How much would you pay to make a nuisance go away? You have probably never had to think about this question in practical terms. You do not have any secrets that are juicy enough that someone would blackmail you, and you do not have enough money to buy anyone’s silence, anyway. Paying people not to speak publicly about your wrongdoing sounds like something that only the shadiest and most corrupt people in this world would do, but it happens in the world of employment more often than you would think.
Sometimes non-disclosure agreements between employers and employees aim to stop the employees from revealing trade secrets, but sometimes they aim to stop employees from airing the employer’s dirty laundry, even if the negative things that the employee might say are true. In some cases, employers even offer employees a settlement preemptively to stop the employee from filing a lawsuit for wrongful termination of employment. This is, of course, only the most cynical way to look at separation agreements, but before you sign a separation agreement, you should think carefully about whether the employer is offering you the separation agreement, and the severance pay that goes with it, to be fair to you or to bribe you not to exercise your rights. The Philadelphia separation agreements lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you decide whether to accept a separation agreement if your employer offers you one.
How Employment Relationships End
Employment contracts often indicate when and how the employment relationship should end. If the contract is non-renewable, then the employment relationship simply ends on the date specified in the contract. If the contract is renewable, it will outline the procedures for renewal or state that the contract automatically renews itself unless either party follows the procedures for non-renewal. Whether or not the contract is renewable, it should include provisions about the obligations the parties owe each other upon the termination of the contract. For example, it is standard for employment contracts to require employees to return company-issued computers and other company-owned property upon termination of the contract. Some employment contracts also require the employer to pay the employee an end-of-service bonus. If the employee relocated to Philadelphia to take the job, the contract might require the employer to pay the employee’s expenses to relocate to another city for another job or to return home to the city where the employee lived before moving to Philadelphia. Employment contracts often also indicate the procedures that either party must follow to terminate the contract early.
Since Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state, not all employees have employment contracts. In an at-will employment relationship, employees can quit whenever they choose to quit. Giving two weeks’ notice when you quit a job is not a legal requirement, but most people do it because it is considered polite. Employers in an at-will employment relationship are also free to terminate the employment relationship whenever they choose, as long as it is not for a legally prohibited reason, such as retaliation or discrimination.
Sometimes financial constraints require businesses to reduce the number of employees on their payroll. If the employee has a contract, the employer might offer the employee a separation agreement as part of the layoff. At will employers also sometimes do this when laying off employees.
What is a Separation Agreement?
Employers and employees sometimes sign separation agreements when the employer initiates the termination of the employment relationship. They are most common when the employer must lay off multiple employees because of financial hardships, a corporate merger, or a corporate restructuring. The terms of the separation agreement vary from one agreement to another, but the general theme is that, by signing the agreement, the employee accepts the termination of the employment relationship and promises not to sue the employer for wrongful termination of employment. Sometimes the employer promises to continue to pay for the employee’s health insurance for a set amount of time and to pay the employee severance pay, either in the form of a lump sum or by continuing to issue monthly paychecks for several months after the employee stops working. The separation agreement implies that termination of the employment relationship is not due to misconduct or poor performance on the part of the employee.
Should You Sign a Separation Agreement If Your Employer Offers You One?
It is always distressing to find out that you are losing your job in a corporate layoff, but it is some consolation if your employer will continue to pay your salary for several months while you look for a new job. Your first instinct might be to go into survival mode by signing the agreement and immediately starting to look for a new job. The optimist in you might realize that your situation is better than a lot of people’s; at least you have a guaranteed income for a few months, and your former employer will give you a good reference as you apply for new positions.
Before you sign the agreement, you should review it with a lawyer. Do you have reason to believe that the “corporate restructuring” that is costing you your job is really a front for discrimination or retaliation? Did you recently file a discrimination complaint against your employer or engage in some other protected activity that got you on your employer’s bad side? Even if you do not have any reason to sue your employer, and therefore you are willing to sign the separation agreement, an employment lawyer can help you negotiate for better terms, such as more severance pay, before you sign.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Separation Agreements
Employment lawyers can help you even if it is no one’s fault that you lost your job. The Philadelphia employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you decide whether to sign the separation agreement your employer has offered you or whether to negotiate for a better separation agreement. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up a consultation.