Do I have legal recourse for severance pay that was shorted?

I was recently employed at a company where I was part of an involuntary
separation. My 5 year anniversary date was 3/26, however my last day of
employment was 3/6. When I received my severance package from the company, they
documented that they considered the date of 3/1 in assigning my amount of
severance and gave me the 5 year amount. This is clearly stated in ‘months of
severance pay 6 months’ section of their documentation. I signed it and
returned it. When my severance was received, they gave me 3 months. I opened a
case in which they closed it and said that since I didn’t have the full 5 years
I’m only due 3 months severance. They did also send my ‘5 year service award’
plaque shortly after the termination as well.

My question is this….do they hold responsibility for providing the severance
amount on the legal paperwork that they provided me?

Asked on April 4, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Missouri


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

You have no recourse here unless you have an employment contract or union agreement that provides you are entitled to a guaranteed payout. The reason is that severance pay is not legally mandated; it is provided at an employer's discretion. Therefore, it has a great deal of say over how much is paid and when (or even if it is paid at all). Basically, a company can set the conditions of employment much as it sees fit, absent some form of legally actionable discrimination.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Unless you had an actual written contract guarantying you a certain amount of severance--not just information from them detailing what they expect to pay you, but an enforceable *contract* in which you promise to give them something of value in exchange for the severance--then the amount of severance you receive is purely voluntary on their part: without a contract, the employer can pay you any severance it wants (or no severance at all) and can change the promised severance at will. With a contract, you can sue for breach of contract. Without a contract, you would have no recourse or rights to anything other than what they chose to give you.

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