Can They Do That? / Workplace Advice



Companies must deliver on promised severance

Q. My boss plans to lay off about 6 percent of our staff and cut the amount of severance pay promised. Previously he planned to offer us severance amounts based on a formula in the handbook. According to that policy, employees earn a certain number of weeks of severance pay for each year worked. But now the boss is limiting severance benefits to a fixed amount. That means some of us will receive half of what we thought we were due. Can the company reduce severance pay accrued under the official policy?

A. You've touched upon one of the few instances in which government agencies get involved in severance-pay issues. Companies aren't required to offer severance pay, but when they promise it, they have to deliver. And when they don't deliver, the agencies step in. Before contacting any of those offices, it's important for you to peruse the handbook to see how much wiggle room the company granted itself for changing the rules in midgame. If it's clear you've accrued severance, then insist on being paid the amount the formula shows you're entitled to. If you feel the company has breached its handbook promise, call the U.S. Labor Department at 866-4-USA-DOL.

Q: I recently left my consulting job of over two years. My annual review was due in November, but my manager didn't complete it until two weeks before my departure the next February. I received a total score of four out of five, the same as last year, which earned me a 5 percent increase in my base pay. I want to be compensated for the four months plus two weeks of vacation at the higher rate.

A: Whether or not you are out of luck depends on your answer to a critical question, says New York employee-rights attorney Alan Sklover, and it is this: Do you have a private written agreement or does the company have a written policy detailing when raises take effect?

"If the answer to that question is `yes,' then you probably have a very good chance of collecting your raise retroactively," Sklover said. "But if the answer to that question is `no,' " he said, "then you probably don't have much chance at all of collecting."

If your answer is "yes," Sklover suggests three steps:

First, write to the president or chief executive of your former company and explain what happened. Enclose a copy of the written agreement or policy. Explain that if you don't receive the retroactive amounts, you'll ask your state labor department to collect on your behalf.

If your employer doesn't respond favorably, proceed to the second step: Write to the state labor department. It can assist you either by sending a letter to your former employer or taking the company to court.

The third option is to contact an attorney or pursue the matter in a small-claims court.

Carrie Mason-Draffen is a columnist for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail her at yourmoney

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.