Is It Legal for California Employers to Offer Voluntary Severance to Workers?

Legal Considerations of Pay to Quit Programs in California

In recent years, a new trend has emerged in the world of employment: pay to quit” programs

These programs, also known as voluntary severance packages, offer employees a financial incentive to resign from their positions. While this concept may seem counterintuitive at first glance, it has gained popularity among some employers. In this article, we will explore what “pay to quit” entails and whether it is legal for California employers to offer such programs.

Understanding “Pay to Quit”

“Pay to quit” programs are designed to encourage employees who are not fully engaged or committed to their jobs to voluntarily leave the company. 

The idea behind this approach is that it can be beneficial for both the employer and the employee. For the employer, it allows them to reduce the number of disengaged workers and make room for more motivated and productive employees. For the employee, it provides an opportunity to receive a financial cushion while they search for a new job that better aligns with their goals and interests.

Typically, “pay to quit” programs offer employees a lump sum payment in exchange for their voluntary resignation. The amount offered can vary depending on factors such as the employee’s length of service, position, and the company’s budget.

Legality of “Pay to Quit” in California

In California, employers are generally permitted to offer voluntary severance packages to their employees. However, there are some important legal considerations that employers must keep in mind when implementing such programs.

  1. Discrimination and Retaliation: Employers must ensure that the offer of a “pay to quit” program is not discriminatory or retaliatory in nature. They cannot target specific individuals or protected classes of employees based on characteristics such as age, race, gender, religion, or disability. The program must be offered equally to all eligible employees.
  2. Coercion and Duress: Employers cannot coerce or pressure employees into accepting a “pay to quit” offer. The decision to participate in the program must be entirely voluntary, and employees should not face any negative consequences for declining the offer.
  3. Waiver of Claims: If an employer requires employees to sign a waiver of claims or a release of liability as part of the “pay to quit” agreement, they must ensure that the waiver complies with California law. The waiver must be knowing and voluntary, and it cannot release claims for unpaid wages, workers’ compensation benefits, or other statutory rights.
  4. Final Pay and Benefits: Employers must adhere to California’s final pay laws when an employee resigns through a “pay to quit” program. This means providing the employee with their final wages, including any accrued but unused vacation time, on their last day of work.

Considerations for Employees

Employees who are offered a “pay to quit” package should carefully consider their options before accepting the offer. They should assess their financial situation, job prospects, and personal goals to determine whether resigning is in their best interests. 

It is also advisable to review the terms of the severance agreement with an employment attorney to ensure that they are not waiving any important legal rights.


“Pay to quit” programs can be a legal and effective way for California employers to manage their workforce and encourage disengaged employees to move on. However, employers must implement these programs in a non-discriminatory and non-coercive manner, and they must comply with all relevant California and federal laws

Employees, in turn, should carefully evaluate the potential benefits and drawbacks of accepting a voluntary severance offer before making a decision. 

As with any employment-related matter, it is always wise to seek the guidance of an experienced employment attorney to protect one’s rights and interests.

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