Most of the time, termination of employment does not look like it does in the Sunday comics, where a boss with steam coming out of his ears bellows “You’re fired!” and the hapless employee slinks out of the office with the contents of his desk in a cardboard box. More often, the employer gives the employee some notice about when the last day of work will be, and in some cases, the employer even offers the employee some form of compensation for end of service. When employers terminate an employee’s job on relatively short notice, they sometimes ask the employee to sign a separation agreement. Presenting an employee whose position is being terminated with a separation agreement is not a requirement, and when employers choose to offer these agreements, the terms vary widely from one such agreement to another, but by signing the separation agreement, the employee waives the right to sue the employer for wrongful termination of employment. If your employer asks you to sign a separation agreement when they terminate your position, be sure to consult the Alabama separation agreement lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP before you sign.
Most of the Time, Your Employer Has the Right to Terminate Your Employment
Alabama is an at-will employment state. This means that, under most circumstances, your employer can terminate your position for any reason and does not owe you anything besides payment for the time you worked. If you are a member of a labor union, then your union contract may entitle you to severance pay or other benefits if your employer terminates your job for any reason other than misconduct on your part, and your employer is required to honor this agreement. Likewise, even if you are not a member of a labor union, your employment might specify certain benefits to which you are entitled at the end of your employment or if the employer terminates your contract ahead of schedule. If your employer agreed to these terms in the contract, then your employer must abide by them. The Alabama employment lawyers at HK Employment Attorneys LLP can help you if your employer is refusing to give you the end of service pay promised to you in your employment contract.
The Rights of Workers Ages 40 and Up Who Lose Their Jobs
For most types of employment discrimination, Alabama does not offer any additional protections for workers beyond those provided in federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Alabama does, however, have a state law that protects workers above the age of 40 from discrimination based on age. One of the provisions of this law is that, if an employer offers a separation agreement to a worker aged 40 or older, the worker must have at least 21 days to review the agreement before deciding whether to sign. This window of three weeks gives the worker time to discuss the separation agreement with an employment lawyer and determine whether the employer’s decision to terminate the employee’s position was based on age discrimination. If there appears to be age discrimination involved, the three-week timeframe also gives the worker and the lawyer time to decide whether it is in the worker’s best interest to accept the separation agreement or to file an age discrimination lawsuit. If you are younger than 40, your employer has the right to give you a shorter deadline within which to decide whether to accept a separation agreement, if it decides to offer one to you.
Questions to Ask Your Lawyer if Your Employer Wants You to Sign a Separation Agreement
Whether or not it is in your best interest to sign a separation agreement depends on the circumstances. If your employer is terminating your position because your industry is struggling in general and many workers are getting laid off, then you might be right to regard the separation agreement as an act of generosity, especially if other employers experiencing hardships similar to the one that led to your position being terminated are not offering them. In other cases, though, separation agreements are just hush money in disguise; the employer is offering you a paltry amount of money in the hopes that you will go away quietly instead of suing for wrongful termination of employment.
To find out whether the separation agreement your employer is offering is fair, you should review it carefully with your lawyer before deciding whether to sign. These are some questions you should discuss with your lawyer before deciding whether to sign the separation agreement:
- Does the separation agreement have a non-compete clause? If so, does this clause make it difficult for you to find a new job?
- Why is your employer terminating your position? If it is in retaliation for a discrimination complaint or for taking family or medical leave as provide by FMLA, you should not sign the separation agreement.
- Does the separation agreement promise reimbursement for COBRA insurance?
- Does the separation agreement contain provisions about references for future employment? In other words, if you apply for a new job and use your former employer as a reference, does the former employer promise to tell the new employer that the termination of your employment was not because of wrongdoing or poor performance on your part?
If your employer has offered you a separation agreement, the Alabama employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP may be able to help you negotiate better terms for the agreement, so that you can leave your job with more money to last you through your job search or with a less restrictive non-compete agreement.
Contact an Alabama Employment Lawyer About Separation Agreements
A separation agreement could be an unexpected end of service bonus, or it could be an underhanded form of retaliation for a discrimination complaint or FMLA leave; an Alabama employment lawyer can help you tell the difference. Contact the Alabama employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.