If I Am Laid Off, Does My Employer Have to Pay Me Severance?

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There is no requirement for severance pay under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act or the Code of the District of Columbia. Whether an employee receives severance pay is ultimately a decision made by individual employers.

However, all District government employees whose jobs fall under the personnel authority of the mayor may qualify for severance pay upon separation. These severance-eligible employees are classified as career, excepted, executive, legal, and management supervisory service personnel. Some people may qualify for additional severance. Eligible employees could receive additional service credits that include:

  • Four extra years for employees who qualify for veterans’ preference
  • Three extra years for employees who qualify for District residency preference

Depending on the cause of your termination, you may have other means of obtaining compensation from your former employer. However, all states in the US, including DC, recognize some degree of at-will employment, meaning that companies can legally fire their employees at any time without apparent cause or reason.

It is worth mentioning that D.C. offers some notable exceptions to its at-will employment standard. For example, you cannot get fired in D.C. because you are a whistleblower, filed a workers’ compensation claim or sexual harassment complaint, reported illegal workplace activity, engaged in union activity, or challenged hourly wage violations. If you are let go for any of these reasons, even with some form of severance pay agreement, you still have the right to challenge it as unlawful grounds for dismissal in court.

Similarly, if you were terminated on an illegal basis, such as a violation of the Equal Employment Opportunity laws, you have the right to challenge your termination and potentially could obtain severance pay through a court action or settlement. Terminations in violation of those laws could be based on race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age (over 40), disability, national origin, or genetic information (including family medical history).

What Are the Rules for Severance Pay in DC?

Washington, D.C., law stipulates that severance pay shall not exceed 26 weeks at the same rate issued immediately before separation. Federal employees may receive up to 52 weeks of severance pay. You would not receive severance pay if you were:

  • Fired for disciplinary reasons or cause
  • Receive disability compensation under the disability compensation program
  • Paid by stipend, honorarium, fee, or per diem as a board member or commissioner
  • Stand to receive any severance from a different District or federal entity
  • You are offered and decline to accept an equivalent position or opportunity to transfer
  • Eligible for an immediate annuity

Am I Eligible to Receive Severance?

It’s important to remember that some private employment contracts, company policies, and collective bargaining agreements already include provisions for severance pay in the event of a layoff. If you have a job handbook or are part of a union, you should review these documents to see if you are owed any severance pay from your company. Otherwise, you will have to consult someone from your company directly to find out the current policy for severance pay.

A federal employee is eligible for severance pay and severance packages only if they are involuntarily separated, have served a 12-month period of either full-time or part-time continuous duty, and serve under a qualifying appointment. Qualifying appointments include career SES appointments, career or career conditional appointments, and an excepted appointment that has no time limitation.

Contact Us for Help with Your Severance Pay

At The Vaughn Law Firm, we take employment disputes seriously and know how difficult it can be to lose a job. Our employment lawyers will help you plan the best course of action following a layoff by analyzing all relevant aspects of your claim and pursuing the justice and compensation you deserve. Call us for help at 804-266-9619 today.