Getting laid off from a job is extraordinarily disruptive to employees and their families, and when you find out that your job is ending unexpectedly, you usually have too many other things on your mind to think about whether your employer is respecting your rights in the way they abruptly end the relationship. If it seemed to be a stable job, you are probably scrambling to apply for a similar position, which may or may not require you to relocate, causing further stress for your spouse and children. Meanwhile, you are worried about how to get through the months until your next job starts; can you find a temporary job, can you survive on your spouse’s income, or will you need to borrow money after you have come so far in paying down your debts? The last thing that most employees think to do when they get laid off from their jobs on short notice is to read their separation agreements carefully, much less review them with an employment lawyer. In fact, the best thing to do when you find out that your job is ending sooner than you expected is to contact the Minneapolis separation agreement lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP, before or after your employer asks you to sign a separation agreement.
What Employment Contracts Say About the End of Your Relationship With Your Employer
Most employment contracts specify when the work relationship between the company and the employee begins and when it will end. Some contracts automatically renew themselves when the initial contract period ends, but others automatically lapse, requiring the parties to sign a new contract if the work relationship is to continue beyond the original contract period. The contract may specify what each party gets to keep after the end of the employee’s job. For example, the employee may need to return a computer, phone, or car issued to them by the employer. The contract may also specify who will retain the copyright to published documents that the employee wrote during their employment with the company. If the employer provided housing for the employee, the contract may specify how soon the employee must move out after the contract period ends.
Some employment contracts include an end of service bonus, especially if the employee had to move to Minnesota for the job and is expected to relocate after the job ends. Likewise, the contract might indicate a financial penalty that the employee must pay or financial benefits that the employee must forfeit if the employee does not continue working for the employer for the entire length of time agreed upon in the contract.
Well-written employment contracts also refer employees to a company handbook or code of conduct which outlines in detail the actions by employees which constitute grounds for termination. Some employment contracts even include position-specific types of misconduct for which the company is justified in terminating the employee’s employment.
When it is No One’s Fault That the Work Relationship Ends Earlier Than Expected
Because of fluctuations in the economy, businesses often find that terminating workers’ employment simply because they cannot afford to continue paying them is the only option. In this case, the employee does not quit the job by their own choice, nor does the employer fire the employee because of misconduct or poor job performance. For better or worse, most employment contracts do not specify what happens if the employer must terminate the employment relationship due to a corporate restructuring. (Some contracts do, however, include force majeure clauses that indicate each party’s rights if the work relationship ends because of a major catastrophe like a war or natural disaster.)
Regardless of the provisions of the employment contract, employees have the right to sue their employers for unlawful termination of employment. To protect themselves from these lawsuits, employers sometimes ask employees who are being laid off to sign separation agreements, in which the employee promised not to sue the employer for terminating the employment contract earlier than expected. The separation may or may not include a severance package.
What is a Severance Package?
A severance package is money that an employer pays to an employee as compensation for laying them off from their job earlier than the employment contract specified. The best severance packages are equal to several months of the employee’s salary and continue employer-provided health insurance for the employee and their family for at least that long. Severance packages protect the employee from disruption of their income while they search for a new job.
The bad news is that some separation agreements include paltry severance packages or none at all. Neither federal law nor Minnesota law requires employers to offer severance pay in separation agreements as a prerequisite for the employee agreeing not to sue the employer. Even worse, employers sometimes give employers a very short deadline for reviewing and signing their separation agreements, effectively giving them a choice between an insufficient severance package and walking away empty-handed.
Does Your Separation Agreement Violate Your Rights?
Sometimes employers try to use separation agreements as a “get out of court free” card. The more your employer pressures you to sign a separation agreement within a short deadline, the more suspicious you should be of the situation. Before you sign a separation agreement, even if it includes a severance package, you should review it with a Minneapolis employment lawyer. Your lawyer can help you decide whether to sign the separation agreement or whether to leave open the possibility of filing a lawsuit against your former employer. You should not sign away your right to bring a lawsuit against a party who has treated you unjustly before discussing the matter with a lawyer.
Contact a Minneapolis Separation Agreement Lawyer
Getting laid off from a job makes it harder to make major decisions on a short deadline. Should you accept the separation agreement your employer is offering, ask to amend it, or refuse to sign? A Minneapolis employment lawyer can help you with all aspects of negotiations and disputes with your employer, including employment contracts, workplace discrimination, severance packages, and more. Contact the Minneapolis separation agreement lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.