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For employees covered by a severance pay plan, ERISA means that they will know what severance they should receive and under what circumstances.

Employees can also bargain with employers over severance pay at the end of their employment relationship.

The employer may want a clean break and a promise by the employee not to suet.

This helps them secure leadership for jobs that are by nature risky and insecure.

Like coaches of major league teams, though, most executives now negotiate severance terms as part of their initial employment agreements.

Importantly, if employers do not deliver a promised ERISA benefit, or interfere with employees' right to it, ERISA gives employees the right to go to court.

Employees who win ERISA cases can also receive an award to pay for their attorneys’ fees.At-will employees rarely receive severance pay upon their termination. Unless fired for cause, though, eligible, terminated at-will employees should receive unemployment compensation benefits.Employers can offer a Severance Pay Plan as an employee benefit, but most do not.A severance benefit in a union contract looks like an ERISA severance pay plan, but is regulated by federal labor laws.While employers can create severance pay plans, most do not.Severance pay agreements also include severance pay clauses in employment agreements negotiated at the beginning of employment.Unless the parties agree otherwise, the law presumes that their employment relationship is “at-will.” This means it lasts only as long as both parties want it to last.Unemployment compensation benefits, which are also known as unemployment insurance, are not, technically, a form of severance pay.Rather, the federal government created unemployment compensation programs as a statutory benefit in 1935.Employers can voluntarily pay severance to employees, and some used to do it.If the employer demands a general release of rights (i.e., a promise not to sue) in exchange for severance, that converts an offer of severance into a negotiated severance payment by agreement.

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