Reductions in Force, Layoffs, Downsizing, Rightsizing or whatever you may call it is occurring with greater frequency as the economic conditions continue to deteriorate. The business objects are reducing costs, preserving talent, treating separated employee with compassion and avoiding litigation. The compassion and litigation avoidance may go hand in glove.
The most prevalent litigation avoidance strategy is getting a release from separated employees for which a company pays severance and provides other benefits. Some companies pay severance without requiring a release and others pay enhanced severance if the employee releases claims.
I frequently get asked how much severance is appropriate. There is no right answer to this question, but depends on a myriad of factors including the size of the company, its financial condition, the number and positions of employees being released, the tenure of the employees and the risk of litigation.
Ann Bares at Compensation Force has a post that notes Global and US Severance Pay Benchmarks. There is a caveat on the international benchmark information. Severance pay is mandated by some governments outside the United States including Canada and many European countries. The amount of mandated severance varies depending sometimes on age, years of service and the reason for separation. Also missing from the analysis might be unemployment benefits received by US employees. As usual, it is not an "apples-to-apples" comparison.
Also keep in mind that releases of employment-related claims should be reviewed by legal counsel.