You’re a few years away from retirement and you fear that you’re about to be laid off or fired from your job — ruining all your retirement planning. Attorney Larry Bodine, editor-in-chief of Lawyers.com, says, don’t go quietly — “Negotiate.”
Bodine believes that an age discrimination claim can be your most powerful bargaining chip. “If you can see any reason that you are being laid off because of your age — age discrimination starts at age 40, and if workers younger than 40 are being spared — this gives you leverage. No company wants lawsuits brought by employees.”
Bodine acknowledges that actually filing an age discrimination suit is an unrealistic option for many. “If you file a claim, you’ll be in court for several years,” he says. And the odds of actually winning aren’t great. But Bodine thinks that the threat will make many employers nervous enough to ease your separation from the company.
Here are six things he says you can negotiate for and have a reasonably good chance of getting:
Severance. At least a month of pay for every year that you have worked for the company.
Paid COBRA. The federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act guarantees that you can buy the health insurance your company offers for a maximum of 18 months. Ask the company to pay for the insurance for the whole 18 months.
Accrued bonus. If you were expecting a bonus at the end of the year, ask for it early.
Unused vacation and personal leave. Get cash instead of days off.
No disputing unemployment insurance. You get to collect unemployment and they agree to tell the state it’s deserved.
Mutual goodwill. You promise not to say anything bad about the company or about anyone who works there to professional organizations or on social media if they will return the favor. Insist that the agreement has to be company-wide, even though it’s tough for them to guarantee it. That’s still more reason for the company to help you leave under the best possible circumstances. “This is especially effective if you are prominent in your industry. Companies hate to terminate people who are leaders in trade associations or who run online discussion groups,” Bodine says.
If the company asks you to sign a statement that says that you won’t sue, Bodine believes you need to hire a lawyer to review the agreement. You’ll need a plaintiff’s employment attorney. There aren’t an abundance of lawyers with this specialty, “but you can find one if you do your homework,” Bodine insists. “Check Lawyers.com.”
And whatever you do, no matter how frustrated you are, don’t quit. “If you quit, you extinguish all of your rights,” Bodine says. “If it comes down to it, make them fire you.”