If you work as a W-2 employee in Georgia your employment is most likely employment at will. The largest exception is if you were able to enter into an employment agreement either at the beginning of your employment or at some point during your employment that states otherwise. However, unless you are an executive of a large company, the odds are that you do not have an employment agreement that changes your at will status.
Employment at will means that you can quit your job at any time and for any reason and your employer can fire you at any time and for any reason, so long as it’s not illegal. If you are fired and your employment is at will, you are not entitled to any severance. Severance is basically a sum of money your employer may choose to give you in order to help cover some of your expenses while you look for another job.
However, it must be kept in mind that your employer is not required to pay any severance. As a result, you may ask why would they ever pay severance? Well, there are different reasons, including some employers think it’s the right thing to do as a token of appreciation of the job you have done for them, some may think it is the morally right thing to do to pay you for a certain period of time while you look for other employment, and sometimes employers know they have done something wrong and want to shield themselves from potential liability.
If your employer offers you severance, there is a 99.9% chance that in order to receive the severance, you will have to sign a severance agreement. In very simplistic terms, a severance agreement is a contract between you and your employer that says in exchange for you receiving severance pay, you agree to release any and all claims you may have against them and also agree to assist them if needed. So while severance can be seen as a company trying to do the right thing, they are also trying to protect themselves from any potential liability.
With respect to how much severance you should expect to receive, a general rule of thumb is that if the company is willing to pay you severance, and the termination is through no fault of your own, it can be one month’s pay for each year worked for the company. However, each company is different and sometimes it also depends upon the type of position you held and your salary at the time of your termination. Now, if you were fired because of some kind of misconduct, do not expect to receive any severance pay. On the other hand, if the company has acted in a way that can be deemed questionable, if not downright illegal, it is certainly possible to get more severance.
And with most things in life, you can always try to negotiate. My experience has been, and this is certainly no guarantee, that the initial amount of severance offered is the company’s floor, which means that while you may ask for more and not get it, it is highly unlikely a company would take severance away so long as you have been professional in trying to negotiate.