If a University is laying off many people from a department. They will receive one, or two months of pay, and a lump sum for a number of employment years.

Would the members of this department have any leverage when they are offered this package?

Could they decline to sign it and ask for more? Do they have any leverage to do this?

  • 3
    When you say "deny signing it", do you mean "sign it, but later claim you didn't" (that would be fraud), or "refuse to sign it in the first place"? If the latter, you will need to describe the circumstances more fully - in particular, where are you? How do the terms compare to statutory minimum? Are you a member of a union? – Martin Bonner supports Monica Aug 22 '19 at 7:11
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not a legal quewstion and belongs on Workplace.SE – A. K. Aug 22 '19 at 19:15

You didn't lay out the details of your case, but typically, the severance package depends on you signing a document in which you agree to certain things, such as, the dismissal is not for any unjust reason (race/religion/gender), and you will not pursue any legal action against the University. Other conditions might be attached as well, such as agreeing not to claim Unemployment Benefits, not to write any bad reviews of employment, not to discuss the details of your severance package, etc.

The severance package doesn't come for free. The employer is typically trading the severance package for the legal certainty of a clean break, and/or the protection of their reputation.

If you decline to sign the document, and do not accept the severance package, the implication is that you're not releasing the University, and you might sue, or might claim benefits, or might write bad reviews, etc.

Your employer would weigh your suggestion of a bigger/better benefits package against that. Do they think you could reasonably sue them for anything? Do they really care if you write some bad reviews? Does it affect them much if you claim a few weeks of Unemployment Benefits?

If they answer these questions as "No, not likely, and if it does happen, its not a big deal", then they'll probably let you go with no severance package at all.

If you think you really can concern them with a legitimate issue (eg. "I'm not willing to sign this package, because I don't think the office-bullying has been properly addressed"), then maybe they'll offer something more.

Be extremely careful not to phrase it in such a way that sounds like blackmail, such as: "If you don't give me a bigger package, I just might talk to a reporter about the sexist workplace culture". That would be crossing a line that might expose you to criminal charges.


Assuming your denial of signing does not mean repudiation, of course you may decide to not sign. But depending upon your University policies, any contracts and agreements in place as well as laws, particularly state and federal laws, your employer has assembled a package designed to be attractive and to provide benefit to the employer.

But if you refuse to agree, you will not receive the benefits in the package, which are normally in excess of what would be provided. Normally packages are assembled to accomplish objectives of an employer, which also include reducing the likelihood of future suits.

It is unlikely that you will get a customized package, but if you think you have a good case for it, then go for it. You would be well served with consulting with an employment law firm. Depending upon your city size, you might have to go out of town to a nearby community to find someone who does not have a conflict with the university, and who you think will provide acceptable service.


In a negotiation, you only have leverage if you can at least give the impression that you're willing to walk away if your terms are not met. In this case, you don't have any option to walk away - you're already going to be out of a job, so walking away from the severance offer will get you nothing instead. Your university doesn't really have any reason to incentivize you to take the offer, if you don't, it won't affect them negatively in any way. It's only a negative for you. You can certainly try to negotiate your severance, but I don't expect you'll be very successful, since you don't have anything the university wants to use as leverage.

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    As I outlined in my answer, the University is not giving the Severance package for nothing, out of the goodness of their heart. They are likely getting something out of it, such as a legal release or non-disparagement agreement. The potential leverage is what this employee might have as a legal case or unflattering information or even just a basic claim for Unemployment Benefits. The question is what OP has that the employer wants, and how much is it worth to the employer? – abelenky Aug 22 '19 at 21:51

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