I Quit, Now Please Give Me Severance
January 9, 2019 3:14 AM   Subscribe

I am wondering if anyone here has successfully quit their job and got their employer to agree to severance or "termination without cause" so they could collect unemployment. If so, how did you do it?go

After much thought and discussion with family, I have decided to resign from my current role. I would prefer to have something else lined up, but that's not possible, and for my mental health and well-being I need to leave ASAP.

I have been with my organization for over 7 years. My performance has been excellent (got a good review just a few months ago). I'm on good terms with people generally. The role I'm currently in has not panned out as originally designed and there is not a viable path that I can see. There are other reasons for leaving, but that is a chief one. I am happy to give appropriate notice and work out a transition plan that doesn't leave the organization in the lurch on anything.

While I have a financial cushion that will last me six-months without having to take any additional work, I would prefer to collect unemployment or get a severance package if at all possible. I have never quit a job before and have no idea if this is possible, though I recognize it may be a long shot.

So does anyone have advice, suggestions, or actual language I could use in my upcoming conversation to negotiate an exit that would lead to my desired outcome.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In the US, if a worker collects unemployment, it causes the employer's unemployment insurance rate to go up, costing them money. We've had people quit at our firm and then try to claim unemployment. Owner then had to go to court to defend the firm. You can figure for yourself what the Owner's reaction was, and how it affected any recommendations the former employer might get from the Owner.
posted by rudd135 at 4:00 AM on January 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

You haven't said where you are, but I know someone in similar circumstances (had to leave for their health) in Canada who had their doctor back them up on this and left for their health and could therefore collect EI. This wasn't sickness leave EI,it was "I cannot do this kind of work because it is bad for my health" quitting.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:17 AM on January 9, 2019

In the USA, the unemployment insurance route will be tricky. However, after 7 years you may have accumulated sick days, vacation days or other pto days that your employer may ‘pay out’ at the end of your employment, effectively giving you some severance support. Also, you may be able to directly negotiate additional severance just to incentivize you to wind down the end of your employment on their terms rather than exclusively on yours.
posted by u2604ab at 5:41 AM on January 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

My mom did this once, 25 years ago. As I remember it, she had been at a job for about 15 years and desperately wanted a career change. She had a really good relationship with her management team, and somehow convinced them to lay her off so that she could collect unemployment. I was only 15 at the time, so I'm sure there are details I don't remember - they may have been getting ready to lay people off and she just volunteered, or maybe there was an HR issue or something, I have no idea. But she did collect unemployment for a bit.
posted by okayokayigive at 6:07 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

IANAL, and your location's laws may differ, but where I live, an employee who voluntarily leaves their job and somehow manages to collect unemployment is breaking the law, regardless of the employer's actions.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:20 AM on January 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

I know of someone who successfully negotiated severance when resigning a job in the U.S. I don't have any inside knowledge, but my impression is that both sides knew the relation was no longer working and the employee offered to give more than two weeks notice and assist with the transition in exchange for severance. I do know that the employee had previously tried to reach some sort of compromise to address their needs which did not work out.
posted by maurice at 6:23 AM on January 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

You need to offer them something in exchange. For example, a non-compete or a non-disclosure is worth something to your employer. That is the path I would take in addition to offering them to help at anytime.
posted by AugustWest at 6:30 AM on January 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

From my standpoint as an employer, it would be unusual to pay a random enployee who quit. If you have a special skill you can offer to it on a consulting basis for three months or if you say “I know two weeks is not a lot of time but I will come in and train my replacement for my hourly rate” that might get you some money.
posted by shothotbot at 6:33 AM on January 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

I know a person who engineered their own "golden handshake" not once, but three times. In each case, they got 18 months of pay plus some benefits, which provided their family with a nice sabbatical each time. Basically what they did was, each time, to propose to management a reorganization of their area of responsibility complete with a new organizational chart that did not include them. When asked, "where are you in this picture?" they said, well, there isn't really a need for me or for a person with my qualifications, so my suggestion is that we negotiate a severance package of me.

You can try this even if you have no direct reports — just present a proposal for how your duties could be absorbed by others in the organization and how there really is no need to fill your position, and suggest the negotiation of a severance package.

