MADISON (WKOW)--When Raul Villaverde joined the ranks of the unemployed, he wasn't crazy about the severance his company offered in exchange for a special agreement he had to sign when he left, so he fought for a different deal on the way out.
"There were certain aspects of the package which I did not like," he said.
Kirk Nemer of careerprotection.com says Villaverde was smart to fight.
"A severance offer is just like an employment offer. It's negotiable and a lot of employees don't realize that," Nemer points out.
And he says today's tough economy makes negotiation crucial.
"The severance pay packages are not as generous. That's why it's so important, more than ever, for employees to negotiate."
Nemer says don't sign anything immediately. Absorb the shock and take the time to completely understand what's on the table. These documents are written for the company's benefit, so you may want to consult a lawyer.
"There are many restrictions, covenants such as non-compete, non-solicitation clause, non-disparagement. If the employee doesn't know what they're signing goes forward, they may have trouble in the next few years."
Also, realize that you can negotiate for more than the dollar amount.
"There are many elements to a severance package. Many companies offer outplacement or transitional services where they hire a firm to find you a new job. Many companies will pay your health and dental and vision insurance and disability insurance, continue that," says Nemer.
You can even ask to keep your cell phone or company computer to help find your next job. It's in the business's best interest to do what they can as you go.
"If the word goes out that it's a bad company and you treat employees very poorly on the way out, you're going to have a tough time picking up employees in the future."
Raul Villaverde won his fight and offers advice for others who think they may soon be in a similar scenario.
"Know your situation before the severance package is handed to you. Try to understand what your value is to the organization."
Not all companies are required to offer severance, but all must follow specific laws based on how many workers they employ.
The longer you've worked and the higher your position in the company, the more bargaining power you have. And if you're over 40 and are laid off, you also have the right to additional information to make sure you were not discriminated against on the way out.