6
            The "hanging around" of laid off employees just does not seem like a good business decision for those who are remaining to be employed or for those who were laid off. Something about this situation does not sit well with myself or my coworkers and I would appreciate any input into this situation and what exactly people are or are not entitled to. I was under the assumption that once a severance package was formally accepted then a customary 2 week period "transition" period was all an employer could expect. It feels like the company is holding people somewhat hostage during this time.

            Your employer is using severance as a "stay bonus." That is, they need employees to continue working for them until the transition is complete and they're no longer needed. It's not at all uncommon during a plant closing or a significant RIF.

            There's really no downside to the employees. They're free to jump ship anytime they wish if they find another job and if they don't, they'll have a steady paycheck until they're notified their job is eliminated and then be eligible for severance followed by unemployment benefits.

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