If it would not be possible for the employer to move on without replacing you, chances are they will not consider severance (or agree not to challenge your unemployment claim). But if they see the opportunity to eliminate your position, they'll take it seriously.
posted by beagle at 6:56 AM on January 9, 2019 [21 favorites]

One of the things employment lawyers do is negotiate severance agreements - it might be worth your while to at least have a quick consultation with one in your area.
posted by mskyle at 6:58 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Generally speaking severance is something that is offered to employees who leave employment at the behest of the employer, not to those who leave employment of their own accord. There may be situations in which a company appears to have provided severance to an employee who resigned, but this is very often because the employee was offered the ability to resign for the sake of appearances rather then being terminated or laid off.
posted by slkinsey at 7:02 AM on January 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

Are you in the US and do you have a funded medical/dental FSA in your benefits? You can technically spend 100% of that right now before you quit and the employer can't ask for the money back.

The 2019 contribution limit was $2,650 so you can pretty much consider that a healthy severance bonus if you had set it up right at the end of 2018.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:24 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I believe that it would be illegal to try to collect unemployment insurance after you have voluntarily quit your position without good cause and having your ex-employer recategorize why you left would probably be illegal for both of you.
posted by caddis at 8:27 AM on January 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Unemployment eligibility requirements vary by state. In California, it is legal to collect unemployment after quitting voluntarily if you quit for a good cause, which can include health reasons (possibly including mental health) or unsatisfactory working conditions (possibly including unwanted role changes). You should investigate the specific requirements in your state, and talk to a lawyer to help you interpret them.
posted by introcosm at 8:38 AM on January 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

A friend recently secured 2 months of severance by a) asking for it and b) agreeing to delay her departure date long enough that the company had time to hire her replacement.
posted by skrozidile at 9:23 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Of there's any chance the company will be doing layoffs, you may be able to volunteer.

However, you are ill, and need leave for mental health, so I would pursue sick leave and/ or disability coverage.
posted by theora55 at 9:54 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

In Canada, there are indeed a number of reasons you can quit your job and collect EI (unemployment ensurance).

I have quit a job and collected EI under these rules independently and without the assistance of any doctor, lawyer, etc. It had to do with unethical dealings by my employer forcing me to lie on the phone to avoid government bill collectors. I don't see the scenario you list in your post enumerated in the list of reasons for collecting EI after you quit though, so this might not help you.

Sick leave is one option for you. Alternatively, have you considered asking for a sabbatical or leave of absence? Would you be willing to return to your job after 3-6 months if your job search doesn't pan out?
posted by crazycanuck at 9:58 AM on January 9, 2019

beagle (comment above), I have dreams of doing exactly that: reorging myself out of existence in exchange for a paid sabbatical.

To answer the question though, I've done this once before. Not because I was going to be offered severance, but to be able to claim unemployment benefits.

I went to the head of the dept directly, asked if we could speak privately, and told him I needed to take a leave of absence for personal reasons that were related to what everyone else already knew about my life (public knowledge). I asked to be laid off, and he said was willing to put the reason down due to "lack of work available", which was typical for the dept I worked in due to seasonal shifts in work load. We parted on good terms and it all worked out swimmingly.

So I guess the trick is to have a good relationship with management, have a reason that an empathetic boss will understand, and to be honest and upfront about what you're looking for.
posted by Snacks at 10:24 AM on January 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

To abstract a little from some earlier comments about how to get a severance package even though you're the one leaving — your departure needs to solve some kind of problem for the company. The "re-org yourself out of a job" is one good model, but your comment that "the role I'm currently in has not panned out as originally designed and there is not a viable path that I can see" suggests another approach. If they agree with that vision, they may be sweating it too and not looking forward to having to find some other role for you or laying you off. If you come to them and say "look, I see where this is going and I can save us all a lot of heartache and money if we just agree on a plan to transition out now" that might be a genuine relief and easy to justify financially. Consider that the alternative is you stay on for another year, walk down that path of obsolescence, and THEN they have to lay you off. Most companies are bad at solving personnel problems rapidly, and giving you something less than a year of pay might still be a net win for them to solve a problem.

FWIW, I've seen this happen in my company. People whose jobs changed out from under them because of elements outside their control, and HR has made it clear that if those people want to just leave, HR will make it worth their while and pay them out in a way they otherwise wouldn't consider for a normal departure. That's all to say, this isn't a pipe dream, as long as your tidy and hasty departure actually solves a real problem for the company. I'd encourage you to think through from their perspective whether your role has a future and whether you could convince them of your POV and paint an unpleasant picture about the likely future here if they don't pay you out.
posted by heresiarch at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

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