When you’re leaving a job less-than-willingly, your employer may offer you a severance agreement. Lest you be tempted to think that your employer is acting on altruism, recognize that your employer has something to gain by making the offer: your signature on a release form absolving your employer from any claims regarding wrongful termination or discrimination.

Since severance packages are a matter of agreement between you and your employer, the terms are open to negotiation. You certainly don’t have to accept your employer’s first offer. Here are some suggestions for how to negotiate your options:

  1. Know your contract. You may have provisions in your contract that will clarify your entitlements. It’s always wise to review the paperwork in case there’s something you’ve forgotten.
  2. Consider the range of possibilities. Severance packages tend to give employees one to four weeks worth of their salary for every year of employment — although your circumstances may be different.
  3. Look for leverage points. The more you have to leverage, the better you can negotiate. Take a good look at the documentation you have regarding your performance to see what talking points you may have with your employer.
  4. Don’t underestimate your employer’s vulnerability. It’s also wise to consider exactly why your employer may be particularly anxious to get your release form. You may have a good case for discrimination — and that could be worth more than your severance package.
  5. Consider how your termination will affect satellite benefits. Health insurance costs, for example, can be significant once you’re required to pay your entire premium. You may want to use that issue to negotiate for a little more money or a delayed termination date (especially if you’re close to retirement).

Like other important business matters, you don’t have to negotiate a severance agreement without help. Find out how an experienced attorney can protect your interests and make sure that your severance package is fair.