Severance Agreements- Employee Rights and Responsibilities

With the recent economic downturn, millions of American’s find themselves struggling to cope with the realities of losing their employment. The number layoffs in certain areas are unprecedented and terminations are becoming common in all sectors of the job market. Being terminated from a job is stressful, daunting and presents a host of problems previously unconsidered. However, you are not alone and frequently options remain available.

Upon termination, an employee may be presented with a severance package or separation agreement, particularly if the employer is offering severance pay. However, most employees are not aware of their full range of options available to them when presented with an agreement. For instance, employees are entitled to have an attorney review any severance or separation agreement. Furthermore, employees have the right to negotiate the terms of any agreement presented to them and are under no obligation to sign the agreement on the spot. By negotiating the terms of their severance and separation agreements, an employee has the opportunity to maximize her compensation in the event of a termination. An employee must understand that by signing a separation agreement, she may be waiving many important rights.

One such waiver could be a release of claims. A release of claims usually accompanies a severance package wherein an employee relinquishes her right to sue if a severance package is accepted. An individual should carefully review the terms of an agreement with an attorney to consider all available options. You may also want to seek counsel regarding contracts signed upon beginning new employment, such as non-compete agreements, non-solicitation agreements, or contracts regarding confidentiality.

While the economic downturn has resulted in an unexpected number of layoffs, individuals still have the right to fight workplace discrimination. Discrimination in firing decisions can take many forms, including race, age, disability, pregnancy, gender, sexual orientation discrimination and whistle-blowing, among others. Also, if you have an employment agreement that is entered into prior to your termination, you should have an attorney review that agreement to make certain that it has not been breached by your employer. If you believe that you have been laid off unfairly due to discrimination of any nature, you should consult with an employment attorney to explore your particular situation.

By consulting with an employment lawyer, a recently terminated employee will find guidance in navigating the difficult and trying times of losing a job. An experienced employment attorney will help asses all potential options moving forward.