In an environment of economic instability and budget constraints, many governments are finding themselves at a crossroads and electing to trim personnel as a means of reducing expenditures. There are two basic types of government termination benefits—voluntary and involuntary. These termination benefits have certain accounting issues that should be addressed when recording and reporting these transactions in governmental financial statements. And, as usual with governmental accounting, the treatment of benefit recognition might vary between accrual and modified-accrual accounting.
Two Types of Government Termination Benefits and Their Recognition Requirements
- Voluntary Termination Benefits: Defined as offering termination benefits as an incentive for early retirement in an effort to reduce workforce (effectively encouraging “volunteers”).
Recognition Requirements: If the offer is accepted with an estimated amount—and the financial statements are prepared utilizing the accrual basis of accounting, then the government should recognize a liability and expense for the voluntary termination benefits.
- Involuntary Termination Benefits: Defined as personnel layoffs. Governments may offer severance benefits as part of a layoff package to terminated employees such as lump-sum payments, payments over a period of time, or various extended health-care benefits.
Recognition Requirements: When a plan of termination has been approved by those with the authority to commit the government, communicated to the employees, and the amount can be estimated, then a liability and expense for involuntary termination benefits should be recognized for the involuntary termination benefits.
For financial reporting purposes, a plan of involuntary termination is defined as a plan that meets three minimum requirements by:
(a) Identifying the number of terminated employees, as well as impacted job classifications/functions and locations.
(b) Detailing the timeline of expected terminations.
(c) Outlining terms for the termination benefits and enabling employees to determine the benefit type and amount they will receive if involuntarily termination occurs.
If a plan of involuntary termination requires that employees render future service in order to receive benefits, the employer should recognize a liability and expense for the portion of involuntary termination benefits that will be provided after completion of future service ratably over the employees’ future service period, beginning when the plan otherwise meets the recognition criteria discussed above.
Additionally, in financial statements prepared on the modified accrual basis of accounting, liabilities and expenditures for termination benefits should be recognized to the extent the liabilities are normally expected to be liquidated with expendable available financial resources.
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