In this week's parasha (15:14) we find the mitzvah of ha'anaka to a freed eved ivri. This mitza has served over the centuries as the basis for the minhag to grant severance pay to terminated workers. The word basis is very important to understand, as the basis for a minhag does not necessarily yield the parameters of the minhag that ultimately evolves from its basis. The minhag, once established, takes on a life of its own, is its own independent organism, and develops and evolves on its own.
The case of severance pay is a classic case in point. There is no point in attempting to correlate the parameters of this minhag with the parameters of the mitzvah of ha'anaka.
But there is very much a point in attempting to ascertain the parameters of the minhag of severance pay in and of themselves.
Particularly in our day and age, when the issue of severance pay is often a major issue in the worlds of chinuch, rabbonus and other klei kodesh positions - often culminating in Dinei Torah, which in and of themselves are often adjudicated by unscrupulous zavla courts.
The publication of the sefer - kettan ha'kamus ach rav ha'eichus - "Chodesh L'Shana" is a very positive development.
The author is Rabbi Naftali Zvi Frankel. His address and phone number are in the book, and he has email access as well. As he has not explicitly permitted me to publicize his email address, you can write to me and I will forward your comments to him.
It records the written opinions of many of the greatest yoshveial m'din in North America, Eretz Yisroel and Europe that the normative operative minhag is that formulated by the מרא דארעא of North America, Rav Moshe zt"l, of severance pay of a month of salary per year of employment.
I have a negi'a of family affinity, but I like best the way in which my uncle, R' Dovid Schochet shilta, an אב"ד in Toronto expresses the minhag:
1. Klei kodesh is defined as a role that only a Jew can fill - viz., a Mashgi'ach, a Mechanech, a Shamash in a shul, etc. For all these positions, severance pay is chodesh l'shana.
2. For any position that a non-Jew can also fill, the severance pay is in accordance with the general minhag ha'medinah of "shavu'a l'shana" - viz., a week of salary per year of employment. [He explains that it has to be this way, since otherwise no Jewish employer would hire a Jew for a position for which he could hire a non-Jew.]
3. The severance is only due if the employer terminates the employee, and vice versa.
4. The severance is only due if the position is still extant. [He does not mean that by eliminating a position the employer exempts himself from chodesh l'shana. So long as there is still demand or a necessity for the position, its "official" elimination does not exempt the employer from his obligation.]
5. An institution that has shut down and is no longer functioning is exempt from the obligation.
6. During the first two years in a position, a Mechanech is in a probationary status, and has no right to severance. However, if he continues in the position beyond the first two years, in the event of his eventual termination, the first two years are included in the calculation of chodesh l'shana.
[He continues on to give some practical advice on arrangements.]
To conclude, there are nevertheless mosdos and administrators who assert that they are not subject to the minhag of chodesh l'shana. Moreover, I have recently heard that some mosdos are now writing into their contracts that they do not abide by the minhag of chodesh l'shana. When I hear of such happening, I am often led to wonder whether these ostensible leaders are actually מאמינים שיש דין ויש דיין.