In general, many people feel that if they receive a severance package when they leave a job, they should consider themselves fortunate and not ask too many questions. However, these severance agreements are not mere acts of kindness by your employers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has explained that “To minimize the risk of potential litigation, many employers offer departing employees money or benefits in exchange for a release (or “waiver”) of liability for all claims connected with the employment relationship[.]” So while that severance package may be good for you in the short-term, it could actual deprive you of your legal rights to recover against your employer for wrongful termination or other bad acts on the employer’s part. That is why it is important that you go over any sort of severance agreement with an attorney before signing it, to ensure that you are not giving up more than you are getting in return.
Reasons to Have an Attorney Review Your Severance Agreement
If that alone is not enough to convince you to have an attorney review your severance agreement, the people at Forbes Magazine have created a list of ten reasons you should hire an attorney to review your severance agreement. Here are just a few of those reasons:
- You may be entitled to a severance payment without signing the agreement—A pre-existing employment contract or other document may already give you the right to a severance payment without having to sign an agreement (and thus without having to waive any claims you have against the company). And even if you have no interest in suing, if you are already entitled to a severance payment, an attorney may be able to help you negotiate a larger severance payment in exchange for your waiver of claims.
- Non-disparagement and references—Severance agreements drafted by employers often contain clauses that bar you from saying disparaging things about the employer. A lawyer on your side, however, may be able to negotiate that in exchange for that provision, the employer will not be able to provide negative references to your future potential employers.
- Integration clauses—Often times you may have handshake agreements with your employers that just did not make it into the final severance agreement. An attorney can help you make sure that all of those handshake agreements are integrated into the agreement before you sign it, so that those agreements will later be enforceable if there is any dispute.
- Cooperation provisions—Sometimes these severance agreements include provisions requiring that you cooperate with any legal proceeding or investigation regarding the employer. On its face, this may seem reasonable. But imagine that you move across the country (or to a different country) and are then called back to testify in a trial five years later. If the severance agreement does not state that the employer will cover your travel costs, you may be on the hook for your airfare and hotel rooms to come back and testify, regardless of your future financial situation.
HKM Employment Attorneys LLP is Here to Help You
There is a lot to consider when you leave your job, and hopefully we have convinced you that having an attorney review your severance agreement is a good idea. We here at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP have the experience and knowledge to review your severance agreement and advise you accordingly. We look forward to speaking with you about your situation. We can be reached at (503) 389-1130, or you can contact us online by filling out our simple online form.