Can an employer not pay an employee a severance package if the employee tells other co-workers he/she has been laid off?

A family member was just notified that her position will be terminated in 30
days. During the meeting, the manager that she has no marks on her employee
file. The manager also said if she tells anyone that she’s been laid off, the
employer will not pay the severance package. She’s not necessarily worried
about verbally telling her co-workers, but she is worried that they will find
out on their own because of her change in demeanor, etc. I tend to think they
can’t not pay her a severance even if she tells them about the lay off.

The way it is worded in the official termination letter is ‘We know this is a
difficult transition, but expect that you will continue to conduct your work in
a professional and sustained manner in your transitional role or you may be
subject to termination and loss of your severance benefits.’

Is telling co-workers that she has been laid off not being ‘professional’?

Asked on May 31, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Michigan


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, there is no right to severance, unless you have a written employment contract specifying it; otherwise, without a contract, all severance is voluntary on the part of the employer, so to the employer is free to decide whether to pay it, what conditions to put on paying it, and whether an employee has honored those conditions. So the employer could, in its subjective judgment, decide that your family member has failed to act professionally and decline to pay severance and/or terminate her early. There is no objective standard of what is "professional"--it is entirely up to the employer's judgment.

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