A golden handshake is a clause in an executive employment contract that provides the executive with a significant severance package in the case that the executive loses his or her job through firing, restructuring, or even scheduled retirement. This can be in the form of cash, equity, and other benefits, and is often accompanied by an accelerated vesting of stock options.
Typically, "golden handshakes" are offered only to high-ranking executives by major corporations and may entail a value measured in millions of dollars. Golden handshakes are given to offset the risk inherent in taking the new job, since high-ranking executives have a high likelihood of being fired and since a company requiring an outsider to come in at such a high level may be in a precarious financial position. Their use has caused some investors concern since they do not specify that the executive had to perform well. In some high-profile instances, executives cashed in their stock options, while under their stewardship their companies lost millions of dollars and thousands of workers were laid off